If you’ve ever considered keeping bees for honey, this post is a must-read with Kaylee Richardson from The Honeystead. She’s sharing how to get started, tips for maintaining a hive, and the number one mistake when keeping bees.
Why I Want to Keep Bees
Years ago, we lived in a prime location for keeping bees. I did all my research and gained a lot of knowledge, but never got the bees.
Fast forward, and now we live in this river valley with hardly any houses around us, and a local beekeeper actually told us we wouldn’t be able to keep a colony alive because of the lack of food for them.
After four years, I think we’re getting close to being able to keep the bees fed with our medicinal herb garden, fields, and large vegetable gardens. We want to create an area where the bees will flourish and, in turn, help our land flourish.
Not to mention, with a family our size, it sure would be nice to provide the 5-7 gallons of honey we use each year from our own hives!
Kaylee Richardson, along with her husband and two kids, are modern-day homesteaders living on 60 acres in Virginia. They work, raise and grow most of their own food, including herbal medicine.
Ever since Kaylee was a child, she was enamored with nature and all kinds of bugs. She can remember a time she went horseback riding as a little girl and watched swarms of bees returning to their bee boxes at sunset. She was completely awestruck at how the sunlight lit up their wings like tiny fairies.
It was from that moment that she knew one day she wanted to keep bees. It wasn’t until she and her husband settled down on their own land in Virginia that she finally had her chance. You can follow along on her journey of homesteading and keeping bees at The Honeystead.
Is Now a Good Time to Start Keeping Bees?
At the time of this recording, we’re just heading into the winter months. You may wonder if now is a good time to consider keeping bees.
The answer is yes! There’s no better time to start planning for next spring than right now. We know that planning now for your spring garden gives you a head start next year. In just the same way, if you want to keep bees next spring, you need to start planning and learning now.
Years ago, when I thought I was ready to start keeping bees, I read two articles on beekeeping and they couldn’t have been more different.
One article spoke to how getting started with beekeeping wasn’t a great idea because it’s become increasingly more difficult to keep the colonies alive.
The other article shared a departure from traditional beekeeping methods and to learn to get in tune with the hive. The author went on to share that his hives were thriving and multiplying, and he was producing enough honey to support himself.
You better believe the book I purchased was one written by that second author. It was called Keeping Bees With a Smile.
The Basics of Beekeeping
When it comes to keeping bees, it’s a bit like learning to become a parent. I once heard the suggestion to read and learn everything you can about raising children, then throw it all out and do what works.
That’s a bit like the advice Kaylee gives when it comes to keeping bees. Because there are so many variables, including where you live, the type of hive you have, and even down to the weather patterns from season to season and year to year.
There is book knowledge, then there’s knowledge from doing. Kaylee talks about learning to read your hive. When you learn to read your hive it will provide so much more knowledge than all the beekeeping books in the world.
You have to give yourself permission to learn the skills, then adjust to real-world circumstances.
The First Steps to Keeping Bees
Kaylee says now is the best time to think about getting bees because it allows you all winter to research and learn. For most of us the gardens are winding down and there are more hours in the day. Kaylee recommends finding some books, taking a class, and most importantly, seeking out the local beekeepers in your area.
By “talking bee” with those who are more experienced than you, you’ll gain so much knowledge. The more you discuss different scenarios with other beekeepers, the more information you’re armed with when it comes time to keep your own hive.
Keeping Bees: A Year at a Glance
In the fall, beekeepers get their bees ready for winter.
- They check to make sure they have enough food to get them through winter (or plan to supplement with sugar water).
- They check that the queen is laying eggs.
- They check the hives for varroa mites, which are tiny external parasites that can be detrimental to a colony.
Throughout the fall and winter months, the bees cluster together and vibrate to keep warm. Other than supplementing with honey water, if needed, there’s not much the beekeeper needs to do.
Spring is when the bees are most active. They’re pollinating, making nectar, the hive is multiplying and everything is buzzing.
If you don’t already have a colony, you’ll want to get yourself a “nuc,” which is a nucleus of bees. Kaylee recommends trying to source local bees from a reputable apiary or beekeeper. Check early and often because there may be a waiting list. She also recommends starting with two colonies and not just one.
Having two colonies will give you double the chance to learn about your bees. If one colony is thriving and the other isn’t, this might teach you why, or at the very least, what to look for in a healthy colony.
When the summer comes, there’s actually a lull in the bees nectar flow. Much of the collecting happens in spring and late summer or fall.
After summer, the bees will decrease in number, and they’ll start preparing the hive for winter.
The first year you have a colony, don’t expect to harvest any honey. The bees need honey to eat to survive the winter, and you want to give your hive the best chance at survival. Let them get established and you’ll be rewarded the following year.
This is also another reason why having two colonies is a good idea. If one colony suffers one year, you can always combine the colonies and still harvest enough honey that second year for your family.
Kaylee lets nature run its course with the bees. She’s all about letting the weaker colonies die off so the stronger colonies survive. It takes “real estate” to house a weak colony, and she’d rather those hives be filled with the strongest, healthiest bees.
Monitoring Your Hive
Spring and fall are the two seasons when keeping an eye on your hive is most critical. You want to make sure the queen is laying, but you also want to keep an eye on the colony and watch for signs of swarming.
Swarming is simply when the colony outgrows its space and divides. What typically happens is one queen will stay back with some of the bees, while the other queen (usually multiple queens) will fly off with the hive and look for a new home.
If you’re actively watching your bees, you can usually catch this ahead of time and provide the needed space before they take off.
You’ll sometimes see signs of “bearding” on the outside of the hive. Though this can also mean the bees are too hot in the hive, it’s also a sign that the bees are restless and in need of more space.
Building Trust with Bees
When I think of keeping bees I get a little nervous. I’m not fond of bees to begin with (other than their pollination), but I asked Kaylee if I would make the bees nervous if I’m nervous.
She reassured me that there is a level of trust that gets built by working with bees for a long time. But if you’re nervous, don’t let that be the reason you never get bees.
Kaylee shares that she’s mostly comfortable around bees because she’s learned their temperaments and how their temperaments change throughout the year. Because she’s learned to read them, she knows how to adapt.
But that doesn’t mean she recommends a new beekeeper to go out with bare hands and try to capture a bee swarm.
The Calming Therapeutic Aspect of Bees
I was intrigued to know that beekeeping has many more benefits than just the honey you collect. The smell of the hive can be very therapeutic and calming. Imagine the smell of a thousand flowers combined with the sweet smell of honey and pollen, which you get to inhale each time you go out to the hive.
Kaylee says that on a stressful day, she’ll go out to work with the bees and soon after be very calm and grounded. The aromatherapy of the hive is what calms her.
How Much Honey Do You Get From One Hive?
The “general rule of thumb” is between 25-100 pounds of honey from one colony of bees. That’s a pretty big range!
Kaylee says the amount of honey you get will depend on what type of colony you have and how your hive(s) are set up.
- If you’re using a standard medium-sized Langstroth hive (the traditional vertical square frame), and you have 8-10 frames, one frame could give you about 4 pounds of honey. This could yield a total of 36-40 pounds of honey from one box.
- If you’re using the deep Langstroth frames, you could get between 6-7 pounds of honey per frame. So a box with 10 frames could produce upwards of 60-70 pounds of honey.
For reference, a gallon of honey is approximately 12 pounds. Our family typically buys 5-7 gallons of honey yearly, so one to two hives could easily replace our need to buy honey each year.
Kaylee says there are methods for getting more honey from your hive, such as using a queen extractor. A queen extractor limits where the queen can go to lay her eggs. But if you use this approach, you can also limit your hive size.
Kaylee likes to allow her queen to go wherever she wants, and if she pulls a frame out with a colony on it, she’ll typically leave that honey for the colony.
She doesn’t want to extract too much honey and then end up needing to supplement the bees with sugar water because she feels bees make their own perfect food.
Beekeeping Mistakes to Avoid
I asked Kaylee what some of the most common beekeeping mistakes are that she sees people making, and she answered with one simple tip:
- Observe before jumping into action.
She says this based on experience, as well as what she observes from other beekeepers. This past summer Kaylee had a colony that was infested with varroa mites. She’s pretty certain it was an external swarm that came into her hives because none of her other colonies were infested.
Varroa mites can be detrimental to a colony, therefore many people preventatively treat their hives “just in case.” But Kaylee took her time to check each colony and decided the rest were healthy and didn’t need to be treated.
She did use an organic treatment for the affected colony that worked very well, and she’s glad she didn’t unnecessarily treat the rest.
I hope you’ve found this post as helpful as I did. I feel armed and ready to learn and research over the winter to plan for my spring hive.
If you’re looking for more information on keeping bees, be sure to find and follow Kaylee.
Where to Find Kaylee
You can find Kaylee on her blog, The Honeystead, over on her YouTube channel or on Instagram, where she shares the start of her dream “Beekeepers Apothecary,” videos of her homestead, the medicinal benefits of bee byproducts, and even herbal-medicinal recipes and tutorials.
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Carolyn: Well, hi there, and welcome to this week's episode of the Pantry Chat: Food for Thought.
This week I'm really excited to have a special guest on to talk about a topic that I don't really know a whole lot about, neither Josh or I do. And so we are introducing Kaylee here from The Honeystead who knows all about beekeeping, and we're going to be talking about getting started with beekeeping. So welcome and thanks for coming.
Kaylee: Thank you guys for having me. I absolutely love talking about bees, so I'm excited. Let's dive in. This is the perfect time to start talking.
Carolyn: All right. And it seems like a little off season to be talking about this right now, but we'll see what you have to say about that. Maybe you don't agree with that idea, but I know for Josh and I, planning happens this time of year. So if we're going to bring in a new project on the homestead, we're starting to think about it right now to make sure we're lined out for the following year.
So this is high up on our list. We've been wanting to keep honeybees for years, but this new property we're living on, we're going into, I think our fourth winter here, actually had the benefit of our big local beekeeper in this county, lived in this house back in the 70s, and he said there is just not enough bee food in that area because we are really isolated in this tight little river valley and we don't even have neighbors.
So we literally do not see honey bees on our property coming in from anywhere else. We're just so isolated. So we've really been working at building the bee food. So all the fields now are planted with clovers. We've got a lot of bee food going on now, and we're getting to the point where we think, "Okay, we're about ready to be able to support at least one hive of bees to get started and see how they do."
So that's my background on the beekeeping side, but let's hear a little bit about you. Where do you live? I know you've got an active homestead where you're at. You do all sorts of fun things. So tell us a little bit about yourself.
Kaylee: So long story short, we are modern day homesteaders here in Virginia. My family and I, we work and we raise and grow the majority of our food as well as herbal medicine on 60 acres that's nestled right in the Skyline Drive of Virginia. So we have such an abundance of trees and just the wildlife that's all around us. But we do the majority. We do what we can to try to be as sustainable as possible, not just for us, but also for our bees.
So long story short, we've been doing it for a good couple of years and just every year there's something new and we're growing, and changing, and morphing, and I think that's just the beautiful part of homesteading is that it's not always one thing. There's so many different entities inside a homestead to have that regenerative aspect and the growing aspect.
Carolyn: Yeah, absolutely. I'm so thankful of that. I get bored really easily. And so homesteading is the perfect answer for me because it's always something new. Whether it's the season's changing and it's keeping you on your toes or working with nature and you have to be so responsive, but there's always room for another project of some sort, because there's so many opportunities when you get onto the homestead. It makes it a lot of fun.
Kaylee: There are never any dull moments on the homestead, so not at all.
Carolyn: No. This is not even homesteading, but we had a really interesting moment two nights ago where Josh and I said that to each other and that was, we were sound asleep in bed about 2:00 AM in the morning and it had just started raining, and all a sudden we heard squealing tires and brakes and cracking and breaking and we live in a part of, the road is real close, but it's a very not often used road. It's pretty lightly traveled and somebody had a little too much fun, out a little too late and apparently, and they actually took out part of our pasture fence amazingly, we thought we were calling 9-1-1 and there was going to be a real problem, but amazingly they backed out of it and were able to get out of our pasture, which was muddy at the time and take off down the road. And so we were just left with some fence to repair before the sheep got out.
But it was one of those moments where we turned to each other and we're like, "There's never a dull moment. There's never," and you immediately go, "Okay, the guy's alive. I'm really glad for that. Hopefully he makes it home safely without injuring anybody else. And the sheep are going to get out if we don't get out there right now and go fix the fence." Because at first light, the sheep are going to see that hole and be out on the road. So you're always dealing with something.
Kaylee: You just go with the flow. I completely understand. We've had many moments on our end as well and it's just this is what's happening right now. So that's what you jump into and you just do it. There's definitely never a dull moment.
Carolyn: Yeah, absolutely. So how did you get started with beekeeping?
Kaylee: So a long time ago, my story kind of goes back basically for my childhood, I was that weird kid that would always flip over rocks to see what type of bugs were underneath of them. I didn't have necessarily TV that we watched. I wasn't really into video games. I was always outside, always foraging, always learning about different plants and one of my favorite things that I would ever do was to go horseback riding. And so the farm that we had our horses on was a 3000 acre farm nestled right here in Virginia. It was just beautiful and we didn't own that property, we leased our horses on it.
And so the farm hand that managed the property, I think I was about seven, eight years old, he told me, he was like, "I don't want you going down this certain trail. There's a beekeeper there and you probably best to just keep your distance." Well what kid listens? Okay. So I would hop on my horse and I would ride down the trail and we always would go horseback riding kind of in that afternoon where there was that golden hour where it was just the sun was just right. And I remember sitting up on the hill and seeing all the rows of hives and they were all painted white.
And when the bees were returning home, the sun would just kind of glisten on their wings and it looked like fairies. It looked so magical. And I just immediately was like, "You know what? At some point in life I would love to be a beekeeper." And now life happened, got married, moved away, my husband was in the military. Once he got out, we came home, we started our family and it just wasn't time. But I still wanted to learn and I still wanted to try to take advantage of not having it right then and there, but always keep it in my back pocket. But that's something that I was passionate about.
And so when my husband and I decided to start our homestead, that was the first thing that I jumped right into. And so we've been doing it ever since. And my family came along with me. My husband's there for the honey, but he doesn't get into the hives. And every once in a while he'll help me catch a swarm, but he's more like, "Go, baby, go." And I do my thing, but I don't do it alone. I have my parents that are active in it as well and my kids as they have gotten older, they're not as active in it, but who knows, maybe when they get a little bit older they'll come back around.
But basically I fell in love with just how they made me feel. And then now as an adult, seeing the vital important aspect that they offer for your homestead. And right now, if that's your passion and you're planning on getting these, I would say, and you've already started sharing your homesteading documenting that, you'll see a huge difference when you start to bring in the pollinators. I wish I would've documented my homestead from the beginning. I wish I would've shared what my pastures looked like then to what they look like now.
And then understanding the benefit of if you're raising cows or sheep or even chickens, the bees are making the food for your pasture, they're growing your pasture. So they're just helping. It's an entire system. And how it works together is just, it's completely beautiful.
Carolyn: That's wonderful. That's really neat. In some of your videos that I've watched, this totally gets me because I would like to be the one out there working with the bees. I know Josh is tough and he'll go do it and if I ask him too, he would get out there. But I see you working with your bare hands with the bees. Now a lot of times I do realize those are swarming bees and swarming bees are known to be very peaceable. They're not looking to start a war or protect anything because they're outside of their colony.
But even mentally knowing that I do not know that I could walk up to a swarm of bees that I'm telling myself, "They're peaceable. They're not looking to sting me." And put my hands into them and let them crawl over me. Is that something innate in you that you feel like you're just comfortable with the bees or did you have to learn that comfort level to be able to do that?
Kaylee: I think it's both. I do think it's both. So what's interesting, bees, they have a personality and depending on the weather and depending on the time of year and depending on what's happening, if you're able to read them, there's a comfort level that I have gained, do I trust them? Depends. It's kind of just a livestock animal. You can't fully trust it because you just never know.
I don't recommend a brand new beekeeper go bare handed right away. But there are some benefits and yeah, depending on the years, sometimes I'll even work the colonies without my gloves on. But I learned early on kind of sharing and documenting my beekeeping hive inspections, what I don't want is to share a false sense of reality towards new beekeepers. So I do wear my gloves the majority of the time. I also do manage roughly how many times I do get stung and where I get stung.
I do try to use it for a therapy for arthritis. There's a whole lot of information for apitherapy and bee sting venom to help with arthritis. So I do try to manage that. But yes, it's just one of the moments, you do what you do. And I'm able to gauge a little bit of their attitude. And there are some times where I'm like, "Yeah, okay, they're pretty gentle." And then I'm like, "No, just kidding," after a couple of stings and then I suit up and I respect them. And I'm like, "Okay, all right, I get you. I'm hearing you."
Carolyn: So do you think that because I go into beekeeping with this natural, "Ooh, I'm uncomfortable with the idea of getting stung." Is that automatically going to make me not a good beekeeper?
Kaylee: No. Not at all. And you're going to hear other beekeepers, you're going to hear old school beekeepers just say, "You need to be getting stung all the time." And you're going to hear beekeepers who are like, "I rarely ever get stung." I think that really just depends on what your comfort level is. And then the one thing that I'll add is just like animals, the bees will be able to sense your emotion and your hesitation.
So if you approach it nervous and antsy and jittery in a way, they're going to be able to feed off of that. But when you get your first opportunity to get into the hive and you're taking it all in, you're breathing the smell of the honey, of the wax, of just the comb. I wish I could figure out a way to document the smell of a colony because it is like a thousand flowers. It's everything that they forage just combined into this box mixed with the sweet smell of honey and nectar and pollen. But it almost takes over your emotion. It almost just completely, for me, it calms me all the way down.
So I definitely use it therapeutically. It's kind of my therapy. I go in there and if I'm heightened, if I'm stressed out and I go in there and I start working with the girls, they're going to easily tell me, "You need to cool your jets." So I have to be calm. And I think that that's something that you'll learn. You'll be able to appreciate them for what they are when you have an opportunity to get in there.
Carolyn: That sounds wonderful. It sounds like a great thing to be doing in a world that feels a little stressful and a little crazy. It sounds like a very just calming and I know, for me, one of the challenges that I have in life is I am such an idea person and such a visionary that sometimes I have a real hard time existing right here and right now. And that sounds like something, whether it was from the kind of nervous fear factor or just maybe the intoxication of the experience you're talking about, it sounds like it would be very grounding. It would make absolutely very present right there.
Kaylee: Well, and if you are not present, if you're not focused, if you're not paying attention, you could wreck their world. So there is that aspect as well. They have their entire... They're more than just a box of bugs and how they communicate and what they're doing. They have such their own community. So anything that you do could affect them.
And so going in there, being grounded and being aware of your actions, I think, it's very helpful. But absolutely you tend to block out all the noise that's going on around and you just are truly focused with what is in front of you. And it's beautiful if you allow yourself that time to dive in and embrace it. There's not that many people out there that are beekeepers and will understand that feeling. But the people who are beekeepers and get into beekeeping, that's the first thing that most of them talk about is just their overall sense of engagement that they have with their bees.
And you do. You form a relationship with them. I talk to them. I know that sounds weird, but I love my girls and I love the boys too when they're around. They're kind of gone right now, but it's definitely a beautiful relationship that you gain.
Carolyn: Yeah, well that's exciting. That sounds really neat. So about 10 years ago I was living on a piece of property where we thought we may be able to keep bees. And so I was doing some research and about this time, and I wish I could tell you guys details, I'm sorry, I know everybody's going to want to know the details of this, but about that time, two different homesteading type magazines came out with two different articles from different authors promoting their beekeeping books, but talking about their beekeeping experience.
And they were so drastically different that it really stood out to me. One of them pretty much said, "Here's your basics for keeping bees. However, this is an extremely challenging time in history to keep bees. And I really can't say that I wholeheartedly recommend newbies to get started because of colony collapse and all the mites and all the different problems."
And then there was this other article from this guy, who I believe is a Russian permaculturist and he was like, "Oh, I went totally away from all the normal beekeeping advice out there and I just have this wonderful magical experience with the bees. And now I have so many hives because they keep multiplying that I'm pretty much supporting myself off of all the honey." And you can imagine which of the two guys book I purchased because the one was like, "This is the best thing I've ever done in my life." And the other was like, "Yeah, I really can't say it's good for people to get started doing."
And that kind of creates this real juxtaposition. I do know for those of you guys who are interested, that second book was Beekeeping with a Smile.
Kaylee: Oh, Dr. Leo. Yeah, he's good.
Carolyn: The translation though is a little rough and it's not necessarily a perfect English and I do know we've got a lot of really good books out recently on natural beekeeping, but that was just such a strong juxtaposition between those two points of view that it really stood out to me.
Does it really come down to the difference between natural beekeeping and kind of commercialized beekeeping being that hinge factor? That sounds so simplistic as much as I'd like to believe that
Kaylee: Beekeeping is very... You have to be extremely flexible with beekeeping and after a couple of years what you'll learn is you know the basics. If you learn the basics and then allow yourself to be fluid with the bees, like for instance honey harvesting. If I were to have harvested an abundance of honey this last go around last year, let's just talk last year, I don't think that they would've had enough food for the winter because our fall was not as prolific. We weren't as abundant as what we normally were.
Now this year, everything I feel like we honestly had a very beautiful fall and they're bringing in the pollen, they're bringing in the nectars, we're kind of phasing out. So if I were to be, basically, if I were to be textbook with my beekeeping techniques, I don't think that that's fair for the bees.
So I think that you do have to kind of gauge it and there are so many different ways to bee keep. There are so many different hive setups, there's so many different individuals with their experience and you also have to take into consideration your location. Depending on where that person wrote their book, you might not be exactly adequate for your location.
So learning the basics is key, learning identification, what's happening inside the hive. It gets to the point where after so many times of you doing your hive inspections, you will start to read your colonies like a book. They tell a story and as long as you're able to pick up on what's happening then you put the book down essentially. But absolutely you're going to hear it from multiple different beekeepers.
My technique might be completely different than somebody else's. My hive style is different. Well it's more traditional because we do run Langstroth colonies. Is that something that I want to forever run? Probably not. And I recognize that, but we have so many colonies right now that I don't want to switch everything up. So I'm kind of, this is where I am at as a beekeeper, is you just kind of have to go with the flow really, in all honesty.
Carolyn: And that's something that's so true. And I think a place that we get into trouble a lot in modern agricultural and agriculture and conventional farming is that we want to take living elements and treat them like they're little cogs or little pieces of a puzzle and they really aren't. They're living elements, they're living things and there's this unpredictability that comes with them and there's a personality, but there's also all these nuanced pieces that, honestly, probably even experience master beekeepers don't even know all the different elements that are affecting the bees in any given year.
So it's learning this kind of intuitive, you have to start somewhere, you have to get the basic information like you're saying, but then allowing yourself to use your intuition and to go with this.
Years ago I heard a piece of advice, it was actually on parenting and I thought it was brilliant and I've found that it applies to so many things on the homestead and that was, "Read everything you can get your hands on, learn from everybody, and then throw it all out and do what works."
Carolyn: And that just when you come to something living, whether it's a sauerkraut ferment and you've got living bacteria or it's a child or it's a hive of bees, you've got to give yourself the permission to respond to the real world circumstance and the relational element of it.
Kaylee: Absolutely. And I think that that's the most important lesson when it comes to beekeeping that I have learned is the biggest question that I get often is what book do you start with? And the best answer I can say is, go to the library, open up every single book that you can about beekeeping, and pick the one that resonates with you. There are natural beekeepers out there, there are people who aren't considered natural. I feel like I'm kind of that right in between.
I will assist my bees if they need it, but I also know when to step back. They are the ones that are teaching me. I just have to be patient enough to listen and I don't necessarily, at some point I've made mistakes and I've had failures and successes no matter what. That's everything, especially homesteading, but give yourself some grace and learn from them. That's the biggest advice that I could share.
Carolyn: Oh that's great. Okay, so I want to dive into a little bit of the nitty gritty here and the actual practical application because I'm getting excited. And that is when somebody's thinking about getting started with beekeeping, let's say they're me, they don't really know that much, I have a very basic understanding, but what are the first steps to take? What were the first things to do?
Kaylee: Definitely. Well right now this is actually the perfect time to get started. You're going into the winter months, you're not having to deal hopefully with too much more gardening and outside. So you're kind of going into that phase of life where you're just kind of like, "We're going to chill." This is when you learn or plan or start to read. So this is definitely the perfect time.
I always do express that it's very important to see what's in your community. It's great to have an advocate, have somebody, have an organization like your local extensions office. If you have a local extensions office, most of the times they will share their beekeeping clubs that are in your area. Come for out here January timeframe, they offer classes that you can sign up for and take. I do advise beekeepers to take some form of classes, whether it's online or self-taught. And that is even a little bit, just bear in mind because depending on who's teaching that class online, it might be different than your location.
So the basics are still going to be the same. It just really depends on your location. So finding local, I think, is very vital. Getting involved, finding a group, a community, talking bee, having that individual that you can talk be with. I have a few people that I mentor as well as I still have some mentors because what I've learned is if you collectively think about beekeeping, so I'm in my hives every two, three weeks roughly. But the more people that you talk to and their experience of being in their hives, the more experiences you gain, if that kind of makes any sense.
And because they're going to face scenarios that you might not have yet or potentially will. So definitely look at your local extensions office and see about classes and clubs there. That's always the perfect way to get started.
Carolyn: Great, that's wonderful. So can you give us a basic overview of how beekeeping, I don't want to say works, but what's the year like, how does the process work look like for somebody who's keeping bees?
Kaylee: So for me, I'll speak for my experience, you always kind of have to be a season ahead. So right now we're starting to get ready for winter. I'm starting to make sure that our colonies have the abundance of food that they need to see them through. And then also making sure that the queens laying, what the brood looks like, kind of everything, checking for varroa mites.
But then over winter, they don't hibernate so to say. They basically, they cluster, which basically they ball up in a very tight knit ball and they vibrate to keep the warmth and then they'll move throughout the colony and eat the honey that they have stored up. Once winter is kind of done for us, we're going into spring. That's ideally about the time that an individual would want to start beekeeping is in spring I would start with a nuke, which is a nucleus of bees, not necessarily a package of bees. And if you can find somebody that sells bees locally, that's the ideal way.
Backtracking just a little bit about this being the perfect time and getting your education in, your reading in, your clubs in, that'll connect you with beekeepers that are in your area who might supply bees. They might breed bees that you could buy a nucleus of bees. So getting on that waiting list for them, getting all your equipment ordered during the winter months, because as soon as spring is here, you have to have everything kind of set up and ready.
So a lot of people think, "Oh it's summertime, let's go get bees." And yes, every once in a while you'll find somebody who wants to sell an entire colony as is. But that's kind of more rare because that colony is working and they're bringing in honey, they're bringing in nectar to make honey. So that's a little more rare.
So basically winter time for you is where you start educating, getting your hive style picked out, communicating with beekeepers that are in your area, taking your classes. Come spring you're going to get your bees, you'll get them established, and you'll start rocking and rolling and they'll be bringing in nectar, making honey, making more bees and just growing.
And then, for us, summer happens. We have a period, it's called the dearth where we have no nectar flow. This year was a little bit less than that. I feel like we didn't really experience too much of a dearth out here, not like the previous years where we didn't have any nectar flow for summer. But then what'll happen is after summer they'll start to kind of decrease in numbers. They're a season ahead, so they're starting to prepare for fall because come winter they don't need the abundance of bees that you might have in spring and summer.
So pretty much they know what they're doing and you just kind of ride it out with them and you get in, do your hive inspections every couple of weeks, check them, make sure that they're good. Your first year you're probably, you're not going to be harvesting honey depending on what your winter looks like. You're just going to let them roll and wait and watch and then come spring, go through winter, come spring you're pretty much going to be starting back at it.
Carolyn: Okay, great. That gives us a great overview. So you did mention that you're inspecting the hives, I think you said every two to three weeks, is that kind of the ongoing work once you get past spring? You're kind of humming along and two to three weeks, is that what you're looking at for regular work or is there more daily?
Kaylee: No, not really daily work other than just visually putting my eyes on the colonies and seeing what's going on. Making sure that nothing is in there bear wise or any predators. But daily work, no, not so much. Weekly work, yes, I'll go in and when the flow is on, when the nectar flow is really flowing, I don't bother them too much. I let them kind of do their thing.
Spring and fall are a little more critical for hive inspections, in my opinion, then summer because I want to make sure that the queen is laying appropriately in the spring. And also because spring they tend to swarm. So if you have to do any of your colony splits and you've got to make one colony into two, spring would definitely be kind of the time that you would want to do that. Because what they're doing is swarming is a fancy term for a bunch of bees moving, a bunch of bugs, insects, moving in one direction at once. But in beekeeping, terminologies, swarming is just their natural way of reproducing.
And so essentially they outgrow their space and they need to separate and they need to divide. So the new queen that is created will stay back at the colony and the old queen tends to fly off, with multiple queens with multiple new queens, and they'll go and find a new home. So spring and fall are definitely the times that I try to keep a very close eye on them more so than ever.
Carolyn: Very good. Okay, so it sounds to me like a really wise place to start would be maybe with one hive and then to naturally do that and let them multiply themselves as you get more experience, the hive starts to multiply, and then you can grow? Or would you say we have a large family with two, would you start with three or that's just diving in too deep?
Kaylee: So I actually really advise everyone to not start with one colony. I actually, "Go ahead and start with two." Here's the thing, you have double the opportunity to be able to gauge, especially as a new beekeeper. If you get two colonies and you see, "Okay, this one's actually doing really good, but this one right here, not so much."
You won't necessarily know that if that one colony, if you had one colony that was weaker, you wouldn't necessarily have that experience to gauge, to be able to understand to see, "Oh, what's going on?" But the other aspect of it is come fall if your one colony is doing really well and the other one not so much, you could combine the colonies. And we do that actually quite often. We will combine, actually here in the next week or two, that's what I'm going to be doing is combining the majority of my colonies that were late rescues that just don't have the food resources that I want them to have.
And so stepping in on that aspect has been helpful for their survivability. But also for you knowing that it'll teach you, it'll give you a better opportunity to see both colonies and compare and learn and see what a brood pattern looks like for a healthy colony versus a not healthy colony. Or you might have two beautiful abundant colonies and then you're just golden.
Carolyn: Yeah, no that's great advice and that's really helpful to think about because I know for us we have a large family, we're feeding a lot of people, so Josh and I have the tendencies like, "Oh well if we're going to do it, we better go big." That sometimes is not the best way to go. So that is helpful though to maybe not start all the way back with just one, but to have two, possibly even three if the bee food allows and start there and just have that broader learning experience.
Is there a rule of thumb? You've already touched on the variability of, there's so many different things here, there's so many variables, but is there any sort of a rule of thumb of how much honey you would expect from one hive?
Kaylee: So it depends as well, if you are running, so okay, they're going to say anywhere from 25 to a 100 pounds of honey from one colony. But you have to take into consideration what type of colony you're having. If you have a horizontal colony where it's just Langstroth horizontal, you'll pull frames from that, but you're not going to have that type of abundance. So we have traditional Langstroth colonies where you see the box and then you stack the box and stack the box. And basically what we're stacking are supers and that's where they store the honey.
Now with that in mind, there are multiple different sizes. So there's a medium box which is smaller or deep. Traditionally most colonies will have a few deeps stacked and then a few medium stacked. Essentially the frames really just determine, the size of the frame really determines how much honey you're going to get from one colony.
There's also different techniques if you use a, it's called a queen excluder, which basically is this mesh that eliminates... It prevents the queen from going up into where the honey storage would be and laying. So if you have a queen excluder, you're going to have more honey. We don't actually use queen excluders, I don't want to limit where my queen goes. So with that I will pull frames that are fully capped with just honey, but if there's brood on it, I leave it, I don't even touch it, I let them have it because I don't want to have to pull too much and then have to feed because I think that sugar water, if you have to do it, you have to do it. But that's not something that I want to necessarily do. So I think that they make perfect food for them and I don't want to interfere with that.
But essentially, depending on the frame, so if you have a medium box with eight to 10 frames, so you can get different sizes. So if it is eight frames, one medium frame could weigh up to four pounds of honey, that's basically what you would get from one frame. So by doing the math, that'll kind of determine whether you're getting 32 pounds or up to 40 pounds. If you have eight to 10 frames. If you are running all deeps, that's a little bit different. The frame is deeper. So that could range anywhere from six to seven pounds per frame. So if you have eight frames, that's higher end of 58 pounds to up to 70 pounds, if it's a 10 frame box, if that makes any sense?
So you got to take into consideration what type of high body that you have and that you're working with. But you will end up with honey, I will tell you that. You'll end up with abundance of honey.
Carolyn: Well, and I know from purchasing honey buy the gallon because we usually buy between five and seven gallons of honey every year for our household that a gallon of honey is approximately 12 pounds, I think. Is that that correct?
Kaylee: Yes. That sounds about right.
Carolyn: Yeah. So you're saying that we're talking somewhere between two gallons of honey, if I do that math, up to eight gallons of honey is kind of that range that maybe you could get somewhere in there?
Kaylee: Right. Absolutely. And it depends too on spacing. If you space your frames out a little bit deeper, the bees will build out just a little. If you space your frames a little bit wider, they could grow it wider, if that makes any sense looking at how the honey is. But yeah, it really depends on the hive style that you're getting. But you could easily get that.
We average, we pull about, I think this year we pulled about 400 pounds of honey from our colonies and we didn't harvest from all of our colonies. We run around, we've kind of fluctuate between anywhere from 50 to 30 colonies a year. So I think right now when we harvested we were at 36 colonies, but I didn't harvest from all of them because some of them were swarms that it was their first year and they need time. But we also don't pull all the boxes. We go through a frame by frame and we only pull what needs to be pulled and then leave them with a lot.
Carolyn: Well, and that makes sense. If you were a commercial, big commercial company, and you need to get every dollar, you essentially can out of your hive, I'm sure sugar water is cheaper than honey. And so they're taking as much honey as they can and saying, "Eh, we'll feed them the sugar water and we'll take the honey." But when we can make those decisions for ourselves, we can say, "That's not healthy for the bee. That's not how God created the bees to be and what he created them to eat. So let's leave them their food and just take less."
And potentially that means you need more hives, maybe it means you just produce less honey. But probably in the long run it equates healthier bees and less work
Kaylee: It is, I believe, I do believe that the bees, their gut health, it's a lot more critical than I think. And yes, I have had to supplement some of our colonies later in the year and it breaks my heart if I get called for a swarm catch in September that does not give them enough time to build out and to be ready for a winter. So I do my part, I also look at the bees just like I would my livestock in my field. If I had an animal go down, I'm going to stop what I'm going to do to try.
But at some point also survival of the fittest does kind of play in to key. And I don't necessarily want bees that are not exactly healthy. And I guess that's kind of where I stand on beekeeping in my approach. I do the best that I can, but I also let them do the best that they can and I'm okay making that decision.
Carolyn: And I think that's a really wise decision everywhere on the homestead. And we stand by that. If we've got an animal that has birthing problems, livestock wise, we do everything we can to save that life. But you can guarantee they're not going to be in the breeding stock next year because you don't need to breed problems into the system. You need to keep breeding that opportunity. But you have to make the hard decisions to do that sometimes.
But on the same front, occasionally we get the powdered milk replacer for the animals because we do have that emergency and we're going to keep it alive. We're not going to let it starve to death just because a mom didn't make it through a birth, a hard birth or something. So we're going to keep it alive and do what we have to do. But we're going to take all that into consideration when choosing the breeding stock for the next year.
So I think those are good. So before we wrap up here, because we're getting down on time, what are some of the biggest mistakes that you see brand new beekeepers making that you just like, if you could stop people from making one or two mistakes that you see, what would that be?
Kaylee: I would say treating for varroa right away without checking. I think that that's... I listened to a lot of beekeepers that are a little older and they immediately jump right in to, "Treat, treat, treat. Treat your colonies, treat your colonies." But what are you treating for? And so I know varroa mite is the big conversation with bees and just what's happening to them and they're, yes, it is destructive. I've had verroa mite issues with our colonies. I'm actually kind of facing one right now. It was a swarm that I caught and it was just loaded.
Now looking back at it, I don't necessarily think that that was a swarm from a reproduction, of them reproducing and splitting and dividing, I think it was an absconding situation, which is the bees kind of, something was bothering them back at their colony. Whether it was a high varroa count, which I'm putting money on it now looking back. But everyone, when I did my varroa check, I had a very unhealthy count of varroa and I jumped in and I did go ahead and plan on, I did treat with an organic treatment that I felt like was safe for them. They're doing great right now. But everyone was very adamant that I go ahead and I just treat all my other colonies.
I'm glad that I took the time to look at the other colonies and do an alcohol wash on them because their counts were within the threshold that they could survive with the varroa that they had. So basically I'm glad I didn't go ahead and just treat all my colonies and I'm glad that I looked at each colony because I didn't want to treat if it wasn't needed. So the varroa won't potentially build up a resistance.
Carolyn: That is so wise, just I think on every medication we can get way too fast to pretreat things and then that's exactly what you end up is you end up with super bugs or super weeds or super something that just says, "Hey, we got this figured out, we can work around it now." So I think that's super smart, but great.
Well, I know that you have a wonderful YouTube channel and I've been enjoying watching it. I was actually watching you and your mom make fire cider the other day every year. And I always love seeing all the different little personality spins that go into fire cider. And yours was really fun to watch too. And people can find you by checking you out at your YouTube channel, which is The Honeystead. And you've got a lot of fun videos, a lot of great videos on beekeeping, but also using that honey and herbal medicine and all sorts of other things that you do over on that channel.
So it's really fun to see other parts of the country and other methodologies for doing different things.
Carolyn: Go check out Kaylee's YouTube channel and thank you again, as I'm really excited about jumping into beekeeping. We'll see if it makes it onto the actual project list for this year or if we decide we've got to get the final orchard in first to have enough bee food. But you've made me really excited about it. Thank you so much.
Kaylee: Thank you for having me. And I look forward to hearing what happens with you and your bees and your homesteads and watch it grow.
Carolyn: Yeah, well we'll keep you updated, so thank you, Kaylee.
Kaylee: Thank you.
Carolyn: Goodbye everybody.
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