By Beth Ellen Holimon (BE)
Many of you know that Beth Ellen has been a beekeeper for the last five years. We will keep you updated on the bees because we want to encourage the hobby at The Hive Collective!
Beekeeping is an incredible hobby and I have never felt so connected to the systems of the earth as I do in tending bees, rescuing swarms, and learning from them. I believe beekeeping to be a radical act of earth-keeping and if I can inspire others to become beekeepers with these little updates, I would be very happy. The metaphors on life in beekeeping are endless and I will share those too (see Sweet Stories).
This fall our bees shared about 25 pounds of honey with us. In order to get honey from the bees, a lot of things have to go right with the bees and the beekeeper needs to know what she is doing. The queen needs to be laying eggs constantly, there have to be flowers available – the wilder the better, the hive has to be strong without mites and other diseases, the hive must be split or hive boxes added before they get too crowded, and on and on. Then, if everything has gone right with the bees, the beekeeper removes the box of extra honey (you always want to leave enough honey for the bees to get through the winter so you don’t have to feed them all winter) and then puts the frames in a centrifuge after removing the top layer of wax on the honeycomb with a hot knife.
The first time I did this, I removed the box, but could not get the bees to leave their precious honey alone. I left the box out overnight thinking that the bees would go in the hive at night like they usually do – like chickens. When I arrived at the hives in the morning, it was clear that the bees from both hives had eaten ALL the honey and that the bees from both hives had attacked each other to get to the honey first. Under the box, there was a large pile of dead bees. I felt terrible. And it was a couple more years before we had enough honey to try again. It’s a long process. But I don’t give up easily.
As a testament to my tenacity, I am also allergic to bees. It is actually common for beekeepers to be allergic because the allergy develops with more stings. I am currently undergoing venom therapy to reduce my systemic reactions to bee stings – a five-year process. I had become so comfortable with the bees that I was working the bees without gloves and without a bee suit. The bees rarely sting unless there are sudden noises, the honey flow is has slowed, or you step on one in bare feet when it’s raining (yes, I did this). Over the years, I did get a few stings and developed a pretty strong allergy. I won’t give up bees, so off to the allergist for the next five years I go.