February 01, 3000

My Colorado Beekeeping Calendar: A sticky post

A Phenological Calendar for Colorado Beekeepers

By undergoing VIT, I successfully reduced my sensitivity to honeybee venom to safe levels! After taking several years off, my interest in beekeeping has not waned, and I'm anxious to restock our hives. I will definitely let you know when that happens, but first we have to find where to get bees in our new home state of Virginia!

Meanwhile, what about you? What are your plans for this season? If you're in the Denver metro, maybe my Colorado bloom calendar will help you think them through. ☝️ Yellow bars = mason bee tasks, blue bars = honeybee tasks. The green bars in the calendar are what's blooming now. Keep in mind that the dates can shift a couple of weeks in either direction depending on weather conditions. For example, the excessively warm 2017/2018 winter had elm trees blooming well before Valentine's Day. The snow storm on President's Day, though, cut short its blooming period. You can click on any of the events for more details and additional reading. I hope you find it useful.

And don't forget, Marty Hardison's booklet, "The Appropriate Beehive" is available at right. If you like The List he wrote for when to do what for one's bees, please consider making a donation. It'll ensure "The Appropriate Beehive" remains available through this website. I'm working with Marty on an update but am challenged by the limits of Google Docs. Like many right now (2020), I'm unemployed so can't afford Microsoft Word, but I'm trying to find a solution so we can post it for you ASAP. Until then, may your hives be humming. — BB & HB

Blogger Tip: create a "pinned" or "sticky post" by publishing it with a date in the future, like in the year 3000. It'll stay at the top of your page as long as the date hasn't passed.

February 22, 2021

How many hives to start with. A little goes a long whey.

IN SUMMARY: Two's company. Or possibly a crowd.
Plus read through so you don't make the same "get two hives" mistake I did.

A little goes a long whey.

I bought my first beehive in 2008 and the second in 2012. I treated my first hive with tung oil a couple of times but quickly gave up on it. Even when blended with citrus oil to carry it deeper into the wood, tung oil stinks and still doesn't last, so there was no point. Afterwards, I paid no attention to my woodenware because rotting out in Colorado with it's mere 14-inches of rain (in a good year) just doesn't happen. But here in the DC area with its 43-inch average, my hives started to mold almost on arrival. Fuzzy white mold. Polka dots of black mold. The entrance side of my top bar hive was turning black. Ugh. Something had to be done. I found a waterproof stain that's ideal for beehives called PolyWhey, and they look great again. In the photos below (taken last Fall), you can see how my cedar Warré hive and pine Top Bar Hive look before and after. 

Left: untreated cedar. Right: stained with PolyWhey made by Vermont Natural Coatings, in Golden Cedar (mostly).

Left: untreated pine. Right: Brackish Brown reminds me of my childhood violin.

PolyWhey is a stir-it and apply-it dream to use. It's non-toxic, barely has an odor, and cleans up with water. There's a LOT to like about PolyWhey, too much to write about here, and I've already not answered your question about how many hives to start with for long enough, so here's some bullet points.

  • It comes in over a dozen colors. Samples from Green Building Supply are really cost effective!
  • It penetrates the wood yet an 8-ounce sample size is plenty for a three-story hive with some left over.
  • Water sheds off the hives beautifully. Time will tell how long it lasts, and I promise to update the blog when/if they need retreating.
  • There is a temperature/humidity window. I treated my hives back in September when the rain stopped for a hot minute in Virginia.

A little goes a long way.

Finally, to answer, "How many hives to start with?" If your budget only allows for one, that's how I started. It's a totally fine way to start, but when my singleton swarmed it sure would've been handy to have an empty hive on hand. Woodenware is a long-lasting, good investment, so buy two if you can even if you can only populate one at first.

Do not get two different hive styles; that's the mistake I made. Even though both of my hives are "top bar hives," one is managed vertically and the other horizontally. The differences are enough to stymie your progress as a new beekeeper, which in turn can stymie the progress of your bees. Remember, your job first and foremost is to give the bees what they need, when they need it. In fact, it's best to anticipate their needs and have a plan in place, plus contingency plans, so their progress never loses momentum. That gets tricky when you're simultaneously new to bees and working different style hives. The less you're standing around scratching your head wondering what to do, the better off your bees will be.

I'm realizing just now that you may be wondering about more than woodenware, and probably want to know how many colonies to start. Many veteran beekeepers say to start with two or even three but I don't subscribe to that, at least not for the typical backyard. The ability of the environment to handle a large bee population should not be ignored. Honeybees are not native to the US, so every colony you keep puts competitive pressure on the native pollinator population. Especially in suburban backyards, even if well planted, there are limited nectar and pollen sources for the hundreds of native bee species with similar dietary requirements, like bumble bees. Starting with just one or two hives limits the competition while giving you time to find your footing, and an outyard for when you're ready for more.

If you're already a beekeeper, how many hives or colonies did you start with? And are you a native bee keeper, too?