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What are the hard parts of beekeeping?

“October is not far away, “ I said at breakfast. Then I ran through a list of questions that typically come in October. Sadly, many are related to the sudden death of previously healthy colonies. I don’t look forward to it.

After listening thoughtfully, my non-beekeeping husband came up with a list of what he considers the “hard parts” of beekeeping. I thought his perspective was interesting because it is based simply on reading my posts and your comments, and watching me work with bees.

He concluded that the hardest parts are those that you need to anticipate and those that leave you with little control. In many cases, if you don’t anticipate a problem, it may be too late once the symptoms appear. In other cases, you basically don’t have much influence over the outcome. Neither type is much fun.

The hard parts

  • Summer dearth. Summer dearth is hard to understand when you are new to beekeeping. The weather is warm, thousands of bees are flying about, and flowers bloom in gardens and along roadways. What could possibly be wrong? In truth, nectar supplies are being consumed, many of the bees you see may be robbers, and the flowers may have little value to such a large number of hungry bees. If you don’t anticipate a colony’s need for feed or defense, it is easy to lose one.
  • Varroa mites. They sneak up on you. Perhaps you counted mites when you first got your colony and maybe again in late spring, but after finding few you became satisfied that your bees have it covered. But mites, like dearths, need to be anticipated. Late summer or early fall mite counts are a necessity simply because knowing  is much more powerful than assuming.
  • Pesticide kills. Someone in your neighborhood sprays a tree in full bloom. Another sprays his flowering hedge to keep his kids safe from bees. This is both hard to anticipate and hard to handle. It’s a difficult part of beekeeping because you have so little control. Your bees may come home and die, or not come home at all.
  • Queenlessness. The problem is not always obvious. Although many colonies are able to raise a queen on their own, many others fail. If you don’t anticipate queen failure as a possible problem, it can quickly become hard or impossible to fix. Queen failure is a difficult aspect of beekeeping because it can leave you with little or no control, especially when it happens in the dead of winter when no replacements are available.
  • Impending swarm. “Reading” a colony for swarming takes practice. Beginners often assume their new colony won’t swarm because it is new, or they assume everything the bees do is swarm preparation. The truth lies somewhere in between. Again, it is hard because unless you read it properly and make the right management decisions, the bees are in control, not you.

What do you think?

I would not have drawn up the same list, but I think his observations may be more accurate than my own. What do you think? What are the hard parts of beekeeping? I would love to hear your opinions.

Honey Bee Suite

Although poppies may bloom in a dearth and provide lots of pollen, they don’t supply nectar. © Rusty Burlew.