Providing Some Sweetness From Our Farm

Ordering Bees

Beehive in spring of 2011

One of the things we hope to accomplish by our farming is being a little more self-sufficient.  That will be hard to do on 1 1/2 acres, but we’re doing what we can.  One thing we knew we could never provide for ourselves is sugar.  Sugar cane just doesn’t grow in central Illinois!  Sugar beets, maybe, but I don’t think we could grow anywhere near enough of those to supply our needs.  Sorghum?  That would grow, but again the quantity we could grow would never supply our needs.  And the processing of sugar beets and sorghum would be much more difficult than I want to deal with.  The next best thing would be maple sirup.  Alas, we have no sugar maples.  We are fortunate to have a local producer of maple sirup just an hour away in Funks Grove.  Every year I either drive down there, or just have UPS deliver 2 gallons of wonderful, maple sirup.  But it’s still not self-produced.  I have fought against the only viable option for years.  Keeping honeybees.

One major reason for avoiding raising honeybees is obvious.  Stingers.  Last year I turned 43 and was proud to say I’d never been stung.  Nor had I any desire to change that on purpose.  But by last fall, I was starting to change my mind.  Not about getting stung, but about keeping bees.  If I was ever going to supply us with any sort of sweetener, this was going to be my only chance.  And just like 23 years ago I resigned myself to the idea that give birth to a child would hurt, I accepted the fact that I could probably deal with a bee sting now and then – as long as I don’t end up allergic.  (Notice earlier I said, I never HAD been stung.  That has changed.  I’ve now been stung once.  My suit had open slits in the side to allow access to pants pockets.  I’d noticed that a few weeks earlier and thought it was kind of dumb, but forgot to do anything about it.  In the fall one day I opened the hive to see how the girls were doing, and one managed to get in that slit and sting me on the hip.  I survived with just some itching for a week or so, but the slits are now sewn shut.  No need to invite more!)

Last fall I started to accumulate some information on bees and beekeeping and over the winter we bought some hives and other necessary equipment that a co-worker of my husband’s had extra.  Brand new, but extra.  Keith spent some time putting the hives together and painting them.  We borrowed a DVD on beekeeping and watched it a couple of times.  We bought “Beekeeping For Dummies” and read that.  (Yes, there really is a “Dummies” book for everything, I think!)  The same co-worker ordered 2 extra packages of bees for us with his order, and in mid-April they were delivered.  It happened to be a very warm week in April, a great time to install my bees!  As the sun was setting, my 13-year-old son and I managed to get the bees in their hives, gave them some food to get them started, and he only got stung once!  They weren’t flying around, but one was on the ground, crawled up his leg under his jeans and freaked out.

Unfortunately, the very next week the warm spell ended and it was quite cold for the next 2 weeks.  I did my best to feed my bees, but it was just too cold.  They stayed in a cluster and didn’t go up to eat the sugar syrup.  Both hives died.  I was able to get a nuc to replace one batch, but at the time I ordered, the 2nd hive still looked alive.  By the time the new bees came in May, the other hive was dead, but it was too late to get more.  Hive #1 did ok over the summer.  They didn’t produce enough honey for us to get any, but they lived and filled all their comb with honey.  Now I just pray every day that they will live through the winter.

But that brings me to hive #2.  I need more bees, and though beekeepers have just harvested their honey, it’s time to place orders for new bees if I don’t want to miss out again.  So today I got on the internet and looked to see if there were any local sources for bees.  As it turns out, there is one just 2 hours away, Long Lane Honey Bee Farms.  In addition to the bees, they also have supplies, give classes on beekeeping and a blog and videos to help you out.  I’m looking forward to exploring their site and blogs more and gaining some more knowledge before spring and in the future.

I also have 3 friends nearby who keep bees who have helped with advice, information, and once a visit to help me open my hive up and take a look around.  As much help as books and videos are, sometimes I just need hands-on help and greatly appreciate my friends who are willing to give of their time and knowledge to help me out.