Beekeeping, a springtime pursuit you can do in winter; start your hive now
SHORELINE — Outfitted in her white bee suit, complete with a round veil covering her face, Marian Breeze meticulously tends to her buzzing honey bees during the warmer weather.
From hand-building their cedar-shingle hive, to worrying about their survival over the winter months, the Guilford resident is totally invested in their well-being.
“I can say it’s been one of the most rewarding pursuits that I can imagine,” said Breeze, facing her first winter as a beekeeper.
Anyone nterested in starting a hive may purchase bees through the Menunkatuck Audubon Society bee sale at menunkatuck.org. The three-pound package contains about 10,000 honey bees and one queen, along with a can of sugar water. The orders are placed now and will be delivered in late April from apiaraies in Georgia.
Aside from setting up a hive for the arrival of the bees, Menuntatuck board member Will Braun said it doesn’t entail very much advance work. While some people like Breeze choose to wear a full suit while beekeeping, that is not necessary, he said.
“You could wear long sleeves and you would probably want — for psychological reasons — to have a veil, but they’re not going to sting you,” said Braun, of Madison. “They’re pretty docile. They’re active, but they’re active, kind of driven, on creating success in their colony.
“They’re gathering pollen, they’re pollinating and they’re gathering nectar and turning it into honey,” he said.
Yet both Braun and Breeze agree that most beekeepers do not take honey the first year.
“If you do that your first year, most definitely you’re going to kill the hive,” he said. “It’s like you took away their one chance of survival.”
Breeze was happy to get a tiny taste of the honey she hopes she will be able to harvest when the weather warms up.
“There were a few times when a little bit broke off, so I did have a little taste, and it’s amazing,” she said.
As a beekeeper for about four years, Braun is tending to his fifth hive. The loss of the bees over the years has varied from lack of food, mites and bees deserting the hive.
He admits losing hives is disappointing.
“It was discouraging,” he said. “I felt like maybe it was a time waste, and not that I put a lot of time into it, because I really didn’t.
“You only have to put so many hours a year into it, but it was mainly the waiting game, like waiting all season long thinking I’m getting something and then, it was like crush, nothing — totally dead.”
Yet, for Braun, as well as Breeze, the pursuit becomes somewhat of an addiction.
“It’s sort of a challenge, and I like to take on the challenge and try to figure out how to make it work,” he said.
“I had a natural interest in it,” he said talking about his first hive. “I was growing some vegetables and I thought, ‘Oh, I’m going to maximize my yield,’ believe it or not, which is true. If you have any garden, it’ll be augmented by bees.
“If you have hives on your property, everything’s more luscious,” he said.
Breeze attributes her interest in beekeeping back to her days watching her grandfather tend to his hives, in addition to her love of communing with nature.
“Really appreciating having a connection to the seasons and the local environment has always been an important part of my life,” she said.
“So keeping bees is one way for me to be more observant about the daily cycle of things and the weekly cycle of things and seasonal cycles in a way that, I think, is much easier to do when you’re keeping bees or doing other things that connect you to the outdoor environment and local environment.”
Preparing for her foray into beekeeping, Breeze took a course through the Connecticut Beekeepers Association, read as much as she could and talked to beekeepers.
“There’s so much to read about beekeeping, and I think that probably one of the most important things to do is to get a local beekeeper,” she said.
“It’s a very humbling experience,” she said. “Every time I read something I am reminded of how little I know or understand about bees.
“Especially when you talk to someone who’s been beekeeping for 20, 30, 40 years and you see their level of dedication and the care and attention that people give to beekeeping.”
Braun echoed this.
“Each year, and frankly each time I open the hive,” he said, “I learn something more. People who have been beekeeping for 30 years still keep gaining things out of it.”