The early afternoon of Friday, May 12, was the perfect time to open some hives. Welcome back to learning about the fascinating life of honey bees and the folk who raise them.
An invitation to the homestead of Whitney Wilson, a Johnson County resident, and brand-spanking-new honey beekeeper, had by no means fallen on deaf ears. The task was to inspect the four colonies of bees Wilson had received only weeks ago and to ensure they were all healthy and being fruitful.
Three of Wilson’s colonies were from packages—literally, boxes of bees that were shipped to her. The fourth was from a split hive another beekeeper sold her (a “nuc”). The day she received them, Wilson emptied the three packages of bees into two hives and transferred the frames of bees from the nuc into her third hive.
Four colonies went into three hives? Yes, Wilson has three horizontal Langstroth hives. Rev. Lorenzo Langstroth (1810–1895), considered the Father of American Beekeeping, is credited with innovating the vertical arrangement of stacked boxes and frames inside many are familiar with. But those frames, full of brood and honey, are surprisingly heavy.
“Having horizontal hives means I can have up to three colonies of bees with separators in one hive," Wilson said. "Also, I don’t have to lift heavy, stacked boxes to access the frames for routine hive maintenance. They’re all right here in one row.”
Under the mentorship of JoCo Beekeeping Association’s president, Janice Friend, Wilson opened the hives one by one and examined every frame with Friend’s guidance.
Each colony was doing very well, according to Friend. The queens were laying eggs, and the bee brood was plentiful. The workers were taking care of every aspect of rearing the brood and bringing pollen and nectar back to build the pantry stores for food and honey.
When asked what sparked her fire to keep bees, Wilson did not hesitate to answer, “I’ve always been interested in keeping bees. I had the opportunity to follow my daughter and son-in-law to a place where I have access to twenty acres and follow a homesteading lifestyle. It all came together.”
In addition to the honey she and her family will share with the bees, Wilson chose to raise a type of honey bee that is known to produce high levels of propolis. Propolis is a weatherproofing glue made of plant resins, beeswax, and bee saliva. Propolis is also touted to have curative properties for humans. Wilson, a hobby herbalist, expects to create tinctures with propolis and make the traditional remedy available to others.
While Wilson is still a new beekeeper, she spent a fair amount of time researching before jumping into the craft. “I’ve attended beekeeping meetings, learned about bee biology, watched YouTube videos, and read books from other respected beekeepers, and everything else you can do to learn how to be a good beekeeper.”
Wilson continued, “There is a broad spectrum of ways to keep bees. Learning as much as possible is important to make the best choices.”
Another visit to Wilson and her hives in a couple of weeks is already on the calendar. Can’t wait to see how they’ve grown.