Well. I wish I’d known a lot of things – and not just about beekeeping. But this is the thing that occurred to me this afternoon:
Hive bodies are lighter than honey supers.
That is, the boxes that the queen lays eggs in are lighter than the boxes the bees fill with honey. Honey is heavy. And everyone in my beginner beekeeper workshops was quick to point this out: The weight of a typical box of honey is 50 or 60 pounds!
I appreciate the wow factor of this number. It’s attention-grabbing. As I have mentioned before, it certainly made an impression upon me — a small female person without a lot of upper-arm strength, and possessed of a great desire to never drop a box full of agitated bees. This just didn’t seem like the sort of hypothetical occurrence that would go well for any of us.
With this in mind, I chose my equipment carefully. I bought the smallest possible boxes I thought I could reasonably use for beekeeping — which, in the event, was a size that I’d been told capped out at around 40 pounds when loaded down with honey. This seemed manageable. (It’s still not something I want to attempt after Arm Day. But it is manageable.)
HOWEVER. It turns out that bees (and baby bees. Pre-bees?) are a lot lighter than honey. The box that I so feared — the one that holds 50 or 60 pounds of honey — probably weighs closer to 30 pounds, when its contents are mainly bees. Nobody mentioned this at any of my workshops! I realize 30 pounds doesn’t sound nearly as impressive, but future beekeeping instructors, please take note: It would have been really good information for me to have had.
Working with smaller boxes has a lot of pros and cons, which I have touched upon before, during the incident that convinced me my boxes were too small. If the alternative is drastic measures to avert a spring swarm, I can definitely lift 30 pounds of bees at a time. I’m sticking to the smaller boxes for my honey supers out of self-preservation, but I want to use deeper boxes for the hive bodies. My mentor’s earnest recommendation (there may have been four-letter words) definitely helped this decision along.
So this winter I ordered new equipment*, and I’ve been building and painting, and soon I will have deep-sized hive bodies (~30 pounds each) and medium-sized honey supers (~40 pounds when full). Like many third-year beekeepers, I’ve also abandoned most of my early artistry: Before I actually had bees to manage, I bought pre-mixed paint in my chosen hue, and lovingly decorated the exterior of my hives with cute bee-themed patterns. Now, I grab whatever light-colored, latex-based “oops” paint is on the sale shelf at (MY NEMESIS) the hardware store — and my boring, undecorated boxes are almost the same color, in the most aggravating way possible.
Beekeeping: I’m doing it right, y’all.
The two colonies in this photo are the Paris hive (right), and the new split (left) that I made in early March. (Spoilers: I lost my beloved, sweet-tempered London hive in December, when the temperature plummeted suddenly to 15 degrees for a week.) I have, superstitiously, not yet named the new colony. I’ll do that once I know it has a laying queen — which, I hope, will be this Saturday.
Transitioning to the deep boxes is going to be a bit of a messy process, as I shuffle boxes around and wait for the bees to make enough wax to draw comb out on the new frames. I hate to make them start all over again — but we’ll all be in a better position for healthy, successful colonies and lots of honey after it’s done!
I could have avoided this if I’d known, two and a half years ago, that I could lift a deep hive body. But that’s okay. Learning is what being a beginner is all about — right?
*Another thing I wish I’d known is that not all manufacturers of equipment use quite the same measurements for their boxes. To my frustration, this means some of the parts of my boxes from different suppliers don’t fit together — sometimes in ways that limit their use. I don’t feel like my inexperience can be entirely blamed for this, since I’ve had equipment arrive in the same shipment that didn’t all align properly (for example, when one big supplier buys out another). I’ve employed my dremel to the best of my ability, but we’ve discussed my skill level with power tools, right…? Experienced beekeepers, how do you handle equipment that doesn’t fit together, short of a degree in woodworking?