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Inspecting the brood

At Gardener’s Supply, we are fortunate to have experts and enthusiasts on just about every subject in the world of gardening. Kay Burde, who works on our merchandising team, is one of several staffers who raise bees.

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Pouring honey into jars

When my husband and I got our first hive in 2010, our goals were:

  • Add pollinators to our garden
  • Harvest our very own honey
  • Satisfy our curiosity and fascination for bees

Within the first few years, we became aware of colony collapse disorder, which made us even more committed to doing something to help. By 2014, we added a second hive.

Pollinators boost harvest

Our vegetable garden and fruit trees have clearly benefited from the pollinators.  We see a big difference in harvests. In addition, keeping bees has made us more aware of our natural environment and the sequence of flowers that attract the bees. It starts in early spring with the dandelions, followed by fruit trees. The succession of bloom continues all summer, ending with the fall goldenrod in the surrounding fields.

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Lighting the smoker. The smoke calms the bees.

Bees are wonderfully self-sufficient, although there is a significant amount of work required when you get started, and a few supplies are required: a bee suit, bees, smoker, hot knife and a hive tool. Then you need some patience as the bees settle in.  Aside from checking the hive from time to time, there is not a lot to do in spring and summer. The most unsettling time is early spring, when you check to see whether they made it through the winter.  In the past six years we have had to replace bees three times. Although it’s discouraging, it is not uncommon for hives to fail over the winter.

How we learned about bees

There is a lot to know about beekeeping, so it’s good to start with a comprehensive guide. We learned a lot from “Backyard Beekeeper” by Kim Flottum. We also found abundant advice and information at a web site called MAAREC. As you get started, there are always questions that crop up, so it’s good to be in touch with beekeepers in your area. For us, it’s the Vermont Beekeepers Association.

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A view into the hive

The best part: honey

Our best harvest was in 2015 when we got 170 pounds in a two-month period.  Harvesting is the part that takes most time, and it’s a bit messy. But the results are amazing, especially when you see the golden liquid flow into clean jars. And the rewards are sweet: your own honey for tea, toast, cooking, baking—and sharing.

Beekeeper Kay Burde

Kay and her husband raise bees in northern Vermont. Their newest project is making beeswax candles.