Posted by: Pam B. Newberry | January 29, 2011

It’s a Hardknock Month for Us…

Hello Everyone,

As much as I love all seasons, it seems this month of January has tested my resolve to not look badly on a time of winter. After attending a meeting of fellow beekeepers at the Mountain Empire Beekeepers Association (MEBA) on Thursday evening and hearing the members’ struggles these last few weeks of watching their bees during these long stretches of cold, I can almost believe I can relate to how the bees must be feeling right now.

Today is an extremely lovely day, even with the wind, compared to the bitter cold, snow, and ice of the last few weeks. Right now the temperature is hanging around 48 degrees. If it makes it to 50 degrees I bet many bees will be out taking a cleansing flight. I feel as though I need one too!

Right after New Year’s, I came down with a horrible cold and cough, which still won’t go away. During our beekeeper’s meeting, we discussed diseases and parasites that can attack the bee colony this month. It is kind of sad when you hear what all a bee must face. And now, we are learning of the march of the Africanized bee along with more concern for the small hive beetles or hard-shelled beetles, as they are sometimes called. Evidently, these lovely little creatures are starting to be seen near our area and concerns were raised at the meeting for the need to be aware of them and what damage they can do.

The president of our association shared some pointers (based on his experience and what he’d read in the book “Beekeeping Basics” by Penn State – MAAREC) on what a beekeeper should do during this month and moving into February. He said, and many of the old timers agreed, it depends on the weather as well as the food stores, the colony strength (i.e., colony number), and the strain or race of bees you happen to own. Kind of reminds me of the old saying, “It’s always the weather, stupid!”

As a newbie, who doesn’t even have any bees yet, but we’ll be building our hives in the next few weeks. I can tell you it is hard to hear the challenges the honey bee must face in order to survive. I worry that my limited skill and knowledge may not help them much. Yet, all those who had been keeping bees over three years stated not to give in to that fear. The members of the organization who had been keeping bees over ten years shared how their love of the honey bee helped them through the tough times.

Kind of makes you think about us as we cluster together as a family with close friends. You see, Hobbit King and I lost an aunt this week. She had been sick for a while and she had grieved deeply for her husband, whom she loved dearly and had past several years back. I believe she is now at peace and is happy with him. This is no different from what has been learned about the honey bee colony and how they tend to their young (brood) with extreme care, keep their hive protected, and care for their dead in what I’d call a caring way. Life goes on when someone dies. Life goes on for the honey bee colony when its members die as well.

The experienced members at our association meeting shared different methods they use to try to help their colonies survive the onslaught of hunger for the honey bee during this time. Yes, hunger and even starvation! I was amazed to hear that the cause of the most loss of honey bee colonies in the winter isn’t the cold and severe temperatures, but starvation. Members shared how many times a colony will have plenty of stores, but because they are protecting their brood, will not venture away to feed even with honey just inches away. If it means leaving the brood, they will not move for the food. Amazing!

Many of the techniques shared were tips on how to use sugar-water in a 2:1 ratio in a mason jar with the inner cover riddled with holes, granulated sugar on newsprint (I found this one extremely fascinating), fondant, and pollen patties. All these different suggestions to help stave off starvation.

The saddest and most heart pounding piece of information shared was the beekeepers mantra: “If you do everything right, you can still lose a hive.”

Isn’t that the way of life and a family? As a mother or father, you hope you do everything right, but you can still lose your child. As a wife or husband, you plan to do all you can to have a long and happy marriage, but you can still lose your companion. As a daughter or son, you try to do all you can to be a good and productive adult, but you can still lose your parents. The more I learn about keeping bees, the more I see why others have been so passionate before me about the art of bee keeping. You see life before you!

Next month the Mountain Empire Bee Keepers Association (see their website to the right) will be offering a beginner’s bee class. Hobbit King and I have signed up for it. This will be our second beekeeper’s class. We find it invigorating, enlightening, and downright fun. We also want to continue to build a strong network with our fellow beekeepers in the area.

If you are a beekeeper, consider being a mentor. They say beginner beekeepers are more likely to stay in the hobby if they have someone to talk to about what they are experiencing. If you are thinking about becoming a bee keeper, keep on thinking it, but better yet, sign up for a class. You will “bee” so amazed at what you learn! 🙂

I’m so excited that we’ll be starting the construction of our bee hives real soon. Come back and read more posts as our journey begins to pick up and we learn more about this beautiful hobby of keeping bees! We’ll have pictures of our journey and other tidbits to share as us newbees learn along the way.

Again, thanks for understanding about my absence this last month. I hope you and yours are able to miss out on the lovely cold and flu. I’ve missed sharing and look forward to your comments, questions, or ideas! Do share this post if you think it is worthy and write and tell me what you think of the posts!

Always with Honey Cheers,
Hobbit Queen


  1. I’m sorry to hear you have been having a hard time of it – hope things are improving.

    I find it incredible that the honey bee has such a hard time surviving. From now on I will value each bit of honey I get and give thanks to the little creatures that produce it.

    I have a question, HQ – what exactly is raw honey? As opposed to commercial honey? I am confused about this designation – my online nutritionist recommends raw honey but I’m not sure what it is.

    Wizards and Ogres and Elves…oh my!


    • Hi Sandra…Thanks for your comments and good wishes for me improving. It is all dependent on the lovely weather and how well I keep warm. 🙂 Seriously, thanks!

      Now to your question. My resource is the website bees-online and from callling and talking to a friend, but raw honey refers to how the honey is treated when packaged vs. commerical honey that before it is packaged it is “pasteurized” and all of the good stuff is removed due to heating.

      Cold packed honey is the best, which means the honey is not placed into hot jars. If you find pieces of honey comb, some pollen, and other aspects as you would if you ate honey directly from the hive, then you have raw honey.

      Otherwise, the honey may have had some heat applied in some form and this unfortunately reduces the quality of honey. Meaning lots of nutrients that are affected by heat are reduced or actually removed.

      The honey that comes with the wax comb, which is harder to get the good honey out, thus the reason you don’t find it commerically, is the best tasting, and most nutrient rich raw honey. IMHO.

      Hope this helps.
      Honey Cheers,
      Hobbit Queen


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