My Honeybee Stockings
The first year I started beekeeping, I had two hives I named after my mother and grandmother. It was fun to sit and watch the bees going in and out, and I would have learned faster if a mentor had been available which is why years later I started a local bee club to support students from my beekeeping classes, at their request.
As it was, I had read a ton of books before starting, was attending a beekeeping club run by a commercial honey producer and, at times, found my beekeeping technique preferences at odds with his recommendations.
Killing my queen bees every year, for example. But I don't keep the colonies for honey-production, I would say, I just want them around for pollination. You still should kill your queens off every year and replace them, he would say.
Well that didn't happen, and now 7 years later it still doesn't happen unless I inadvertently squish her somehow. Even most of the older, slower-laying queens get to live out their lives in my hives or nucs and, in most cases, the worker bees know when it's time to literally grow a new one.
This first year in beekeeping, though, everything was so new and exciting. I can still remember the thrill of the daily discoveries - still have some of those today. And as the year wrapped up, I literally wrapped the two hives in styrofoam to help insulate them from the cold winds that hit my limestone hillside. It was suggested I could try roofing insulation but I liked the idea of the styrofoam better, especially against the cold winds.
One morning a couple of days before Christmas, an old truck stopped in front of my house and a man knocked on my door to ask if I wanted the "refrigerators" in the garden hauled off. It took me a minute to realize he meant my nicely-insulated honeybee hives!
Inspired to add to the neighborhood holiday decor and make sure others didn't think I had abandoned refrigerators in my garden, I made fleece Christmas stockings for each of the hives. They hung on the front where everyone could see them, six little booties for each of the colony queens.
I almost forgot about the stockings until spring, when one of the neighbor boys was riding by on his bicycle and he asked if Santa had found the stockings hanging from the hives. Looking into those young blue eyes, I said "yes, he did, and he took the little jar of honey I left out for him, too." The neighbor nodded and rode off on his bike, hopefully another year of believing still ahead of him.
I have more colonies now. They are painted to look like houses and have a black insulated wrap around the middle so they don't look like abandoned apartment refrigerators. Those first bee stockings hang on my den fireplace mantle, a wonderful reminder of the awe, and excitement, of getting into beekeeping, and the promise of the new adventures ahead.
From my hives to yours, Merry Christmas!