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Monday, May 2

the gentle green of spring...and hive swarms

Today there is a lingering chill in the air. As the barn cats and I walk back from the mailbox, we step around the many puddles that remind me of our recent cold, blowing rain. This time of year cannot be trusted...we've had several warm tee-shirt weather days, then just as many frosty mornings that threaten snow.

However; this post is not about the mellow month of May...it is about beekeeping.

Sunday afternoon I quickly visited the coop to collect eggs. The girls were chattering, Bandito was crowing, and then pausing at the door, that's when I heard it...that sound. No, no, no...not again, the bees were swarming! I had 15 minutes before it was time to leave...no time to suit up, no time to prepare. I sadly watched them settle high in a tree.

And so there I was, watching the last of my three hives fly away. One hive was lost over the winter, a second this past autumn to robbing yellowjackets. While a strong colony can defend itself against a yellowjacket invasion, a small one is easily overtaken by them. Once in the hive, yellowjackets will kill the bees, eat the honey, and destroy whatever else they find. By the time I opened it, the hive was empty. 

Soon it was time to leave...a swarm will stay anywhere from a hour to a day, so with any luck they would be there when I returned. And to my surprise, several hours later, I found them still high in the tree!

I called my beekeeping neighbor, we suited up, hauled ladders, found saws and pruners, and into the tree we went. We plotted, we planned, and then carefully secured and sawed the branch holding my escaping friends. Gently we lowered the bees into their new home. We smile! We can't believe our luck! We congratulate each other! We plan to meet again at dark to move the hive to its permanent location.

Fast forward 3 hours...again, I find myself at the chicken coop to tuck the girls in for the night. I can't resist...I take a walk over to see the bees, but it's too quiet. I get closer, I peek inside. 

There are no bees...they have flown off yet again. I call my neighbor and we commiserate over the loss. And so it goes...

Beekeeping is an art...after 4 years I'm still learning. When I began I wanted to know all the rules so I would get it right. Yes, there are rules to follow, but every beekeeper does things differently. It's a gut feeling...an intuition...when to feed, when to add supers, when to take honey and when to leave it. We watch the weather, anticipate the first dandelions, try to forecast the last bloom of the goldenrod and asters.

Here's the thing...with 42% of colonies lost in 2015, might I ask that you plant a flowerpatch with seeds that will grow into flowers bees love? Lavender, rosemary, sage, coneflower, catnip, lamb's ears, verbena, aster, black-eyed Susan, oregano, and yarrow are a few.  You can even search online, "save the bees seeds" and lots of companies will send them to you for free!

Back outside today, I'm weeding flowerbeds, in the distance I hear the far-off sound of a single cardinal. Somewhere in the meadow I see the promise of spring and warm days to come.  For now, I'm looking forward to Friday...I have two new hives coming, and I'll start again.

1 comment:

Diana Pike said...

Mary, how frustrating those bees can be! We lost 3 of our four hives this winter. Ordered three new hives and when we went to put them in we found that one hive had split on it's own and settled into one of the empty hives. So we quickly had to prepare a fifth hive. All this with a thunderstorm just beginning.....

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