Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Honey Bees

Wednesday, May 26, 2011

A beautiful day here on the mountain. It's already up to 68.4° with a mild wind that barely ripples the tree leaves. As much as I want to jump into the list of things to do, I'm a little tired after a six hour round trip to Orwell, Vermont yesterday with friend Michelle to pick up a joint project--our first hive of honey bees.

Honey and honey bees have been an interest of mine since I was perhaps 5 or 6 and saw bees tended by Harold, a local beekeeper who was known for his skills as well as his reputation of being a hermit. When people had trouble with their bees or when hives swarmed or were found, Harold was always called to come remedy the problem.

Being a farmer or gardener makes one more tuned to insects including bees. It's an interesting symbiosis. Trouble is that wild bees are almost nonexistent any more and mite and virus problems exist now that never prevailed when I was a kid. Local author Rowan Jacobsen wrote a good book on the demise of bees titled Fruitless Fall: The Collapse of the Honey Bee and the Coming Agricultural Crisis. It's a good read and it sure wakes you up to the trouble we are in. When he wrote the book there was no definitive cause of colony collapse but now there are strong theories and additional challenges to all theories.

So part because I wanted to and part because I felt obligated to and mostly because my friend Mike came up with a free hive, frames, hats, gloves, and smoker, I located a beekeeper named Roland Smith, owner of Singing Cedars Apiaries, and I ordered up one-five frame nucleus, a laying queen and bees like you can't count. The purpose of our trip to Orwell was to place the frames, queen bee and other bees into our hive and begin an exciting hobby.

It's an interesting affair to pull into someone's driveway in the middle of nowhere and find yourself surround first by people you have never seen in your life all donning once-white beekeeper suits..... and then being surrounded by flying honey bees in numbers that aren't even imaginable. Many people had been into beekeeping before as contrasted by our hospital-clean suits. To say that Michelle and I were standouts as beekeeping novices doesn't tell the story. Everyone we met was helpful and shared their experiences and advice freely even though we were the cleanest dressed people there. So much so that we decided on the way home that we needed to roll around a little and dirty-up the suits before returning next year so we looked like the more experienced keepers we will be by then.

The property is packed deep in little brooder boxes, each a small hive in itself. Each contains a queen bee and 5 frames of unborn bees and also a little honey. There are live bees already contributing to the health of the little colony and it is this entire collection that you swap out into your hive. You need a hand held smoker to quiet the bees and a hive tool to pry apart the frames and dig them apart for inspection as you decide what boxful you want to transfer and take home. I had prepared torn up newspaper and pine needles in my smoker and peers deemed this acceptable. Never got to use it myself though as I begged for help from the owner's helper--who by the way was the only person to be stung in the crowd of +20 customers standing in the midst of a bazillion bees. Michelle and I had no problem with any of the bees--not even one colony that was aggressive from the minute the top of the box was popped. We left those there for someone else.

All the customers wanted to know how many hives we were picking up. Having a spanky clean suit on was as bad perhaps as saying "One" when others were picking up 2, 3, 5, "lots". One was quite fine for us as we journey into beekeeping.

If you get a chance, read the book I cite and see what a dilemma we are in. And if you are out and about and close by Vermont Flower Farm, stop for a visit, but please don't go near the bees. They are working all day long, just like me!

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where the apples are in full bloom and the lilacs are finally breaking. Shad bushes are in bloom which means the trout are finally biting.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm
On Facebook as Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens and also as George Africa
On Twitter as vtflowerfarm

New picture album on the trip will be posted to the VFF and Gardens FB page in the next day. Take a look!


. . . Lisa and Robb . . . said...

Congratulations on getting bees. They're fascinating and mesmerizing.

Andrée said...

I'm looking forward to future posts about the bees. I haven't heard too much about colony collapse lately. But I do know that my bees are back. Not in the numbers that they were. But I remember a summer of no bumble bees awhile back and it was creepy. This season, I already have dozens of bee photographs. I'm hoping things are better.