Sunday, June 03, 2012

Honey Bees Buzz With Happiness

 Saturday, June 2, 2012

4:30 PM and raining cats and dogs as I sit in the shed at the flower farm watching cars stream by and waiting for the close of business. I relieved Gail a couple hours ago so she could get home to supper duties and she had only had three customers all day. Only "real" gardeners stop and break out the umbrellas when it's raining this hard.

Today's heavy rain seemed coincidental as I headed out with bee keeper friend Michelle at 6:15 AM to travel to Westfield, Vermont to Northwoods Apiaries to pick up a hive of honey bees. Oddly it was a year ago this week that I bought my first-ever hive of bees and within 24 hours they were covered by 6-7-8 feet of flood waters in what turned out to be the first of three floods and the biggest disaster ever to hit Vermont. I recovered that hive and the bees lasted until late summer when wax worms that infiltrated the hive during the floods devastated them. Until that point, that hive represented an exercise in strength and persistence that few believed.

I have to admit that I had second thoughts about spending more money on bees but last year's experience was an interesting journey into a natural science I had left back in my youth. A local man named Harold who people called the "bee man" was often called upon to retrieve errant swarms and afterwards he'd always share bee stories with me. I marveled at his little body as he climbed trees and marveled still more at his attire of a dirty old t-shirt and no protective gear at all. I have no idea how many times he was stung but it never bothered him.

I hadn't been to Westfield in some time and our morning trip to Hardwick and then up to Irasburg, over to Lowell and then up to Loop Road, Westfield was fun. One farmer was turning out a herd of freshly milked Holsteins into a new field and Michelle and I commented on how well kept the cows were. Sadly, a vet was working on one cow in the barnyard and this served as a reminded that parts of farming are not happy.

Josh White is the owner of the apiary and a simple hand painted sign at the end of his driveway said it all. "BEES". A small but growing line already existed when we arrived and we fell into queue to converse about our experiences and wait our turn. John moved the forklift back and forth just before our turn as he needed more boxed bees,
Last year Michelle and I travelled to Singing Cedars Apiaries in Benson , Vermont for an entirely different experience. There you popped open brood boxes and checked for bees, the queen, nucs and the like. With Josh,  the work was all done and the 5 frames including a nicely marked queen were ready to go. We were loaded up and on our way home with 4-5000 bees sitting between us on the front seat of the truck, our bee suits still behind the seat, never even put into action in contrast to last year's foray.

Making the transfer from a cardboard box to our hive sounds easy and it is but for some reason these bees got a little testy. When I took the box out of the truck, the box was warm because the bees were a little wound up and humming a tune I was not familiar with. I told Michelle I absolutely had to put on my suit but she said all she needed was a bonnet. She's one of these special bee people who never has a problem.

As I popped the top on the cardboard box, bees exited in mass and I was immediately stung 4 times on gloveless hands. I never wear gloves but these bees were testing me. Even Michelle decided that a pair of gloves made sense until we made the transfers. Things went smoothly from there although I picked up a couple more stings through my pants and she got nailed on the back and on one leg. Within an hour my arthritic hands felt a lot better so I guess the interaction was worth it.

The queen looked fine and had been laying like crazy so more and more bees will be hatching soon. I should have asked what type bees these were as they are slightly larger than the Russian mix I purchased last year.

There are some interesting differences in the behavior of this hive compared to last year's hive but that is common among bees. I still don't know what stirred up such a quiet hive but it could have been the screw gun noise as I made a couple last minute changes to the base I had constructed for the hive. The hive is inside an electric fence but adjacent to the house where I can keep track of it by looking out my office window. A single male phoebe is also spending lots of time there picking up dead bees from the transfer.

I will keep an eye on these bees for a few days now to be sure they have enough food and water as it will rain more this week and food sources are minimal right now. There is a nice bank of blackberries near the hive but I figure the flowers may be spent by the time the rains cease in another day.

If you haven't gotten into bee keeping before, it can be another one of those bottomless pit things but there is a joy involved. Last year I was surprised how watching the direction of the workers leave the hive made me more cognizant of the flower types in bloom at different times of the summer. Gail has offered some encouragement as she knows I am really interested in bees but knowing as she does about the bear population here at the house--three sows and six cubs, she is not as optimistic as I am that the electric fence will do it's job and the hive will be standing come late fall when it's time to prepare it for winter. Regardless of those thoughts, I'm smiling today!

Writing from the nursery office where a flock of adult common mergansers just traveled down the Winooski River. Maybe tomorrow will bring better weather and more customers. Sun will encourage the bees to acclimate to their new surroundings.

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
Stop by VFF and we'll help you grow your green thumb!

1 comment:

Angela said...

You are very brave! I would love to do bee keeping eventually. Thanks for sharing.