right now :: swarm

IMGP1308Wasn’t it just a week ago that I got into my beehives to check on their spring progress? Did I really say that I saw no signs of swarming? Did I really say that? Ha! The joke is on me, for sure! Just goes to show how little I actually know about the nature of bees after fifteen years of keeping them.IMGP1316

Today, my bees issued a giant swirling mass of buzzing bee love. The swarm: a beehive’s way of reproducing itself. Really, swarming is a good thing. Most of the time it shows that a hive is healthy and strong enough to split apart. To the beekeeper, though, it can sometimes be so humbling to watch half of your bees fly off into the wild blue yonder. We have the added bonus of living in a fairly deep hollow, surrounded by fairly large trees. It seems that any swarm that has ever come from the hives I keep down by our house tends to gather at least fifty feet up in a tree (fyi… this is not at all what most beekeeping books say will happen when a hive swarms. ahem.), making them very much out of reach for capture. So even though I said I saw no signs of swarming in my hives, my bees had other plans apparently. IMGP1324

I was just getting on the little tractor to do some mowing around the homestead when Opal came over with the report that my bees were flying everywhere. Time to shift gears, and not those of the tractor! I quickly shut the tractor off and went to watch the party. After what looked like mad chaos (even though I know it wasn’t), the bees gathered together in their swarm way up high in the sugar maple tree that is the centerpiece of our homestead. There was no chance of scooping them up and putting them into a new hive so I did the next best thing I could. I set up a bait hive. I painted some melted beeswax on the interior of the hive to make it alluring to the bees and put it in a location where I once had an empty hive that actually did attract wild honey bees… maybe cosmically, energetically, a good location? Now, its up to the bees. I will have to sit and wait the day or two it takes the bees to consider all their housing options and make their big move. No matter where the bees decide to reside, I wish them well. But I’m keeping my fingers crossed just the same…IMGP1323

hoping for honey

IMGP0965Bustling spring just wouldn’t be the same without saying some thanks to our very important pollinator, the honeybee. I’ve been keeping bees as long as we’ve lived here on the farm. In fact, I established my very first hive on the farm before Eric and I officially moved here. Some years were bustling with the bees, some years not so much. Some years the bees swarmed like crazy, some years they didn’t survive through the winter. I can’t tell you the number of time I’ve established new colonies, but last spring was another of those times. This time, though, I found a local beekeeper in the nearby Amish community that had some nucleus colonies for sale. Locally adapted bees seemed a much better option to me than the mail order bees I had typically purchased. (Don’t get me wrong, though, not everyone has access to a beekeeping neighbor with hives for sale… so if you are looking to get started keeping bees and a mail order swarm is your best option, then go for it! We need bees far more than we need to dwell in the notion of imperfection. This world isn’t perfect. We do our best and move on.)

So far, my little local bees seem to be thriving. They made it through our fairly harsh winter and are very busy with the important work that they do. They were so busy, in fact, that I was worried they might swarm. I also thought that the hives might be getting crowded and could use the extra space of a honey super. I don’t keep the bees just for the golden nectar that they produce, I keep them for many more reasons than that. But, but… my family sure wouldn’t mind to harvest just a little honey from the bees this year! IMGP0977Once I got into the hives, I realized that they were not yet over-crowded and I did not see any signs of swarming… no queen cells that I could find which is just fine with me. When I open the hives, I generally do not pull the frames out of the hive body itself. I always feel like a big awkward destructive bear. Instead, I look down into the frames from the top and will then tip the hive body on it’s side so that I can look up into the frames from the bottom. Most of my beekeeping over the years has followed a more instinctual path. I am not a pro beekeeper by any means, I just like having the little critters around.  IMGP0986 I keep my bees in the standard Langstroth hives. I am very interested in trying out top-bar beehives someday, but I just haven’t made that move yet. Last year I did try out a new type of frame, called a foundationless (“foundation” is the thin sheets of beeswax that you place in the hive to give the bees a guide where to build their cells) frames, that allow the bees to fully build all of their beeswax cells themselves and not necessarily be locked into the rectangular shape of the frame. The beekeeper does paint a small bead of beeswax across the top of the frame as a subtle guide, but otherwise you leave the beeswax construction up to the bees. I’ve never seen a wild hive that is rectangular! Plus, the production of fresh wax is very cleansing for the bees… kind of like us humans having a good old sweat. I could certainly see where these frames could prove problematic for the commercial beekeeper, but I’m more concerned about the health and well-being of the bees. IMGP0988 IMGP0992So after a good look in my hives, and putting on some honey supers just in case, I will leave the bees alone for a while. I will watch them from a distance, say hello to the hard-working little foragers when I see them in the gardens or orchard, and do my best to create health-giving farm environment in which they can thrive. I sure do appreciate having them as neighbors!IMGP0993

gettin’ fresh

IMG_7156Each day is a seduction… a series of events that entice and tantalize us into the next moment. From the strawberry patch to the laden pea vines. From the pasture full of bounding lambs to the outdoor kitchen full of hopping toads. From the sweltering sun in the gardens to the cool water of the creek. From the wood thrush’s song in the morning to the barred owl’s monkey calls in the evening. There’s so much life and pulsing and ripe juiciness all around that I could swear the season is gettin’ fresh with me. After last week’s fiascos, the seas have calmed themselves; the ship has regained her composure and is sailing smoothly once again. Love and light and beauty have grabbed ahold of me firmly by the shoulders and given me a brisk shake. Thank heavens. IMG_7095New harvests are bursting forth from the gardens. We have scored several very isolated rain showers this past week that nearby neighbors (sorry, Coree) have missed. The crops are flourishing. The weeds are pretty intense, too. I could easily disappear in a sea of green and not be found until winter.IMG_7099Two new hives of bees are getting busy with all of the clover blooming in the pastures right now. After a couple of years of not having my own hives, I am once again mesmerized by the busy little workers. And I’m so thankful for their pollination services and so hopeful for their longevity and good health. Admittedly, I’m also fantasizing about giant harvests of honey. But don’t worry bees… I won’t be greedy.IMG_7127During this intense seasonal surge, we are relishing a few days spent visiting and catching up with sweet friends that we haven’t seen in ten years. The last time they were here, Ira was a fat little blob of love that sat happily wedged between two pillows on the couch, drooling and jibbering and smelling of milk. Ten whole years? My goodness. Our newly acquainted children are getting to spend these days making new friends and new memories. And playing heated games of Uno.IMG_7116Chicken love is prevalent around the farm, too… nearly out of control in fact. Ira’s flock is reproducing and proliferating with abandon. I think they might be plotting to take over the farm. Two of his broody hens have made it through their successful 21-day sitting spell and are puffed up with pride while showing their little ones the ropes.IMG_7130And then there are these days spent with my children, creatures of love that they are, absorbing their surroundings like a sponge. They remind me each and every day what joy is all about. They remind me to laugh full belly laughs that bring tears to my eyes.IMG_7106An orphaned little duckling reminds me that my heart can expand further still.IMG_7108And my boy reminds me that there is balance in this world.IMG_7111I just have to take the time to see it. And when I do, when I let the cool waters of life pass over me and replenish me, I see clearly what a gift each moment is.  IMG_7153Cheers, friends! May the beauty of the day sweep you off your feet and leave you breathless and wanting more…