Bustling 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! Once 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. 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. So 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!