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March 14th, 2011

Honey, I’m home

The new hive supers and brood boxes arrived this week, sent in a backbreaking UPS shipment from Brushy Mountain Bee. Along with a smoker, protective clothing, and a Spring order for sixty thousand Italian bees, we’re getting serious about honey.

Ora pro no-bees.  Hive frames scattered with lifeless bees, huddled around their honey stores.

Ora pro no-bees. Hive frames scattered with lifeless bees, huddled around their honey stores.

Last season’s colony rallied valiantly against the cold, but the brutal, permafrost Winter this year proved too much for them, and they succumbed. Their stores of honey exhausted, and their thousand fold wing-beats unable to keep the hive at a survival temperature of 94 degrees, they died of exposure and starvation. In December, the hive seemed to be humming along. Bees that were terminally exhausted had clambered out and perished in the snow, which they’re predisposed to do (they’re fussy that way), and I watched workers occasionally cleaning out the hive near the entrance.

All seemed well until mid-January, after a week in the single digits, when the humming and cleaning stopped. I’m not sure If the bees were Neapolitan or from the Italian Alps, but trying to raise internal temps by almost one hundred degrees would take one hell of a furnace, no matter what your origin.

Chickens peruse the frozen food aisle in the orchard for thawing grubs and worms.

Chickens peruse the frozen food aisle in the orchard for thawing grubs and worms.

When I opened the hive, all of the honey stores were exhausted, and I found a tight cluster of lifeless bees huddled in a sphere around their queen, who seemed to have died on the throne. The bees had needed more protection from the elements, more routine care, and I felt as though I had failed them. Any success in farming is always guarded and qualified, tempered by the humbling reality of caring for living things.

So we’re starting over. In fact, as I was assembling and painting the new hives, a few curious bees showed up and started inspecting the bundles of wax frames. They’re from a small colony that swarmed last season and took up residence high inside the wall of our pool porch. Like real estate speculators, they figure it’s a buyers market, and the porch wall is no match for a brand new duplex.

The new hives will be placed out in the Southeast corner of the orchard, where the glacial snow has finally retreated and the hens are now out and about on the sotted earth, looking to scratch up a thawed worm or two.

New hives waiting for assembly.  There will be three new colonies this year of roughly sixty thousand bees.

New hives waiting for assembly. There will be three new colonies this year of roughly sixty thousand bees.

The farm looks a bit scrappy this time of year, not quite camera-ready, with the swill of Spring mud, the storm scattered branches, the gray wall of leaf-less trees. I feel the onset of that seasonal impulse to regenerate, to make my world good and green again.

In a few weeks, seedlings will be started, one or too hens will get broody and begin set on a clutch of eggs, and Spring onions will pierce the earth with their soft, aromatic spears. All the frustration of Winter, like the interminable snow, will have faded to exuberant green.

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