Right now, more than ever, my bees are teaching me that no matter the season, the situation or trials, life goes on. Survivors find a way, together. Right before everyone's lives were upended with the COVID-19 pandemic, I opened up my first hives in late February. When I pulled off the first cover, and saw new wax peeking out from underneath the oxalic acid glycerin sheets, I knew that it was time to get that equipment ready for the spring to come.
I had to go visit my relatives in north central Florida all of a sudden, and while down there I was amazing at the magnitude of spring's blossoms. This decades-neglected azalea at my father-in-law's house was testament.
I was relieved that no matter how much our world may change, and how fragile that is, that the honey bees remain constant and always in tune with nature. Once I returned home and had that first inspection of the year, I smiled when I was rewarded a sting on my right thumb and my left pinkie. I do love getting those first stings out of the way! Those just made it worthwhile when I saw this beautiful queen, and her laying patterns coming out of winter.
I quickly gloved up and went on about my business, beginning the frame-by-frame cleanup and taking stock of the state of my hives. Now, with the world upside down right now, I am taking stock on all the things that are simply right side up, so to speak. These are the gifts we often overlook each and every day. There is no better season to realize what you've been overlooking for so long. Enjoy each day. Smell the flowers now in bloom, don't just pass them by. And bee well. Hello, 2020, nice to make your acquaintance. So far, you're not what I expected. But, life goes on.
With the goldenrod just blooming, it was time to go back into the honey bees for the first time since closing them up for the long, hot summer months.
I went for my biggest hive, which gave me 150 pounds of surplus honey and on which I left one medium and two shallows of honey to get them through. They had the equivalent of one medium and one full shallow of food left. I drove down, cleaning up excess burr comb along the way, remembering a bright idea I had that ended up causing more burr comb for my first re-entry, leaving an Imry shim atop a queen excluder mid-hive.
The bottom brood chamber was mostly empty, it seemed. No brood. But knowing bees shut down for the summer and the queen begins to relay once food starts coming back into the hive, I went through a few random deep frames, and then saw where most of the action was, three out from the end. The frame before it greeted me with the first pockets of fall bee bread, packed in from the new goldenrod flow. There she was, one of my beautiful black amber queens I fought to keep from swarming, successfully, who repaid me with so much delicious honey. She had just begun to lay once again, and I was delighted to not only see her, but this frame of larvae and eggs surrounded by lots of royal jelly. My bees were doing well.
I limited my time to just this one hive. One of my new goals is to rediscover the joyful aspects of beekeeping. It's so easy to let the chores, responsibility and worry pile up but when you do you lose the joy of it all. I repaid these wonderful honey bees with some much needed house cleaning, downsizing and a couple of oxalic acid glycerin sheets in-between the brood chambers.
I checked off a card-size inspection form I'd made but never used, putting down my joyful first note for fall atop that screened inner cover.
Pollen is starting to come in at a rapid pace, and with a bank holiday of President's Day, I pulled the first frames of the new year. It was a good thing, because my nuc's had lots to show me. First off, they'd strengthened over the winter from when I last left them.
New wax is a beautiful sight to behold, especially in February. It means that the bees are doing fantastic, and could use some more room. When I see new wax, I know that the queen is laying, because young bees make new wax. And they also make wax when they need extra places to store food and lay eggs.
This nuc queen laid in every cell she had. So I doubled her room and gifted the colony some frames of drawn comb. It was great to see no Varroa mites in these cells. My winter oxalic treatment apparently has done the bees well.
And voila, the first frame of brood for 2018. It's a glorious sight to see a pretty rock solid brood pattern this early in the season, and the queens raring to go. There was no sign of drone cells on this President's Day, so I've got a small window to prep for swarm season. But that's only a couple weeks away. Hello, 2018!
Tom Davidson is the owner and beekeeper at T's Bees.
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