A pandemic year has passed, but the bees do not care. They are simply the honey bees, and quite simply remain magnificent, marvelous and as mysterious as ever. I've been fortunate to have another 100% over-wintering success this past season, and now the work begins.
My first business was selling two over-wintered nucs, one a tiny swarm that landed in my apiary in mid-October, and the other a late summer increase, both of which were booming. The two nucs exhibited beautiful top to bottom brood patterns, another testament to using oxalic acid glycerin sheets as my method of Varroa control. That stuff simply works, and I'm not looking back. I called my friend who'd lost all of his bees, asking to buy bees in the early fall. I refused, and told him to wait until spring and let this beekeeper carry the risk and burden of over-wintering. He did, and was rewarded. Their laying patterns and queens were both beautiful, and slightly dark. Then, I went fishing.
The next day I finally got into the one hive that's made me nervous from looking at afar. Already bearding up outside in 60-degree weather, I knew they were over-crowded and swarming was around the corner. Sure enough, on the first inspection I found queen cells, but thank goodness also eggs, so I cut them all down and moved on. After expanding the nest by half, and adding a super, I made my first split increase of the year. I hope I've done enough to avert a swarm from this beautiful colony, but if not, at least I'll get two hives out of the equation, God willing. After smashing one too many small hive beetles escaping propolis jails, I marvelled at the brood patterns this beauty bestowed.
So far, so good on 2021. This is a year of hope and promise. Let's pay it forward. Teach others, and yourself, how to be and how to beekeep, and leave the rest up to God.
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.
Tom Davidson is the owner and beekeeper at T's Bees.
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