March 20 was the date for this year’s vernal equinox. The first day of spring for those of us north of the equator. Spring means the snow and cold bows out to make way for warmer days, sunshine, and flowers. Except this year it seems Mother Nature is abusing the snooze alarm just like I do every morning. The birds are singing, and some of the bulbs are flowering, but it seems everything is a few weeks behind. Along with the weather. We’re still getting cold rain and had snow in some areas as recently as last week. The hailstorm of one week ago left my grass and driveway white. Wha…?
Though spring seems loath to start this year, and I’m darn sick of rain and cold, I have to say it’s given me a reprieve for the garden stuff. I’m busy every day – spent part of tonight mucking out the sheep barn, to transfer to my garden plot – but the 8 yards of compost I had delivered a month ago is only half spread. It’s just been too wet to get it moved. I can do 8 or 10 wheelbarrow loads before I have to take a break – I’ve learned not to overdo it, because then I lose a few days to muscle aches. Thankfully I’m not moving it far – only a dozen yards or so at most, and usually less than that. But it still needs to be moved. The weather hasn’t cooperated, so I’ve taken it slow, and don’t feel any pressure to PLANT as I would in a normal year. Don’t get me wrong, I’m eager to get my garden planted and my herbs and veggies growing, but for now, I’m good.
Probably the biggest frustration with the weather, really (yes, even besides the never ending mud tracked in by the dogs), has been a concern for my bees. Not that I really need to be concerned, but I am. You see, I’ve fallen in love with my honeybees. I picked them up on Sunday, April 10, and I fell for them almost immediately. Shannon from the bee club was there with a trailer full of bee packages – wooden boxes with screened sides loaded with bees. The boxes are about the size of a large shoebox – like the size you get when you buy a pair of hiking boots. She gave me the supplies I’d ordered, then my four pound box of bees – it was solid with bees, and somewhere in there was a queen in her cage. I took the box and placed it gingerly in the back seat of my car – not because I was afraid, but because I wanted to be as gentle as I could with my new charges. I put my seatbelt over them and started off, driving like a granny. They hummed quietly in the back seat for the short drive home and I lost my heart to them. I don’t know quite what it is – I have no idea where this interest really came from, so unexpectedly and so strong – and I’m not sure why I felt such a maternal pull toward them, and the need to care for and protect them. I mean, four pounds of bees is roughly 13,000 stingers – I should be at least a little apprehensive, shouldn’t I? But no.
I got them home and quickly put the hive together with the feeder (sugar syrup until they are able to forage enough to build up their own supply of food (called honey 😉 and frames while they waited in the car. I’d watched a YouTube video that morning to refresh my memory about what the steps were to install them into my hive. Though the fellow in the video was wearing a short-sleeved shirt and no veil or gloves, I donned my beekeeper veil and jacket, and my gloves. I taped the bottom of my jeans tight, so the bees couldn’t crawl up my pant leg and sting me. I also taped over a hole above my knee. I was ready.
I pulled out their feeder can of sugar syrup and pulled out the queen cage. I taped her to the side of one of the frames, then poured the worker bees out of the box into the hive. Yes, poured. They buzzed quietly, and were as gentle as they were confused, and the oxytocin was flowing. My girls. I tapped the box, then banged it, trying to get them all out. Some were obviously not going to make it, cold and sluggish and spent from the trip from Northern California. I got them all out, and gently brushed them away from the edges of the hive, then put it all back together. Now it was a waiting game.
On day two I had to open the hive to check on the queen, as I couldn’t remember if I’d placed her cage with the mesh facing out or pushed up against the frame. I didn’t know how soon the workers would be able to eat the marshmallow plug and free her and I needed to make sure she had contact with them. They had already freed her and all was well. I haven’t seen her since, but after checking on the hive this weekend, I think all is still well and on track.
The weather has been cool, cold even, and very wet, and my girls have been grounded much more than I’d like. When I come home from work on those afternoons when we’ve had fitful sunshine, the hive is buzzing with activity. At first it was the “crazy flights” where there didn’t seem to be any purpose other than to get their bearings on location. Then, as the days passed, I noticed them flying in from across the pasture. I ventured close to the hive and saw them landing with their bags full – their pollen sacks on their legs loaded with orange pollen. Food!
After watching them – sometimes within a few feet of the hive, and seeing how gentle they are, I’ve opened up the top a few times in the past to do a quick check of their sugar syrup. I used a stick the other day like a dipstick in an oil tank and knew I’d have to replenish soon. We’ve had one truly warm (well, more than 60 degrees) sunny day this month, and I was able to get in and do it without causing too much harm. Because I would be opening up and removing the top hive box, I again donned my veil and gloves. I skipped the tape on my pants this time, though. I quickly refilled the feeder, then took a moment to check the frames. There was some wax comb built on top of the frames, and the frames had comb built and honey beginning to be stored. There were also capped comb – though I didn’t see my queen, it’s obvious she’s been at work! I’m on my way to being a real beekeeper with a real, working hive, and I couldn’t be more thrilled. Honeybees rock!