It’s the last day of March and the wet end to a wet month. And it’s not just me complaining (again) – there were records set all over the state, for daily rainfall accumulation and monthly accumulation. But it didn’t matter today because I was in a class, well, a talk, all day, and it was raining for much of the day. As the talk wound down, a weak sunlight began to penetrate the clouds, and by the time I got home at 6 pm it was downright sunny. It was a beautiful end to a very nice day—nice because the talk was really great. It was given by Jacqueline Freeman, an organic beekeeper in southwest Washington, near Portland, and hosted by her longtime friend, Patti, who lives in Snoqualmie. It was held at Patti’s home, a beautiful little farm even in the rain and mud. How lucky for me –only a couple towns over instead of a three hour drive.
If you’ve seen the movie Queen of the Sun, you’ve seen Jacqueline in action. The first part of the day (10:00 – noon) focused on catching swarms, both the nuts and bolts how to’s and the why, and the why was included in the title of the talk “The Salvation of the Honeybee Kingdom: Swarms & Feral Bees.” Simply put, the genetic diversity we need for healthy bees is something we need to encourage. Jacqueline is a great friend to the bees, and after listening to her talk, I’m almost glad I didn’t treat for mites (yet?). I’ve ordered my package for my new hive this year even knowing that the queen it will contain will have been artificially inseminated (seriously) and genetic diversity and survival of the fittest is being lost because of this. After Jacqueline’s talk I’m hoping to get on a swarm list and get my future bees this natural way. Another point she made was how swarming is natural and to be celebrated and even encouraged, versus the traditional beekeeping view of preventing them from swarming. When a hive swarms it essentially is splitting into two hives, with the queen leaving with 50 to 70 percent of the hive workers, and new queens (that will hopefully find mates) inheriting the hive from her). I’ve always secretly thought this would be cool if it happened, but the conventional beeks all make it sound like it’s something to be avoided. Certainly if a hive is too small (not enough room) it could encourage a premature split (or an abandonment altogether), but swarming is the natural order of things and would be amazing to see. So my plan is to have the equipment ready (extra hive boxes) for a swarm, from my own bees or others.
The afternoon talk was about the spirituality of bees and beekeeping, the title being “The Arc of Creation and the Song of Increase, the Spiritual Life of the Honeybee.” The title alone had me hooked, but when Jacqueline began her talk explaining that she’s talked with the bees (as animal communicator), and then sharing the things they’ve told her…well, it sounds woowoo but it felt right. I know my connection to my bees was instant and total, and I’ve struggled to explain the feelings I felt as I drove them home that first day. Certainly some of it was a maternal-oriented fierce desire to protect and nurture them. I feel much the same for all my animals, especially my dogs. But the bees were a surprise to me, and it felt elemental and somehow “right.” After hearing Jacqueline’s talk I understand better why I felt/feel so connected to them, even on their cranky days (to be fair, I have a bad habit of popping the lid late in the day, which puts them on high alert). I’ve been worried about them, with all this wet weather, and after they devoured all the honey I put in there earlier this month I wanted to feed them some more. Since it’s been too cold to open up fully to put my syrup feeder in there I decided to just give them a little granulated sugar. They gobbled up the half cup I put on the top of the inside lid, so I put another half cup. Then another. And now they have dysentery, judging by the poops outside the door today. Sigh. I also saw some dead white bees on the ground in front of the hive. They look nearly adult, but probably did not hatch. I wonder now if they were drone cells, removed to combat varroa mites. It’s all so mysterious sometimes, and as much as I wish I could help them or fix it, the thing I learned today was that it’s probably best that I leave them alone as much as possible. I’d like to scrape out the ½ cup or so of granulated sugar still in there, but they are so testy (got stung on the back of my leg the other day putting it in there!) I don’t want to disturb them until the weather warms up and I can do a thorough inspection.
I let the sheep out to graze a bit when I got home from the class this afternoon, since they’re going through hay like I have a flock of 10 instead of only five. I’d blame it on the girls, eating for two (or three?) as they are, but it’s always the boys I see eating. I’m not sure what’s going on there but there is a lot of waste I think. The boys have developed a new habit of pawing the ground in front of the big feeder, so now there’s a trench underneath it approximately four feet long by two feet wide by 18 inches deep. Jerks. I’ve filled it in several times, the last two times with hog fuel (didn’t last) and then with some of the dry litter from elsewhere in the pen. It lasted a little longer than the hog fuel, but I still need to figure something out. I see some cement patio squares in my future.