Thursday, August 4, 2011

Yippee: The bees are back!

Swarm of bees moving into a hive in the eaves.

We are so excited: Two years after our 2 hives of honeybees were killed off by the unusual cold in early winter, a swarm of bees showed up here. I had been amusing myself by sickling down vetch, blackberries and tall grass (for the third day in a row), and when I got to a good stopping point, I decided to take a break and head back to the house for a bite to eat. I was still about 50 yards from the house when I heard a loud buzzing. I looked up and saw a large cloud of bees circling just above the roof of the house. (If you've never seen a bee swarm, believe you me, it is quite a sight; loud, too.)

At the time, David was down by the pond mowing, and although I was tired and thirsty, I ran down to give him the news, as I knew he would be excited, too. For years, there had usually been a colony of bees that had established a hive inside of the eaves on the east end of the house. This swarm had obviously located this spot and was in the process of moving in (see photo above). This is excellent news, as we have quite a few fruit trees up here, and the crop last year had definitely suffered from the lack of sufficient pollinators in the area.

The thing that concerns us is that it is now August 4, and our first frost tends to be around October 20, sometimes a week or two earlier. Once daytime temperatures start staying below 50F, the bees won't fly; they're essentially immobilized at around 45F. It's critical that they have time to build up a food supply to see them through the winter. The problem is that at this time of the summer, not that much is blooming, and even if there were plenty of sources of pollen and nectar, there isn't likely to be enough time to produce adequate honey stores. So we are "feeding" them with a heavy sugar syrup, a normal thing to do this time of year to supplement their usual food sources.

We have a ways to go before this colony is up to speed. We will give them plenty of time, a year or more, to multiply and build up a supply of honey for themselves, before we even think about harvesting honey for us. We value them mainly as pollinators here, and the honey, when it comes, will be a bonus.

For right now, though, we're just so happy that the bees are back.

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