Facts, updates, and personal reflections on honeybees.
Facts, updates, and personal reflections on honeybees.
A swarm in May is worth a load of hay,
A swarm in June is worth a silver spoon,
A swarm in July ain’t worth a fly.
Simply put, a swarm is a beehive’s way of reproducing. In the Spring, if the queen of a hive is strong and the population of bees plentiful, the queen will leave the hive with nearly two-thirds of the hive’s bees to find a new home, leaving the original hive to rear a new queen and continue on. The swarm is an amazing sight to witness. A strong hive may have 60,000 bees, so when the queen leaves with her followers, she’s in the air with nearly 45,000 bees. An awesome vision, the bees fill the air like snowflakes in a blizzard.
So it was this that Michael noticed through our solarium window. We have three beehives at our Vermont Bed and Breakfast and one of them is just outside our breakfast room. This is the hive that had released its bees into the yard, completely consuming the front lawn – bees in the grass, bees climbing the hive boxes, bees in the air. We watched for several minutes, waiting to see where the bees would land – because that’s what the poem up above is all about. Ideally, the bees will land in a place that we can catch them and relocate them to an empty hive box. If it’s early enough in the season, say May or June, the bees will have plenty of time to draw out their honeycomb and fill it with enough honey to survive the inevitable winter season. The earlier, the better, because a May swarm will not only make enough for its own stores, but honey for the beekeeper too! But if it’s late in the season, the bees prospects are just not as strong, so they’re not as valuable to a beekeeper.
Our swarm was in the first couple days of July so I was feeling pretty optimistic about the bees being able to pull it together and make a go of it. With this eagerness, we waited for the bees to settle. The swarm schedule is pretty predictable. The bees leave the hive in a flurry, then they settle on a nearby branch dispatching several bees to scout the area for a suitable new home. This can take a few hours or a few days. The swarm waits patiently in a cluster – well, a “cluster” is sort of an understatement. The mass of bees crawling over one another and hanging off of one another is the size of a basketball with thousands of bees sprawling along the branch for several inches in every direction. One of the coolest parts of seeing bees in this state is that the bees are super passive and very unlikely to notice a human’s presence, so we’re able to stand freely and watch the magic.
Unfortunately for us, these bees settled on a branch three stories high. There was no prudent way to catch them, so we were forced to accept this a donation to nature. The bees would find a new home, move into it and continue the tradition of bee-ness elsewhere. (In the photo — which was taken from 30 feet below –you can see the brown clump. That’s the mass of 40,000 bees or so. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but sometimes a picture just doesn’t do justice.)
The bees remained on their branch for two overnights, through the torrential downpours that have so marked this Spring. And then on a sunny afternoon, after returning from errands, we found the branch bare. The queen and her acolytes found a new space while the hive they left behind awaited the birth of their new queen. Within days, their new queen would emerge and this ‘daughter hive’ would be complete once again.
Our Bed and Breakfast is located in the Okemo Valley of Vermont. We have two sheep, nearly two dozen chickens (fresh eggs!), and three beehives. Ask about getting a tour of a beehive. You can don a beekeepers suit and veil — or watch through the windows from the comfort of our solarium.
One might think a honeybee isn’t really an animal you’d get attached to. There are approximately 60,000 bees per hive and a single bee in the summer lives only six weeks. So, it’s not like you’re building emotional bonds with each bee. But collectively, embracing the whole hive as one living organism, you do get attached. Or at least I do. I recall, with only slight embarrassment, the spring I got my first hive. I would worry about them when the nights got chilly. I would check their food supplies every few days. Like a new mom with her infant, I would lean down to the hive boxes, press my ear to the hive, and listen for the hum of life. I almost cried on a day they didn’t leave the hive, convinced they had died. (They hadn’t; they were just avoiding the cold.) Five years later, I remain attached to our hives, but I no longer fret over them. I have trust that nature will provide for them and they will do their thing, including living and dying, aided by me or not.
Of course, there are still some tasks that a beekeeper must do for their bees and one of them is to prepare the hive for the winter. Since today promised 50 degrees, Michael and I decided that we would replace their screened bottom board with a solid wooden board (for warmth), check on their food stores (they need 80 pounds of honey to get through the winter) and partially seal up the hive entrance (reducing drafts and keeping mice out). Before opening the first hive, we listened. Sadly, there was no hum. We opened the hives to find the bees dead in a cluster, where they had been working to keep the queen warm and protected. There was a white powdery mold in one of the hives, but this may have happened after their death and does not necessarily provide me with a clue as to why they died. There was honey in the hive – not enough to get through the winter, but I would have thought enough to keep them humming until now. And the bees were in the hive, which rules out Colony Collapse Disorder, as trendy and tempting of a diagnosis as that may be. So their cause of death remains Undetermined.
Regardless of how they died, they’re gone. Certainly, we’ll look on the bright side and use this opportunity to scrape out our hive boxes and replace some frames. Maybe we’ll even get a third hive in the spring, and we’ll probably relocate the hives for better viewing from the solarium. But until our new bees arrive in the spring, our yard just got a little lonely, a little more “November dreary.” (Sigh.) I think I’ll go let the chickens out of their coop and watch them enjoy some free-range frolics while they fill the yard with life.
Dread holiday shopping? Hate the mall? We’ve come up a solution that’s sure to please even the most-anti-shoppers out there. (Trust us, we’re qualified for this!)
Find great gifts at local, independently owned shops during the day, unwind by the fire with an evening cocktail and a wood-fired pizza, and get those presents wrapped and ready for stashing away til the holiday. We provide you with the pizza and the wrapping supplies. All you need to do is bring your holiday shopping list and make a reservation! Book any night Nov 4 through December 15 and enjoy the rate of $129 (plus tax). A savings of over $60! Add a second night for just $99 (plus tax)!
Here’s the plan:
Step 1: Make your inn reservation with the “I hate malls!” special rate of $129 (plus tax) for any time between November 4 and December 15. (Keep reading to see why you should add a second night at just $99!)
Step 2: Read our suggested travel routes and pick which non-mall shopping excursion best matches your tastes and the needs of your shopping list. Then head out to browse the unique, independently owned shops, never once enduring a mall’s stark fluorescent lighting, Muzak, or emaciated mannequins. You’ll find original artwork and children’s toys, jewelry and pure maple syrup, funky clothing and kitchen gadgets. When you need a snack to keep you fueled, you’re sure to find a great café just around the corner, not a chain restaurant.
Step 3: Return to the inn to relax by the fire while you enjoy a light dinner of Goodman’s American Pie wood-fired pizza. Grab your favorite cocktail and we’ll supply you with all the wrapping paper, scissors, and tape you’ll need, so that you can disguise all your gifts before bringing them home. Add some homemade cookies for dessert and a great night’s sleep, then awake to have all your (non) efforts rewarded with our classic two-course breakfast.
Barely sounds like shopping, right? Let’s take it one step further. Make it a 2-night stay for just an additional $99. This allows you to come up the night before, maybe stopping at a restaurant along the way. Your travel time and your restaurant time is when you create your shopping list. Maybe you can even do a little online shopping by the fire before bed. (We have complimentary wi-fi throughout the whole house.) And then you’ll wake at the inn, ready for “Step 1” above, after enjoying our full 2-course breakfast — the best ammunition for a day of not-mall shopping!
Who needs to wait for Black Friday? Make your reservation now and and relax about the shopping thing. It’s going to be good this year!