Happy Summer to you all! (Finally)
The bees are doing quite well. I am now involved in three hives on three different properties, so I have the opportunity to watch how different colonies develop.
A bee hive is so much more than thousands of individual bees living together in a box. While they show us a great deal about community living, they are much more than a community of individuals, they are a superorganism. As Rudolf Steiner illustrates, the comb is their tissue, the wooden box, their skeleton, the bees, individual cells. They are completely dependent on the survival of the whole. In winter for instance, they greatly reduce their numbers to help control honey consumption through the cold months, but the organism as a whole stays intact.
Furthermore, each hive or "bein" (as Michael Thiele refers to them) has a personality. I have experienced this first had through the two swarms I caught in April. One swarm lives with my friend Mistery up in the land of Scotch Broom and Oaks. They are the sweetest, calmest bees I've ever met. They land on you freely and have a soft little buzz. My hive, on the other hand, has a much more intense energy. I would not call it aggressive, but they can be very moody. They are incredibly active and are quick to let me know if they don't want to be bothered. I am still waiting for them to tell me their name.
Spring Cold Front:
We had a terrible cold front right at the end of May which sent most beekeepers funning to feed their bees. Rain and cold temperatures in early spring are often deadly for new hives because they do not have enough pollen or nectar stores to feed all the new bees emerging. There were a number of nectar-happy sunny days right after I installed my swarm, which means the bees got right down to building out a bunch of comb and collecting pollen and nectar. The queen went ahead and laid a whole bunch of eggs, so by the time the two weeks of rain came, there were hundreds of new, hungry bees being born. It's hard to tell if my bees had enough stores because it was too cold to go into the hive to inspect (bees need to keep the hive warm at all times or the brood will die).
Feeding the Bees:
Finally, when another week of rain was predicted at the end of May, I decided to feed the bees one jar of honey water. I can hear a thousand beekeepers scoff. Honey water? You're not supposed to feed bees honey!! This is true. The reason you don't feed bees honey is because the honey may be carrying disease such as foul brood, or toxins that will reduce the immune system of the bees. Sugar water, on the other hand, greatly reduces the immune system and natural survival mechanism of the bees and is something I just can't ever get on board with. At the suggestion of local permaculture beekeeper Neal, I chose a trusted local honey and mixed it with a 2:1 ration honey to warm water and installed in in a bottom-feeder jar at the back of the hive. There is no easy way to feed bees in a top bar hive, so I had to open up the follower board (a solid wood divider used to control space in new hive) and place the jar just inside with a few extra top bars to cover the width of the jar.
You should have seen the bees the following day. We had about 45 minutes of sun in the afternoon and the bees exploded out of the hive. They were everywhere! Landing on railings, bushes and leaves. Sitting on the roof, sitting on the ground, just absorbing the sun. (note: the bees don't "sit", they forage with purpose every day, all day). I still don't know what this behavior was about. Perhaps they were considering swarming, but then the rains returned? It was truly amazing. I went around back to check the wild hive living in the wall of the house and they were doing the same thing. Bees just perched up and down the wall of the house while about a hundred buzzed at the entrance. Maybe they were simply celebrating the emergency of their solar life source!
My sweet intrepid bees (they're not really mine) continued to forage in the rain and when the sun finally came out last week we added 5 more top bars to complete the hive. They now have full access to the hive and boy are they using it. Comb is turning dark orange with propolis and new comb is being built at a rapid pace on the new top bars.
I am watching the bees closely because I believe they want to swarm. I can see a few swarm cells at the top of the hive, but they have not been completed. When swarm cells appear, it means the bees are feeling a bit overcrowded and begin to create cells to raise a new queen. My job it to watch and see if they close of the cells. If so, then it means they are raising new queens and I have 7 to 8 days before they are born. Once the new potential queens hatch (only one of the them will ultimately win out), the old queen leaves the hive with about half the hive in tow. They will land on a nearby branch or post while scout bees look for a new home. What I wouldn't give to watch this happen. It can be in a matter of minutes, so unless I sit outside day in, day out for the next week, I probably won't see it.
Think these ladies might be a little crowded? In the other hives I've seen you can almost always see comb under the bees, here it's just bees bees bees. This is the most recent panel of comb they've built, all the way at the back of the hive and it's still full of bees.
Since I was a little girl, my mom has grown raspberries in a bed off the side of the back deck. It becomes quite a competition to see who can get the the fresh berries first: birds? dad? mom? sisters? friends in the know? There are rarely more than a few berries at a time, and we used to glory in the sight of a tiny bowlful.
This year, there is not a moment of daylight which you don't see bees on the raspberry blossoms. They are everywhere! And now, I can see bunch after bunch of tiny green berries ready to burst into red delicious abundance in a matter of weeks! Yay bees! It's the biggest raspberry crop I've ever seen! What to do? raspberry ice cream? raspberries dipped in chocolate and honey? raspberries in salad? Raspberry torte? Eeeek! I'm excited.
It's so gratifying to see the effect of honeybees on a garden. The berries give them nectar and pollen, and they give the berries prolific life! Perfect. Nature is good at her job.