By Joanna Bastian
The mud has finally departed, giving way to green tips of growth and first blossoms. True spring has finally arrived, the season that inspires poets to whisper an invocation such as “A Prayer in Spring” by Robert Frost:
Oh, give us pleasure in the orchard white,
Like nothing else by day, like ghosts by night;
And make us happy in the happy bees,
The swarm dilating round the perfect trees
My one hive of bees, like many others in the valley, did not outlast the winter. This last winter I read The Practical Beekeeper, Beekeeping Naturally, by Michael Bush. I was relieved and even ecstatic to read his optimistic thoughts on losing bees. The positive side is that I can start over and try a few different methods.
As I cleaned up the boxes and prepared for the new arrivals, I distributed several frames of nectar, pollen and honey into an empty hive box and hoped some scout bees would find it and deem the hive box a good place to set up a colony. Within seconds a male drone came to investigate the entry of the bait box.
The next day, there were a dozen little honeybees checking out the potential home, and on the third day there were over 100 bees setting up shop in my little box. Sentry bees checked each bee at the entrance, and fought off a bugger of a wasp. I hope I attracted some strong survivor bees to live in my garden. There is the chance that these are just robber bees, taking the honey and going back home and that is just as well, at least I’m feeding some bees.
The charm — or frustration, depending on your perspective — of beekeeping is the multitude of opinions and advice. Before I even started with my first hive, I shadowed Susie Kowalczyk for a summer to learn all about the art of being kept by a bee. She impressed on me that every hive was different and the bees would decide what worked and what did not work. You just had to listen to the bees and do what worked best for each particular situation. Mr. Bush’s philosophy is the same, in fact, the very first section is entitled “Learn From the Bees,” directly followed by “Trust the Bees.”
Bees have been around for 30 million years, visiting 50 – 100 plants a day collecting pollen and nectar, pollinating blossoms and making honey. It is only within recent history that humans have actively interacted with the bees, collecting honey and ensuring the bees have everything they need to stay strong and healthy. It makes perfect sense to rely on 30 million years of bee wisdom and question human tactics.
In addition to “Trust the bees,” the other wonderful bee-lover advice I have to share is from my great grandpa: “The only time a bee will sting you is when you pinch it.” I have found this to be true also of humans and dogs and pretty much every living being under the sun. No pinching.