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Bad Grade for Bee Communication

"What is something that you accomplished during COVID that you wouldn't have otherwise?" This is the question of the week for a group of friends from the city who have been hosting weekly Zoom meet ups since March. I skipped the Zoom. I have skipped a lot of them, opting for barn work or a hike or something that doesn't make me answer questions like that. To be honest, all I can think of when I hear that question is the list of things that I did NOT do. I am going to skip the meeting where we analyze that also.

Here is my confession. I am a consummate list-maker. Lists take items -- both big and small -- off my mind so I can think of other things, and they keep me on track. I often have major life changes or new all-encompassing projects on the same list where I write "Buy milk." I serve a lot of masters -- 18 barn mates, one house dog who goes in and out and in and out, a family and even myself. Beyond that demanding crowd, I connect with and feel responsible to a wider network who read my blog, listen to my podcast and follow me on social media. I have done a pretty good job at most of these this year so far... with a few ups and downs. And then there are the bees. The bees -- particularly writing to you about the bees -- has appeared on my daily to do lists no less than 30 times. Still, nothing.

Ten beehives line up in the meadow in front of my house where I can see them every day. Last I reported to you and all of the members of the CSB (Community Supported Bees) community it was January and I was, together with some pretty cool environmental groups, lobbying the legislature in Albany to ban neonics, a pesticide that harms bees and other pollinators. It was an auspicious start to 2020. You know what happened next. But that's really no excuse for not reporting on the bees that I tend and look at every day. So, I'm sorry. I hope you will forgive me. Here I offer you a summary of the season. It's not as poetic as it usually is, but it's the long-awaited 2020 report nonetheless.

Early spring bee yard guarded by a powerful electric fence and surrounded by fruit trees, a big spring-fed pond and plenty of pesticide-free forage!

2020 Community Supported Bees Report

  1. Over the winter, seven hives died. This happens sometimes. It happens a lot, actually. It can be mites (although we treated for them aggressively), it can be predators (mice, moths, bears), it can be a weak queen, it can be moisture. It can be any number of things.

  2. In May, I cleaned out the hives to prepare for new bees to arrive. It's a yucky job. I painted all the hive boxes green. They get a lot of compliments.

  3. I pruned and mulched a 90-foot long section of blooming perennials that I planted last year right in front of the bee yard so they would have some easy and diverse forage. In addition, my vegetable garden has a large section that features blooms specifically for the bees and they know it.

  4. In early June, seven ten-frame boxes of bees with new queens were installed in the bee yard. They were all treated for mites pretty immediately before they began any honey production. They will be treated for mites again after the honey is harvested.

  5. From June through August, the bees received weekly and sometimes twice-weekly inspections and sugar nectar supplements. This is common practice with new hives that are getting acclimated and busy building foundation, brood and honey stores.

  6. As the bees filled up their hives, we added supers -- smaller hive boxes from which we harvest our honey. We have a lot of supers on the hives right now, but not as many as last year. The number of supers depends on the bees' production.

  7. We caught a swarm of bees. Bees swarm when they are not happy where they are. They may feel crowded. The queen may have overproduced workers. The queen might be weak and a new queen may be coming to replace her. The swarm landed in my nearby apple tree. We transferred it to a nearby box (this involves shaking the tree to get the bees off), but it left. It was determined to chart its own course.

  8. Two hives do not have even one super. Why not? The hives were unsuccessful in defending themselves from very aggressive yellow jackets this summer. It's a bummer, but it's also my theory that because they succumbed, other hives were left alone to flourish.

  9. One hive's bottom board collapsed. It still enabled the bees to come and go -- somewhat encumbered -- but we decided not to disturb the entire (and very heavy) hive to replace it. Decisions, decisions.

  10. Some hives have more than one super. One has three. With the same environment and the same care, some hives prosper and some do not. It is a very interesting and tricky world.

Even during COVID, the CSB had some visitors. One visitor, just getting a quick glimpse when passing by on a hike, learned how bees behave when they are in high production mode. She was attacked by three very mad bees and stung by one of them. (She's fine and still loves them.) Another new CSB member took me up on my offer of hopping in the guest bee suit for a tour of a hive. Yet another joined me in the bee yard to harvest a bushel or two of peaches. Fun stuff.

Now to the most important part of the season. The harvest. Some folks harvest early. We like to harvest after the first hard frost. Conveniently, that will be tomorrow night with lows deep into the teens. We are even expecting snow. When I look at my weather app icons, I see a few beautiful sunny days ahead. This Saturday (Halloween) and next Wednesday through Saturday all look sunny. I like to harvest on a sunny day because most of the bees will be out flying and foraging. I also like to harvest on a sunny day because the heat from the sun helps the harvesting lid and the natural almond spray work its magic, forcing the bees down deeper into the hive. Apparently, bees do not like the almond smell. I love it.

The first part of the harvest is removing the full supers from the hives. That will be complete by next weekend. It is helpful to write this down or to say it out loud to someone who will ask you about it later. It takes a lot of mental gearing up to get this part done. Feel free to ask me how it's going!

I am going to stop here for now. I vow to report back once it's done. And have no fear, there is more. A lot more. This is the busiest part of the season for the beekeeper. Once the honey is off the hive, it must be uncapped, spun out, strained, bottled, labeled and distributed. But that is for another day. Thanks for your patience with this year's lame bee reporting. I am certain to do better from here on out.

xoxo Your Bee Lady

Below are some pictures from the season starting with dead bees (sad), bee yard clean up, painting hive boxes and the many gardens that feed your bees... including that incredible beehive skyscraper!

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