Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Winter bees

Beekeepers in colder climates, like Maine, face challenges completely foreign to our counterparts who live where balmier temps prevail. Not only do we share the universal worries of mites and disease that wreak havoc on the world wide bee populations, we have to deal with snow and extended periods of bitter cold weather. How do these girls do it? First of all, late in the fall, there is a very sad period of time when ALL of the drones, the boy bees, are drummed out of the hive. Since their only purpose in life is to mate with a virgin queen, and since there are no virgin queens to be had up here this time of year, their usefulness has run its' course. To this super organism's mentality, why keep all those extra hungry little buggers around when they have nothing to contribute and diminish precious resources? They wouldn't and don't. The exile of the drones is a terribly sad scene, however, and the end for such sweet guys is tough to watch.

More is required that getting rid of some extra mouths to feed. A responsible beekeeper must understand the needs of an overwintering hive. There are limited amounts of food for the girls and no way to get more on their own. If we take too much honey for our own use, we leave them woefully under prepared for surviving the cold weather months and run the risk of starvation for the hive. A typical hive requires about 60 pounds of honey , and even then, if the winter is particularly long and hard, that may not be enough. So what do we do in our effort to help them through this trying time? First of all, do everything you can during the spring/summer to insure that your bees are as healthy as possible. Whether you want to believe it or not, no beekeeper is immune to the ravages brought on by varroa mites and other nasties that can be the bane of our existence. There are as many opinions are there are beekeepers when it comes to exactly how you should practice proper management, but that's a discussion for another time. My point is that you need to be aware of what's happening in the colony throughout the season, not just let them fend for themselves and hope for the best. Secondly, if you plan to harvest as much honey as you can, save some deep frames collected throughout the summer to feed back in an emergency. They store well in the freezer and can be the difference between life and death for a struggling hive. So let's say that you've done all the right things, and winter is soon going to be knocking on the door. Feed your girls. In the fall, you'll want to give each of your colonies two gallons of a 2:1 ratio sugar syrup. This can be just as simple as it sounds or more elaborate, like the recipe from Gunther Hauk, using honey from the hive and chamomile tea. Whatever you do though, don't cast fate to the wind. Lastly, make sure the hives are buttoned up and secure. This includes wrapping the outside with tar paper or hive wrap and strapping them down so that you don't find a toppled over mess when you check on them mid-winter. There's nothing more gut wrenching than finding a boxes of freezing bees scattered about in the cold.

There are no guarantees that after doing everything correctly that your bees will make it. There's a certain amount of skill, faith, and luck that comes into play when you keep bees up here. There will be good years and bad years and variations on both themes. Just remember that eventually every winter comes to an end. Have hope...spring will return.

Magy and Clay

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Story of Us

Not so long ago and just outside of town sat a sad little cottage. Sad because no one had loved or cared for her for quite a while, and she had been left with no gardens of her own.Oh, she put up a sunny front, but alas, happiness was not to be found within her walls. Then one day a man and his wife saw her for what she could be and moved in. With them came life and love in all shapes and forms like children, dogs, cats, chickens, and perhaps most importantly for this story, they brought honeybees.

So began our life in the pink house on the corner with the white picket fence and apple green beehives, complete with proper English copper hive covers, of course.Everyone and everything here relied on one another , as it should be in life and nature. Ever expanding gardens were  born filled with hundreds of roses, shrubs, and flowers for birds and butterflies and people, too. Out of those gardens grew Green Hive Honey Farm. None of our lives have been the same since the "girls" so kindly agreed to live with us. Through the years, not only has a respectful, symbiotic relationship developed, so too has our great love affair with these gentle, masterful, wonders of Mother Nature that ask for so little yet give so much in return. Because they were part of our family, it seemed only natural early on to name the hives, our very first being Baby and Barb. As the seasons come and go and the years go by, our bee yards have expanded beyond the garden confines of our slice of heaven. Our girls live happily in the midst of privately owned organic apple orchards, MOFGA certified blueberry fields on Beech Hill, and you can find us by the chestnut groves at Merryspring. We expect to have over fifty colonies in the summer of 2011, all named, living in green hives, and cared for by us. Our bees are non-migratory. They live where they can do what they do best without the stress of a mobile lifestyle. We believe this makes for happier, healthier bees and because of that, the most exquisite raw honey from a thousand flowers to be found anywhere.

We've found that a life built around a garden is a magical one. All of the good things that we don't even know are missing in our lives, answers to questions yet to be asked, can be found there. You've only to pause just long enough to look for them. Stop by anytime. We're always happy to share.

Magy and Clay