Thursday, June 11, 2009


MY visit to the farm yesterday to rescue the bees went better than expected - and worse. The first thing I saw was a dead ram in the farmer's ram pen. I called the farmhouse on my cell - no answer. I called the writer's cell phone - no answer. What to do? The ram was dead. It wasn't getting any deader. It wasn't going to ever get up, shake itself off and toddle over to the fence to make sheep-lips at the ladies. I walked to the beeyard.

It was still quiet there. And sad. I began dismantling the hive I knew was vacant, segregating the frames containing signs of American Foul Brood into boxes. The clean frames I put in other boxes and set aside. If I accomplished nothing else, I would secure the contained frames so that AFB couldn't spread to other hives if those bees came to rob out the remaining honey.

I really, really don't like the feeling of opening up a hive in June and not seeing bees on the inner cover. I am steeled for it in the Spring, when I may have had winter die-off, but in June, it is (on a much more trivial scale) like looking at the post-2001 NYC skyline. I drilled down to the lowest box and found my valiant little cluster of bees. Placing two frames in the observation hive I brought with me, I began tapping and trapping them on to the frame, beginning with the queen. After most of the bees were on the frames, I closed it up. Within moments, the bees were fanning the queen's scent into the air at the lower entrance. Better still, bees that were flying landed near the top vents and began fanning the scent, which signified that the bees were so gratified to be on clean comb they immediately wanted to assemble all their sisters. This photo was taken several years ago - I have about 1/12th as many bees in the observation hive as are shown in this picture. Still, I am hopeful they'll become a productive group that will fill frames with brood that I can insert in the colony still on the farm, strengthening them for the winter. This is unlikely to succeed, but I have to try. It's the only way I'll have bees this summer. I embarrassed myself begging (unsuccessfully) for bees at any price at the hobbyists meeting on Tuesday night. I am on the list to retrieve swarms, but there have been only two calls this year, and neither came to me.

Then I turned to the final colony. Again, no greeting at the inner cover. The bees were in the bottom box, but this colony was stronger than I remembered. My plan had been to kill one of the queens and combine the colonies in the observation hive, but my plans changed when I saw the cluster of maybe a thousand bees (still very poor - there should beat least 30,000). After having set up two boxes of clean comb taken from my storage towers, I tapped the bees into the new hive, located not far from the old one, oriented in the same direction. I scored the surface of a frame of full honeycomb and placed it in the upper box so the dripping honey could draw the bees up through the hive. On the entrance platform I pressed a great deal of oozing honeycomb. While I assembled another box of clean comb, I listened to the roaring crowd - they were making the low thrum of gratitude and of relief. Settled into the new, clean hive, they were eating, exploring and cleaning. I closed them up and watched the face of the hive, full of bees eating honey and fanning the queen's scent. The other bees flying around would find their new home in time.

It was time to call the writer again at the farmhouse.
"Ah, did you have something you wanted to tell me about one of your rams?"
I had hoped for "Oh, right, I for got to tell you, one of the rams died last night and we just haven't gotten the 4-wheeler up there to drag him to the pit."
But no, lucky me, I got to tell her that the ram was dead. Not the highlight of my day. But just as the silence of the beeyard when I arrived doesn't even qualify as a minor tragedy compared with the events of 9/01 in NYC, DC and PA, my loss of bees (a hobby after all) does not compare to the farmers' loss of this ram. Or the lambs they lost this Spring.

I had planned to sell about 200 pounds of honey this summer, but clearly I won't get a honey crop at all, unless the bees die or don't amount to enough to survive the winter. Then, I'll take the honey for myself. That would still only be enough to archive the crop and for household use - barely. Still, there is a chance. I draw inspiration from the farmers, who choose to view the dead ram as a step on their way to shifting their operations to another type of flock. Farmers - they keep standing up after getting knocked down. I can understand that a little, now. On a much more minor scale.

1 comment:

twinset said...

As always, you amaze and inspire, and do it via poetry.