Saturday, March 31, 2012

Spring comes to Northampton

Spring comes to Northampton to find us with 18/20 hives surviving the winter. Some called this the winter that wasn't, but even this comes with problems. Some people have hives starve because the bees tried to maintain brood all winter and used up stores at a very fast rate. Others are reporting high mite levels due to strong and early growth of brood.

I've seen drone comb in our hives already. This year is historic; old timers say they've never seen anything like this. Our peaches and stone fruit are in bloom-- nectarines are seen above. Oddly we had a huge honey run with bees flying to maple and willow the week of the 70 degree temps in early March. But now the fruit trees have blossomed early and it's gone back to being too cool to fly. It's all so confusing.

Still, our girls came through winter with flying colors (yellow and black)! The bee here was likely born in October or November. She is different than the bees born earlier that year--a special bee designed to carry the hive through the long winter, keep the nest warm to 95 degrees when the queen starts laying, and to then forage in the spring. In bee years she's 3 hundred years old. Normal summer bees live about 6 weeks; she's probably five or six months old.

We also let the bees recycle some wax from last years honey harvest and they made these odd top entrances to their hives. The look like little space towers designed by some 1970s futurist architect from Sweden or Turkey. Here bees are seen boiling out of their little strange door, I guess thinking their weird bee invertebrate thoughts.

As we pick up tools we've not taken to hand in the better part of six months it's hard to not think we've entered some strange new world where it's almost 80 degrees for a week in early March. I was talking over the fence with our neighbor Pam and she commented that her toddler son Gavriel was inheriting an uncertain future environmentally. Beekeeping has brought us closer to the world we live in, marking the temperature ever day and watching a very complex and incredibly old superorganism respond to those changes.

Once again I find myself grateful to have bees around, and to see a bit of the world through my relationship with them. I guess in return I'll do my best to hold up my end of the bargain and take good care of our girls.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Buckfast! The bees that Brother Adam made

In 2012 we're going to add to our bees with some very special new bees. These bees are Buckfast, a special kind of bee. The history is that in 1916 the bees in England were decimated by something called Isle of Wright disease. the beekeepers didn't understand what was killing the bees, but it killed nearly all of them. It turns out it was an imported mite, not unlike our current situation with the Varroa destructor mite, and not unlike our situation with colony collapse.

Nearly all the colonies were killed off but then a monk, Brother Adam, found a feral colony living and healthy. He returned these to the Buckfast Abby for breeding. Over the next 70 years years Brother Adam traveled through the Near East, Africa and Europe returning with the strongest bees he could find.

These bees represent the hope of a generation and a link to ancient monastic breeding programs. Today the bee is produced only by a few specialized breeders that keep Bother Adam's work alive, literally. Our Buckfast colonies are due to arrive in late April.