This is a busy time of year to be a beekeeper. Hives are swarming because they are full. We are busy collecting wild swarms and busy collecting the surplus honey from our hives. “A swarm in June is worth a silver spoon” and for that same reason we collect our honey now. The hive still has time to build up its savings account against a hard winter. Also, spring honey is sweeter, in my opinion, than fall honey.
Bees swarm to reproduce. The hive begins to fill up with honey so the workers put mom on a diet, begin making a new queen and a portion of the workers push mom out the front door and fly away. A friend of my father saw 3 swarms one afternoon while riding his horse. We got 5 swarm calls in three days that same weekend.
The job of a beekeeper is to decide if the hive should divide or if it should focus on storing more nectar. I am a fan of honey. I have worked all year to protect and house these bees. I have been stung. I have gotten poison ivy near their hives. I take a portion of their honey as a way of collecting rent.
Our boys have decided they want to be involved this year. In previous years the family has been content to hide in the van while I open the hives. There was one particular spring when I was a little early about opening a hive and the bees were not appreciative. I had a cloud of angry, stinging bees penetrating my bonnet as I ran through the branches in the woods. Julie laughed until she had tears in her eyes.
This year the boys helped. They cleaned mouse nests out of unused bee boxes and the oldest caught two swarms by himself. Pretty cool.
If a swarm lands on the lower branch of a tree, catching the swarm is usually just a matter of shaking the branch into a suitable box.
But sometimes swarms land on the ground or, in this case, on a hosta. That can be more interesting.
Either way, you have to introduce the bees to the box. Our oldest son is 15. He was hiving a swarm at home while I was hiving another elsewhere. He was stung on the arm as he was working. Some of these feral bees have a hot sting but he said something like this to himself, “I just have to do this now. I can hurt later. Get through it.”
I haven’t found that beekeeping has to hurt. But sometimes it does. What a cool thing for my son to learn.
Later we opened another hive that is well established to rob a little honey. As usual, I faced the hive alone, the other five people who claim to love me were gathered nearby with cameras at the ready.
I haven’t written much about beekeeping on the blog. It’s just something we dabble with. The best time to open a hive is when the workers are out in the field in the middle of a clear, calm day. That means I can open my hives on weekends, if the weather cooperates. Hopefully our kids will gain interest and confidence and will fire me. That would be awesome.
Between now and then it’s just something fun we do. And it is fun. Beekeeping, if you don’t know, is necessarily very relaxing. You have to be chill. The bees know if you are excited or in a hurry. Also, I find it is best to work without gloves as I squish fewer bees but you have to know the hive. Temperamental bees can’t be kept and temperamental beekeepers can’t keep bees. That, I hope, is the lesson I teach my children.
Do you keep bees? If so, you are halfway to the land of milk and honey.