Have you ever thought what the world would be like without honey bees? Many people don’t realize the impact that pollinators have on our ability to continue to grow plants and harvest seeds and vegetables. The world could NOT produce food from plants without bees and other pollinators who do the tireless work of flying from flower to flower, thereby spreading the pollen from anther to stigma and fertilizing the plant to make fruit. While most people haven’t thought about how much is at stake I have and it’s scary to think about. Even though most of us may not be partial to a specific fruit or vegetable, when you think about much processed foods we eat you start to get a better understanding of just how many applications one species of plant or fruit can have. (Wikipedia’s List of Crop Plants pollinated by Bees)
I had always appreciated them from a far when I would see them on a flower or admired a spring swarm but I never dreamed I would be getting my fingers into a hive and managing one on my farm. I had dabbled with the idea of managing bees on the property and started reading and attending classes. Several years ago I got in contact with a beekeeper (Bren Randolph) who was looking for folks who feel passionate about organic growing to host hives. Watching Bren work without gloves and merely a shroud when handling bees was magical. He understood the bees and I think of him as something of a “bee whisperer”. Reaching out to a beekeeper who was willing to teach has made all the difference in the world because I feel safe knowing that I will apprentice and learn as I go. It has been a journey that has turned the cheek of my husband who also has become interested in tending. It has opened our eyes to the world of beekeepers, farmers & the bees. The battle to survive, to thrive and to make food is a real one that people seem less inclined to address until it affects their dinner plate. Please take the time to watch “Vanishing of the Bees” to learn more.
So we finally bought a top bar hive and with the help of Bren and other beekeepers, are trying to manage our first hive. Bren took our top bar and managed to catch a swarm, work the nuc and transfer into our top bar. Not an easy task being that the transfer from Langstroth to Top Bar and back has it’s challenges. Bren was kind enough to manage the hive through the winter and in March we went and picked it up. Although I know hives come and go, the sense of responsibility of keeping a hive is one I want to undertake because I feel like our home is a haven. We have planted things like the butterfly bush, borage, lavender, and others to try to sustain the bees. We’ve moved the divider back several times to give the hive more room to build since they came here several months ago. Our intentions are not to harvest honey but to create a haven for them and benefit from them for pollination around our farm. If in the process we are able to take some of what they don’t need then we will. In yesterdays case they had several trays full of capped honey and they weren’t making as much brood.
Having bees on your farm becomes another element of your experience that you become accustom to and you feel their presence around you while you are outside. It isn’t one of fear but rather of what is normal. I compare to going into a forest. When you go into a forest you expect to smell and see things. You expect to hear animals scurrying about. It’s all part of the experience. It’s exactly the same here. I expect to hear chickens, see lizards and smell flowers based on the season. I expect to hear the buzz of bees. When I am outside I seek that balance as a way of knowing that nature is at work. It becomes a sixth sense and when I don’t hear them I innately go to check on the hive.
Our hive is currently getting ready to swarm. It is full of honey and there are more than what there should be of queen cells. Realizing this we took the queen and captured enough bees from the hive to a nuc as to simulate a swarm. Hopefully this will keep enough of the hive there after the new queen is born but there is still more work to be done and I’m still learning from folks who have done this for years. Suffice to say we took a few rather large combs of honey yesterday and I now have my first stores of honey jars at Heart of Paso Produce. Yesterday was another wonderful chance to learn about the vibe of the bees, awe in the amazement of how fast they work and check in with them. My hope is that when and if they swarm the hive will still thrive and we will get through. If not, as with many things in life, we will keep on buzzing and work with the bees again.