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Homesteading and Livestock

Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.

Time to Thank the Bees


The bees and I have survived another season. It is late afternoon, late summer, and all the honey has been harvested and sold. It’s time to thank the bees.

I drag my lawn chair out to the end of a row of the newer hives. I settle the chair into the high grass off to the side, and watch the miracle that unfolds at the entrances. It is still 90 degrees at 6 pm, but dry and comfortable. I am immediately rewarded with the smell of warm beeswax wafting from the hives. This scent is different from the lighter, honey-sweet smell of the wax cappings that I render for candles in the honey shed. This scent is an older, richer, slightly burnt, but still pleasant smell. The same smell infuses the barn where I clean wax from old frames and store used equipment. It’s a smell that makes you want to breathe deeper to take in more of it. My adult son says he associates this smell with my farm. I associate this smell with high summer and with the beekeeper who taught me my trade.

The bees have prospered this season. Even after leaving a full shallow super of honey atop each of the established hives, each produced an average of 73 pounds of honey, in addition to each also producing at least one 3-frame nuc in the spring.

It wasn’t all good news. Thirty percent of the hives produced only enough honey to nourish themselves. I neither harvested honey from nor took frames to make new hives. I lost one hive that was queenless in early spring, before the nectar flow, and that failed to rear a new queen when given frames with eggs. But the pendulum swung well past gawd-awful and average to pretty darn good this year.

The Middle Tennessee spring and summer have been unseasonably cool with adequate rainfall and abundant bloom well into early summer. Nine of 11 nucleus hives successfully raised queens and are now well established, like these 3 that I am communing with now. Today the bees are active, flying furiously to and from the hives, evidently still finding something to forage on. The autumn bloom has not started but promises at least to be normal considering the adequate rainfall and still-green of summer.

As I give thanks for such a good bee season, my senses are further blessed by the buzz of wings whipping past my ears on either side of my head! Even though I had meant to sit off to the side and out of their flight path, I inadvertently have positioned myself between the hives and the pond--their water source on this hot, dry day. It’s a beautiful, cloudless, halcyon August day, and they choose to ignore me. I absolutely love this sound, and decide to remain and to risk accidentally being run into and stung.

This late in the day, a few bees are still leaving the hives, but most are returning with their payloads. In the hive closest to me, I see no signs of pollen gathering and guess the bees are bringing in only water--perhaps a bit of nectar, although I see no blooms about my farm, save for the flowerbeds.

Most bees fly straight into the hive, but a few are greeted and inspected first by bees hanging out on the landing board. The second hive down the line is more heavily populated and in addition to the foragers coming and going, it has many bees just hanging out on the landing board, facing the entrance, their backs hunched as they fan their wings to expel hot air from the hive and to regulate the temperature.

I notice much less activity at the entrance to the third hive and make a mental note to open it up and check on it tomorrow. My mind can’t help but begin to wander off to consider all the things that can still go wrong this year, how in these hard times for bees, a colony’s health can turn on a dime. But these worries are for another day and another blog, perhaps when I report on my end-of-the-year hive inspections and preparations for wintering over. We can lament together then. Today is a day for thanksgiving and for gratitude to these little marvels of nature and for all that they do to make our days fruitful and sweet.

8/12/2014 6:08:00 PM

Dooflatchie, it's always tough to lose a hive but it sounds like you did what needed to be done. Have you ever used the newspaper method to add the bees from a weak hive to a stronger one?

8/11/2014 7:54:31 AM

Your middle Tennessee sounds like my WNC, Betty. We didn't get too much rain this summer, not nearly as much as last summer, but the humidity has made it hard for my bees to cap their nectar. I've been checking the supers since June, waiting, waiting, waiting for them to be ready, and only last week I was able to take 2 medium frames from each of 2 hives. I'm trying not to be too impatient, and the bees are helping to teach me that! I did have to dispatch my little middle hive, Foxtrot last week. It was a split from Delta in the same apiary. Although the bees made their own queen, twice, they were not mated well, evidently. My last inspection showed me shotgun brood on only 1 or 2 frames, several frames of nectar and pollen, and a wax moth invasion still in its early stages. I felt like a terrible person, but I shook out the bees, transferred the brood box and the 1 medium super over onto 2 other strong hives, and did away with the queen. A very rough day for me, tho I know I did the right thing. I enjoy your blog, by the way! Jennifer B in WNC