The Honeybee Swarm that Got Away: Lessons from Overextending on Homestead Tasks

Reader Contribution by Nicole G. Carlin and Singing Wren Farm
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A year into our homesteading adventure, I was talking to some friends who had retired about their new boat and their plans to sail the Bahamas all winter. “Hmm,” I mused, “It’s funny that when you say, ‘I bought a boat,’ it has entirely different connotations than when I say, ‘I bought the farm!’”

Homesteading offers many joys and even more challenges. It’s easy to fall into the trap of romanticizing the “good life” when we are stuck in city traffic or hemmed in by suburban monotony (I am not picking a fight; I am one those people who had the romanticized notions).  The people who actually get to homestead are the lucky ones who find that perfect intersection of time, opportunity, money, grit, and fearlessness to take the plunge.

Incredibly Exciting and Terribly Hard Work

Buying a farm or land, moving toward greater self-sufficiency, experimenting with heritage breeds and old-fashioned pastimes is incredibly exciting and terribly hard work. We moved from the inner city to the country and took on a lot: renovating a house, plowing and planting new pastures, starting a garden, starting an orchard, buying a pregnant team of mares, buying a pair of pregnant pigs, buying chicks, building pens, coops, acquiring two new puppies and setting up fences — all while living 20 minutes away in a rental house and while my husband had a full-time job!

I found the fantasies being swamped by the realities of being scared of my own animals, having to destroy a colt with a broken leg, waking up to the cops telling me my horses had gotten out, my guardian dog biting the mailman, discovering that thunderstorms are a whole different ballgame when you have livestock. The reality was hard.

Over time, we woke up to fact that we are bound to this land and these animals (and that it’s really difficult to find a quality farm sitter.) So while the beauty is still present every single day, the wonder can get lost in the pressure to plant, manage, problem solve, weed, prune, castrate, breed, move, spray, mow, bale, haul, dig, keep on weeding, mulch, and (did I mention) weed.

The Honeybee Swarm that Got Away

So this morning when I went outside to walk the dogs, I rounded the barn and realized something was off.  The air ahead of me was a moving brown haze and the dogs all pulled back on their leashes as a loud buzzing filled my ears. The hive of honeybees that occupied the hollow tree along the road had thrown a swarm. They were just leaving the tree and were gathering on a small peach tree just about 40 feet from the original hive.

I had had a feeling that this might happen. Don’t ask me why, I am a rank amateur when it comes to bees. In fact, we had talked about purchasing a hive in case they did swarm but, of course, we had never gotten around to doing it. After calling several beekeepers (none of whom were available to help us out), we found a store that we could buy a hive, gloves, and veil to try to catch the swarm. However, it would be at least two hours before we’d be back and ready to try. We stood in the kitchen and suddenly it struck me, we didn’t have to do this.

I think as homesteaders we feel compelled to take advantage of every opportunity that comes along. It goes along with the risk-taking and the willingness to give things a whirl, but the cost can be really high. We can find ourselves overextended and strung out with too many plates spinning, unable to do anything well and feeling like we really have “bought the farm”.

It was hard, I kept weighing the advantages of catching that swarm, but I had pigs to move, a guy coming over to buy a sailboat, and seedlings that needed planting. The equipment would set us back about $250 — that would buy a lot of high-quality local honey. Plus, I already had a hive which, though I couldn’t get the honey from it, was diligently pollinating all my trees and crops.

So, I let the swarm get away, I was moving pigs when they left. I didn’t even see which way they went. I hope they make it but even more so, I hope we make it and part of ensuring that that happens is sometimes letting opportunities fly away.


Nicole G. Carlin is a Northwest Pennsylvania homesteader and educator who raises heritage-breed livestock on her 22-acre, restored Singing Wren FarmConnect with Nicole at Smoldering Wick, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS postshere.

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