The Bee-Loud Glade

It’s been a bad year for bees. Too much rain in Vermont, honey production is way off. On the other hand, varroa mites don’t seem as bad this year, which may also be due to the rainy weather. Or maybe it’s part of the mites’ natural cycle. No one seems to know.

For me, it’s been a great year for bees. It’s my first year keeping them. I’ve done so many things wrong, I should be having a terrible year. Maybe I am having a terrible year and I’m just too ignorant to know it.

For starters, I began way too late. I’d wanted to keep bees for years and last autumn I promised myself that 2009 would be the year I started. Then one thing distracted me after another and suddenly it was March and all the nucleus colonies had been bought up. So, I ordered a package, which contains three pounds of bees (about 10,000) and a queen ready to begin laying eggs.

Then I got a mentor, Bill. The first thing Bill pointed out was that I’d missed ordering nucleus colonies. Yes, I knew that. Then he said I should have more than one hive. “If you have more than one hive, you have something to compare,” he said. “Besides, if one hive is weak and one is strong, you can use the strong hive to help the weak one.”

Oh, great. I’d had enough trouble allaying Adrienne’s anxiety about having one hive of bees in the back yard, now I was advised to have two. “Actually, three to five hives is best,” Bill said.

Be that as it may, I have one hive this year. And one mentor. “There are a lot of people out there and they will give you lots of conflicting advice and most of them are dorks,” Bill said. “At least get a consistent stream of information from one dork.”

The package arrived from Georgia Memorial Day weekend and Bill helped me get the bees in the hive. They’re doing great, at least in terms of the humble aspirations of the first-year beekeeper. I’m not expecting any honey this year, I just want to build up a strong colony and that seems to be happening.

Last week a new queen arrived by US Postal Service, from St. Albans, here in Vermont. Bill and the other experienced beekeepers tell me a Vermont-bred queen will overwinter better than the Georgia queen. (There appears to be a “dork consensus” on this point.)

Mike, the guy who bred my new queen, said, “They’re gonna tell ya a southern queen is gonna be 30 days ahead of a northern queen, so you’re better off with a southern queen. But that’s a lie! Don’t believe the lie!” (One thing beekeepers do not lack is personality.) “If ya get a southern queen and she craps out half way through the summer, where are ya then?”

So, Vermont queen goes in and Georgia queen…. Well, she gets killed. A little apiarian regicide, for the good of the hive. Adrienne, who’s made peace with the hive in the yard, says of this new development, “Don’t tell me about that. I don’t want to know.”

Colony Collapse Disorder, or CCD, which is ravaging bee colonies around the world, is not found in Vermont. Local beekeepers attribute this to the fact that most Vermont beekeepers are hobbyists and don’t work their bees hard the way the big operations with thousands of hives that move every few weeks to pollinate crops up and down the continent. Those bees, the professional pollinators (sweatshop bees, really), are exposed to more pesticides, are kept working constantly and unlike Vermont bees, they don’t get the winter off.

The summer meeting of the Vermont Beekeepers’ Association was held in Waitsfield Saturday. Among other things, a bee honcho from Ohio asked the group to consider hosting the Eastern Apicultural Society’s annual meeting next year.

A bunch of the old timers got to reminiscing about the last time Vermont hosted the EAS meeting, in 1980. Being rural, agricultural types, someone brought along a bottle of ciderjack he’d brewed in his still.

“So we were all standing there, passing the bottle around and Charlie Mraz walked up.” (Charlie Mraz was beekeeping royalty.)

“He saw the bottle and said, ‘Oh, cider!’ and grabbed it and before we could stop him, he went ‘glug, glug glug’….”

“He passed out in the bushes.”

“His wife had to take him home.”

That was a good meeting.”

© Mark Floegel, 2009

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