About That Time

Skies are gray; temperatures are in the 40s. We had the first big downpour (liquid) in Burlington Sunday evening. I stood on the porch and watched the rain. Twigs on the crabapple trees glistened in the streetlights. It’s rare, I realized to see rain come down with no leaves on the trees.

It’s not exactly spring, more like winter’s appendix. Mud season. People find it depressing, but I don’t. I grew up in the eastern Great Lakes, so this is normal for me. I find it nostalgic; the way some people find autumn. The snow is gone (at least down here by the lake) and the brown grass is turning green.

The croci are up and a few warm days brought buds to the lilacs. Then it turned cool again and the budding stopped. They remain suspended, little green tips, neither dying nor growing further, like startled deer unable to decide whether or not to bolt.

The days were warm last weekend, so I put up the clothesline and we hung out some wash. That felt like spring. I still have to take the snow tires off the car and replace the storm windows with screens, but not just yet. I did put the snow shovels in the shed, tempting the winter gods. So far so good, though.

Adrienne wants to open the garden beds, but it’s too soon. There are things to do. The hydrangea in front and the grapes in back both need pruning. I’m daunted by the task of pruning grapes. Cut too little or too much or the wrong stems and you get a poor crop. I keep asking for advice. Keeps me humble.

One of my beehives died, the weak one. The bees were still moving a few weeks ago, but when the warm days came, there was no action on the landing pad. I opened it and there they all were, clustered dead against the upper south wall. At first I thought they ran out of honey, but it was not the case. As I said, it was my weak hive; the queen was old, I suspect she just didn’t start laying again in February.

The other hive is thriving and I gave the excess honey from the dead hive to the healthy one, to tide them over until the pollen starts flowing in earnest in a few weeks. The dead hive was comprised of my oldest equipment, so I pulled it apart and brought the boxes, frames and bottom board into the basement for cleaning and a fresh coat of paint. I’ll have it ready in case a swarm comes my way.

There was a swarm in my back yard last June. I was embarrassed at first, thinking one of my colonies had swarmed, but no, it was from elsewhere. It was high in the sugar maple, so I borrowed an extra long extension ladder from some carpenters working on the house next door, climbed up and caught the swarm in a box. It looks impressive, but it’s not. Swarming bees won’t sting. They only sting to protect the hive and swarms have no hive to protect.

I had to give the swarm away because I had nowhere to put it. This year I’ll be ready, or maybe I’ll see if someone has a nucleus colony they’ll sell me. I doubt it. Nucs are dear in the spring of 2011. It was a tough winter for nucs; I heard about half the Vermont nucs didn’t make it.

It’s a tough season for the other kind of nukes and I thought about that too, as I watched the rain this week, each drop nucleated around a particle of dust blown in from who knows where. Gray skies don’t depress me; the news depresses me. I couldn’t write one more blasted commentary about how screwed up things are. We all know that. I would like to not write about that stuff for a long, long time. I hope wherever you are, you’re enjoying spring.

© Mark Floegel, 2011

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