Home Harvested Sweetness, First Installment
I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling overwhelmed with imminent spring. It’s just so inspiring to see those fleets of tender crocus shoots pushing up; so inspiring ( in a slightly different way) to see those fleets of last autumn’s canned goods still lining the shelves.
Haven’t started raking yet, but I have been making Honey Bars, playing around with assorted vintages, pairing the perfumes of the honeys with different nuts: floral with hazelnuts, herbal with pecans, smoky with black walnuts.
That’s the thing about keeping bees: if you get any honey at all, you generally get a lot, so even though last year was a total bust we’re in no danger of running out.
The thing that’s in danger is the bees. And as Bill points out in this guest post, the first wave of threats is already pawing away at the doorstep.
Sweetness in the Snow (Nope, It’s not Maple Syrup)
In deep winter, our bees stay put, venturing out only on the rare warm days when they can clean up the hive (and themselves) without fear of freezing.
Then, long before the snow is gone come the first warm rains of the season. They fell here a little over a week ago, following which we immediately began to see dead raccoons on the side of the road and raccoon tracks in fresh snow around the neighborhood.
Then, a few nights ago I heard one scrabbling around in the side yard. Oh, No, I thought. One way or another, Ugly is about to be the word in the bee yard.
Both raccoons and their distant cousins, the Black Bears, emerge from their winter denning slumber in mid-March, hungry and ready to roam. They are on the look-out for fast food. Around here, that usually means bird seed, household garbage, molasses spiked ‘sweet feed’ and bee hives.
Almost all of our neighbors set out garbage nightly, many feed the birds, and at least two provide sweet feed to their stock. Amongst this suburban smorgasbord, bee hives can beckon as the sweetest of finds. In such a setting, things can get real ugly real quick.
When the ‘coons come, the bears are usually not far behind, and they seem to have a singular fondness for the contents of bee hives. It’s not so much for the honey, but for the developing larvae packed into the innermost combs of the hive. But whereas the ‘coons opposable thumbs can open latches and investigate nooks and crannies with the skill of an ornery six year old, the bears use all of the grace and cunning of a smack down wrestler to demolish the hive in their effort to get to the larvae.
One move, Ka Blam! And the three hundred dollar investment of a single hive is splintered in an instant. Ugly!
To ward off this threat, those of us who keep bees have learned to surround the hives with an electric fence. The problem facing us in an early spring with a deep snow pack (and so far this year over seven feet has fallen) is that the fence is buried under snow and any electrical current shorts out immediately.
So for us, the first sign of the sweetness of this spring was not the boiling off of maple syrup but the digging out and reconstruction of the electric fence.
When most of us think of honey we think of warm days, blossom filled vistas, fragrant evenings and jugs of amber sweetness. Yet the tasks of late winter, although not so bucolic, are also part of the picture. Remember this the next time you purchase a pint of home grown honey at your local farmers market.
(Note: This seems like a good place to add that large mammalian threats are the least of the bee’s worries and that’s pretty much all bees, not only domestic honey bees like ours but also the native pollinators lately much in the news as possible replacements. Decline of Honey Bees Now A Global Phenomenon Says the United Nations. LL)