By Sarah Meyer, Beekeeper and Owner of Worker’s Ransom Honey
“Bee Happy!” “Beelieve!” “Bee Humble!” “Bee Good!”
These bee phrases seem to be catchy buzzwords nowadays as more clothing and household items, like mugs, flour canisters, doormats, jewelry, and towels are imprinted in calligraphy script. It’s as if subtle daily reminders are needed of how simple and pleasant life can “bee” (sorry, had to do it!) if we could all just “let it bee” so. Beyond the play on words, these coined expressions also echo in my mind as a beekeeper entering the pollinator season!
Yesterday evening, during the short break between the end of the workday and sunset, I sped off to tend to my seven remaining beehives. There wasn’t enough time for full inspections but I was minimally able to consider their status and needs. My first immediate determination was that I will need to return to the hives this weekend for more care and attention. One of the challenges of having hives on multiple properties is that a hive check actually means two visits for me—one trip to assess needs and another to meet needs. In addition to discovering one more hive lost (that’s 40% survival this winter now), I took a tally of ways I could help my live hives thrive.
I took note of which live hives were low in weight and where I could possibly move frames of honey from dead hives to support live hives; which hives had strong enough populations that may be able to be split to create two colonies; which hive boxes had thieving ant colonies needing repelling mint sprigs or cinnamon sticks added to their inner covers; and which boxes and frame combinations were in good enough condition to support new colonies, like the swarms of early spring.
I often receive inquisitive phone calls about the removal of honeybee swarms from the cozy crevasses of light posts, tree branches, garden sheds, or farm equipment. Onlookers admire the swarm of bees, but are puzzled yet amazed by how docile they are. Swarming is a natural phenomenon in which a honeybee colony eases overcrowding or discomfort by dividing itself into two and, partially or completely, leaving the hive. Prior to swarm departure, a new queen bee is made by the existing colony in preparation for roughly half of that colony to leave with the old queen and relocate. Because they are traveling with only what they have in their stomachs, and have no actual hive to defend, swarms are typically easier to handle.
If successful at capturing a swarm from their resting spot, which often entails me balancing a box of bees upon my shoulder, one-armed down a ladder in my full bee suit, I place it into one of my vacant hive boxes and hope that they find it acceptable to stay. Besides collecting swarms to recover colony numbers after winter loss, beekeepers can also split their strongest colonies, and/ or contemplate purchasing bees, which I decided to do this year, in hopes of easing winter setbacks.
As I visit my hives, I am reminded of their vulnerabilities, challenges, perseverance, and outstanding potential. With every hive check, I am prompted by the bees to remain humble, to believe in their capabilities and potential, and to grasp all the kindness, bravery, and happiness beekeeping bestows upon me.
Sarah A. Meyer is the beekeeper and owner of Worker’s Ransom Honey based in Geneva. She set up her first hive in 2014 and now sells honey from bees pollinating the Finger Lakes region. You can learn more about Worker’s Ransom Honey by reading about Sarah’s beekeeping adventures shared in her monthly From the Hive column and on social media @workersransom on Facebook and @workersransomhoney on Instagram. You can find Worker’s Ransom products at five retail locations in the Geneva area and a few of them offer online ordering and gift baskets. These include the Finger Lakes Welcome Center in Geneva, Bostrom Farms in Stanley, Monaco’s Coffee in Geneva, FLX Goods in Geneva, and Red Jacket Orchards Farmstore in Geneva. Contact Sarah via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.