Editor’s Note: Wes Henry lives in Switzer with his wife, Mary, and their children, Shelby, John Morgan and Wesley Todd, along with two spoiled black poodles, Chloe and Bonnie Belle. He writes, keeps bees, gardens and has a few layin’ hens. The Henrys also manage a small apiary under the label “Summer’s Bird Honey.” He will be contributing columns from time to time based on his experiences with bees and beekeeping.
An article in a past issue of the “American Bee Journal” encouraged new beekeepers to not give up so easily. It is common for many to go “wholehog” into beekeeping only to find queen problems, pests, disease, a bad honey year, or some other common-to-all maladies tempering their enthusiasm to the point of quickly giving up on the hobby or venture altogether.
Beekeeping, we must realize, is agriculture and requires resilience and in true American spirit, to not give up easily. Success is measured by an average over the years of good and bad and how the apiarist reacts to both, whether misfortune or mistakes, making all the difference.
Such was the case recently.
While finishing up a gardening project with our son, Morgan, we heard the growing and recognizable sound of a swarm of bees coming from a tall cedar.
Up, up, up, and then they were gone, due west to parts unknown and then there was silence. Only the late summer crickets from the tall grass broke it until a hardy “what the …” exclamation erupted from us both at the 20-second wonderment of it all.
One hive quiet
I dashed to the bee yard and found activity — in and out, bees on the landing board, swirling at the entrances — at all but one hive. At last inspection it had seemed strong, healthy and there was no sign of swarming activity.
I opened it without a veil, gloves, or smoke, and the evidence proved my suspicion: they had come from there, possibly the day or two before, clustered and waiting in the top of that tree, waiting for the scouts with the new home place found to return and lead them there — queen, honey and all.
Yet, this was more than bad, this was extra bad, for they had more than swarmed; this was absconding. Hardly a bee remained. There were a few stragglers, some pollen, and in total, possibly a frame of capped brood and lots of hive beetles, those small black, ladybug-shaped pests that would like nothing more than to lay their eggs and have their larva feed on the resources of the hive, leaving a slime and stench and ruin to the industriousness of the colony and the keeper.
Though I had installed traps, squashed, cursed them and all, they were legion and it is probable their sheer numbers had caused this thing, a bad thing indeed when he bees gave up and decided to find a new home.
Did I sulk and despair?
Yes, for a moment. I was due that, come on! Then I took action, you might call it revenge, but the motive was to make good of a bad situation. I quickly gathered the hive bodies before the little black demons escaped, and put them in my deep freezer.
Discovered in time
“A week or two ‘ll teach them a good lesson”, I thought, fortunate to have discovered it in time, before the pillaging and preserving the breastwork of my abandoned operation — the comb which “they” say is like gold.
Though I now have satisfaction, I also discovered I need to vacuum my freezer, yet I’m able to make more good from the bad in the fact that now is the time for winter preparation and I have two other colonies — a hived summer’s swarm and a late split using a queen I bought that in the end I didn’t need — that can use that comb for winter stores.
The already pulled (made) and “cleansed” comb will make up for the late start because they will not have to use nectar or feed nor take the time to make it themselves being able then to immediately begin to “put up” honey and pollen for their winter survival.
I’m glad that I now have the resources for the survival of two at the expense of one. You might say, it’s how you look at the proverbial glass as either half full or half empty I suppose.
Unfortunately, misfortunes and mistakes will happen in anything and beekeeping as in all of agriculture, is not immune. Just stick to it and find ways to make good of the bad. A lesson not only for perseverance in what is deemed the “poetry of rural economy” but in all of life — another lesson from the hive.