Extracting honey. Certainly not what I was expecting to be doing on March 10th. The honey from last fall's harvest just ran out last week - timed as it seems to have fallen in the rhythm of doing each year we've been keeping them - just before the maple syrup begins to flow. But a warm day this week led me to the hives where my growing suspicion was confirmed - I lost all of my bees over the winter. There was a bit of mourning followed by a lot of investigating to find out what had happened. I'm fairly certain that disease wasn't the culprit, and while there was plenty of honey there for them to eat, I do believe it was starvation that was the cause of death. Some late fall warmth resulting in some late brooding followed by a cold snap and a continued series of events that ultimately led to their demise. (I know I'm not explaining that scenario very well, I'm really such a new beekeeper still that I understand it well enough when explained to me, but am terrible at explaining it myself, so my apologies.)
(A very realistic, yet hopeful report on the state of New England bees can be heard in a great audio clip that Taproot contributor Schirin Oeding made to accompany her written piece in the latest issue DREAM. It's an inspiring listen when you have a moment.)
Just as I was beginning to beat myself up a bit for what I might have managed differently, I heard from a neighboring farmer and life-long beekeeper that not one of his ten hives made it through this winter. And later that night, a similar report from someone in line with me at the market. Heartbreaking for the bees, sadness for the beekeepers, and yet...a tiny bit of relief, I must confess, for this newbee.
But none of what remains will go to waste. My little naturalist now has jars full of dead bees for her studying and drawing, the drawn comb (and a bit of honey) will be a blessing to the new packages bees we will start fresh with next month, and the rest of us are gifted with a generous three gallons of honey in a time of year we were most certainly not expecting it. Bittersweet.