We’re about a month into our effort to get a weak bee hive, taken from the soffit of a house in Cotuit, strong enough to survive the coming winter. Our friends Claire and Paul have helped us take the heroic measures required: adding two frames of brood and nurse bees, and replacing the lackluster queen.
As astute commenter Kat noted when we got the bees, there’s an expression that goes, “A swarm in July isn’t worth a fly.” The later in the year you get a colony, the harder it is to coax it through to spring. It needs enough time to build up sufficient honey stores and a critical mass of bees. An August colony is an iffy proposition.
So when the phone rang yesterday morning and Brian, the beekeeper who’d taken me on the job to get the August bees, told me he had another colony, this one from a house in Brewster, I wasn’t sure what to say.
My first impulse was, of course, to tell him to bring ‘em on over. I’ve got an empty hive ready to go. But if an August colony is iffy, what hope is there for a September colony? Would housing them and feeding them be an exercise in frustration and a waste of sugar?
But there’s really only one possible answer when someone calls and offers you bees: Yes, please.
Brian came over with two vacuum canisters full of bees and a container of comb. The comb had very little honey but quite a lot of brood. We dumped the bees into a hive box with five frames of empty comb from my old colonies, and filled five more frames with the new bees’ own comb.
The colony had clearly come from a beekeeper’s hive; the queen was marked with a blue dot. Although I got the colony yesterday, it probably swarmed earlier than my August hive; the bees had been in the Brewster house for some time. The brood pattern looked good, there were lots of larvae, and there was reason to hope the queen was strong and active.
As I looked at the frames of comb, and helped Brian put the bees in the hive, a funny thing happened. I realized I wasn’t completely at sea anymore. I had some idea what I was looking for when I looked at comb. I had a plan for this hive, which included getting it through the winter if it looked strong, or using it for spare parts for the other hive if it looked weak. I was beginning to feel comfortable with my bees.
I’ve talked before about how much I enjoy the steep part of the learning curve. The step from knowing nothing to knowing something is remarkable; it opens up a brand new subject. The steps after that, from knowing something to knowing something more, can never be quite as compelling.
It’ll be a long time before I’ll be classified as ‘expert’ at any of the things we do, and I wouldn’t even hold my breath for ‘competent.’ But ‘not clueless’ is a surprisingly satisfying start.