Bees, take 2

The action didn’t stop Sunday. After cleaning up, I loaded the bottling gear in my car and dropped it off in Gorham for Joshua and Kelsey. I spent the night in Cambridge, and then got up early and headed for Billerica, where I picked up a pre-ordered 5-frame honeybee nucleus (“Nuc”) from Merrimack Valley Apiaries. This is a large honey and pollination outfit that features prominently in a book I recently read, called Following the Bloom, by a guy named Douglas Whynott. It’s an interesting read, about the tenuous business of trucking semi-loads of bees around the country, pollinating fruit crops, and producing literally tons of honey.

Last year my mom bought a package of bees, which she picked up in a parking lot in Yarmouth; the hive never took though, for whatever reason, and we resolved to use a surer method this year. A nucleus is actually a small working hive, complete with a queen, workers, and brood in the process of maturing. The nuc itself was a rudimentary plywood box with a slot in the front edge to let the bees come and go (it was plugged with window screen for shipment). The guys in the yard put it in a mesh bag for me for good measure, and it went in the back of the Corolla, and I headed straight for Five Islands. I got there before 11, and it was a nice quiet warm morning, so Emily and I hived the bees immediately. She has a headnet and gauntleted gloves, and I improvised with a white button-up shirt, a no-see-um netting mesh bag and plain leather work gloves. But in retrospect I think we could have done it bare-handed. With just a slight puff of smoke the bees were incredibly gentle and mellow, and the box was chock full of them. We unscrewed the nuc box with two sheetrock screws, pried the frames loose one by one, and dropped them in the hive in the same order they came out in. We closed up the hive and put in a quart jar of sugar syrup to tide them over, but as soon as we let them be for half an hour they were hard at work; we found them in the dandelions and the magnolia tree, and they seemed to be flying off into the maples and birch trees as well, which were thick with catkins.

There’s something strangely captivating in just sitting and watching a hive of bees coming and going; these tiny creatures with such remarkable evolved social cohesion and amazing navigation skills. They have hardly any processor power at all, and yet collectively they can perform a complicated harvesting task that we humans have no hope of pulling off. Hopefully they will make a difference in the apple harvest, both in Poppy’s older trees, and in our new ones as well. It also got me thinking more about flowers – normally I flip past the flower section of a seed catalog with a scoff, but seeing the bees working the flowers made me think about ‘ornamental’ plants in a whole different way…


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