Now that spring is here, we wait in anticipation for an event that has occurred each year since we came to this little farm in the Otways. It’s swarming season. The bees are on the move.
It is at this time of the year, if we’re lucky to be home, we experience a swarm. It happens so quickly, that ten minutes later you are non the wiser that ten thousand bees had just exited a hive, drifted around in a big black cloud then found purchase on the branch of an apple tree, about ten meters from the hive. The bees swarm when the hive becomes too populated and a new queen is crowned. There is no place for two queens, so one gathers her supporters and they find a new hive. From that one hive we began with, we now have five.
We like to impress people with the stats of our place. We have 4 cows, 22 chickens, 1 rooster, 2 ducks, 1 drake and approximately 100,000 (yes, that’s one hundred thousand!) bees, approximately 20,000 to a hive.
All through winter the bees have been fed and kept warm. The more comfortable they are, the less honey they consume through the cold, rainy months. Opening a hive full of honey in summer is a highlight in our year.
The single hive we inherited when we arrived, taught us many lessons in the art of bee keeping. Protective clothing that resembles a nuclear hazard outfit needed to be purchased, as well as the smoker and tools to manage the hive, Before we even lifted the lid of the super, a small fortune was spent!
The first time Frans opened the hive we stood a decent distance from the hive, cameras in hand. This was a defining event in our lives as new ‘farmers’. Perhaps we were a little too close as a few irritated bees headed straight our way and stung everyone in the audience, including the poor dog! More smoke! That was the clue. After that first time, we stayed right away and I leave the beekeeper in the family to take care of his livestock.
Imagine our excitement when we harvested 10kgs of honey that first summer. It was a sticky affair in the as we slipped the protective layers of wax from the dripping frames with a hot knife and strained the honey into big pots. The sweet aroma of honey permeated our clothes as we bottled jar after jar. In our naivety we assumed that each year the bees would give us the same bounty, but Mother Nature had other ideas. A very hot summer resulted in no honey for nearly two years. We looked back at our first harvest and berated ourselves for giving away our entire stock to family and friends.
In preparation for this swarming season, new hives have been purchased and constructed. Capturing a swarm is exciting, especially with the promise of more honey to come.
However, aside from the bonus of harvesting fragrant golden honey, we value the bees for the work they do. They perform the amazing task of pollinating our edible garden. Seeing them crawl over the pollen in an apple blossom, or finding a few bees buried deep in the folds of a rose is something we cannot afford to lose. And so as small as these creatures may be, we work hard to give them the best opportunity for survival. We don’t spray any of our produce with any chemicals, as this would be a certain death sentence to them. I plant drifts of flowers each year, especially flowers and shrubs with purple or mauve blossoms. They are drawn to the sweet fragrances of lavender, rosemary and alyssum.
The bees welcome the new sunny mornings by flying into the sun then navigating their way to the nectar filled spring blossoms.
A new season begins and we look forward to a bountiful harvest.
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