The Inner Cover

Kim Flottum

It started out as a typical hectic Spring. Then it got worse. Then it got real worse. Worse, as in things kept happening that kept us from getting done what we wanted to get done, too. You know what I mean?

The weather was the main villain. Actually, the timing was the problem. You have to have rain, but really, I had to build an ark to get to the back bees. Squish, squish, squish. The mower needed pontoons. The garden was nowhere to be seen. Whenever something of value started to bloom – take your pick – locust, clover, maples, it got cold, it rained and what would have been a crop, wasn’t.

That wasn’t as bad as it sounds because most hives didn’t have enough boxes to accommodate a crop had there been one. Getting boxes on was a ‘not-gonna-happen’ task anyway. When I had time to dig them out, get them ready and head out – it was raining, it was way, way cold, or it was dark.

Packages got put in on a fine, sunny warm day – the one and only for 10 days – and by the time we got back to them – two road trips, lots of rain, a couple of deadlines, making up for an employee who changed jobs,  and on and on, they had, for the most part gone to heck. It wasn’t food, they had plenty of leftover honey, some pollen and there was certainly lots of water everywhere. What went wrong mostly was that the queens either got out early because the corks weren’t tight, or, they didn’t get out for way too long. As a result, the early releases all killed their queen, and the late releases ran out of bees before she started laying well. Queenless, or beeless was the name of the game.

All of this is fixable of course. Load up with some brood, requeen, shake some bees. Just as soon as it quits raining, and when I get home, I’ll get right to it.

We’d made splits earlier from overwintered colonies bursting at the seams. Lots of bees, lots of brood, lots of food. Honey food, not feeders food. Stored pollen food, not patty food. Lots and lots. Then the monsoons came. The plan, yes there was a plan, was to let them raise their own, keep tabs on the cells, and when sealed either remove, or use as emergency queens for hives in trouble, and then install a new queen of chosen genetics in the split or the needy colonies. That was the plan. A queenless period to give Varroa a shot. It had always worked in the past. Everytime.  Of course that didn’t work. We were either gone, or stuck inside behind the snowbanks and ocean of a lawn and those splits were on their own. And, of course, the queens emerged. And, of course, there wasn’t day one they could fly during that critical time. And, of course, they didn’t get mated. And, of course, we now have boxes full of drones. Well, mostly drones. No brood to speak of, so not sure where all the drones came from, though we both probably know where from. So, requeening those will be interesting.

Another colony had spent the Winter as a four tall, five frame box colony. I wanted to see how to make that work. What with the mild Winter here they did just fine. They started in the bottom two boxes and actually ended up in boxes two and three, and were dining in box four by the time I got to them this Spring. OK, that worked, and I learned a couple of things, but I needed those five frame boxes for other splits (see above) so transferred them to my regular eight framers. Not a problem, I thought.

There was confusion of course. More than I should have let happen I suppose. I turned the entrance 90° because the front door was pointing in a bad lawn mower direction (which as it turns out wasn’t much of a problem, see above), and raised it a bit higher on cinder blocks. So, most of the bees were fine with that. In and out, in and out, just a different in, but that’s OK. But some of them, maybe stubborn, maybe not the brightest bees in the bunch, maybe smarter than I think, decided that the old door was the best door, and they weren’t going to change. So, they started using the space underneath the colony, filling it with comb and clustering there. Of course there’s no brood – that queen didn’t move – so they built comb, clustered, and are filling much of it with honey. And there they are, filling all the empty space beneath the colony between the blocks and in the empty spaces within the blocks. It’s solid comb, bees and honey. And even by mid-June, no place to go, so there they sit. I’ll get to them just as soon as it quits raining and warms up. Really.



Then there’s the garden, deck and landscape chores each Spring. The garden starts in the basement in January when the seeds go in, and spreads out all over under lights until it’s warm enough to bring them outside. Tomatoes, peppers, herbs, you know, the regular suspects. By the time they’ve gone through two moves up – to bigger containers – I’ll have about 20 flats worth of plants and that’s when they go up to the deck and into that portable greenhouse I have out there just for this. That lasts a couple three weeks, then outside into the cold, cruel world. Yup. Cold. Yup, cruel. Yup, too much rain. So much it washed potting mix right out of the pots. There wasn’t time to repot, so I just dumped more mix right on top of the flats and washed it in. It kind of worked.

Meanwhile, all the rest of the world needed working on. New chicks meant rearranging the coop, different kind of feed, more water, different doors, different chores. The garage goes away about the first of March because it gets filled with pots and dirt and tools and feed and fertilizer and the lawn mower and gas cans and getting ready bee stuff and putting away bee stuff and inbetween bee stuff. So it’s a no brainer to leave the car outside.   

So when you walk into the garage there’s all this stuff. And it’s stuff that needs done. So you grab the shovel to put it back where it belongs and trip over the chick waterer that needs filling and go to fill that because chicks need water and get to the faucet and remember you didn’t water the tomato and pepper plants you were heading for when you saw the tipped over Jade plant, right on the asparagus sets that are up in the pots but it’s too wet to get them in the ground, but you thought you’d try and see and that’s where the shovel comes in. So after all that, nothing is done yet. And the chicks still need water. And that’s what it’s been like. Careening from one disaster to another, not enough time or light to get one thing done when another, need-more-attention task rears its ugly head.

So we have one cool, cloudy, feels like it’s going to rain evening after work, finally. Bees are as caught up as can be for the moment. Garden time. Get in some rows of beans, five kinds. Three kinds of Summer squash. Two kinds of cukes. Didn’t get to the greens yet. Got more beans but they go in later. Got the tomato supports up, enough for 72 plants, plus the bunches in pots on the deck. Eleven kinds all told and one gets 10 feet tall.  Got the pepper row spaces ready for two long rows for about 75 plants. Ten kinds of peppers. Except I forgot to get regular green peppers. Red, gold, black, yellow, huge brown peppers, little tiny peppers. They all go in the garden. The hot ones, they stay on the deck. Eight kinds of those. One, I’ve never heard of, about 10 million on the Scoville scale I’m told. I don’t touch these. Food shouldn’t hurt, but I have friends that love them. So we share honey and eggs and tomatoes and peppers and beans with friends who don’t garden, chicken or bee.

Next day. Back to the bees. Queens are coming. Not one, two. But that morning I’m heading out to Oregon for a daughter visit and move and roadtrip home. Be gone maybe a week. Look at the weather app on my phone. It looks like six days of warm sunny weather. It’s all yours Kath until I get back and can help. If it doesn’t rain. And stays warm. 

One of the weekends we were gone was that trip to Greenfield I talked about last time. I did get to talk in L.L. Langstroth’s Church, walk his grounds, visit the memorial, view the building that was the home of the girl’s school he taught at. And had my picture taken in his pulpit. Plus, I got to meet the former Governor of Massachusetts, listen to the Apiary Inspector of the state and a couple of Scientists looking at honey bee forage issues at UMASS.   

Somebody asked me if that wasn’t a Bucket List sort of experience. I mean, walking in the footsteps of the most revered man in the history of our industry? The Minister who made all this happen?

I had to think about that for only a split second. How could it be? How could one imagine doing that, let alone making a list and putting it, what, first or second, of the things I want to do before I die? No, it wasn’t that at all. It was a once in a lifetime, totally unexpected, wonderful opportunity that I wouldn’t have passed up on ever. It wasn’t something I wished for. It’s something I’m glad I got to do.

It’s Summer time. Bees to work, gardens to make, daughters to move. So keep your smoker lit, your veil tight, your hive tool handy and your guest room ready. It only gets better from here.