This has been an unusual year. Drought, extreme heat, storms. The pressure, felt by humans in temperature controlled buildings, is nothing compared to the impact nature experiences. Specifically, honeybees. I’ve been concerned about our bees since early spring. They don’t benefit from my extra attention, delivered mostly by my visits outside their hives where I stand respectfully, watching them fly from their hives, singing songs in a humble attempt to honor them.
I’ve noticed more bees on our flowering plants than in other years. I thought that was a hopeful sign. But we kept hearing dire reports from beekeeping friends. Hives lost to foul brood, to colony collapse, to mites, beetles, disease. We put off harvesting honey until late autumn.
I see the bees every day in the garden. I still harvest broccoli, although many of my plants have gone to bloom. Normally I cut those blooms to feed the cows but I can’t bear to do so when so many bees cluster in the yellow flowers, still busy collecting nectar despite the chill. I greet them as insect sisters, then move on to pluck some Brussels sprouts, some chard, some kale, a few more shelling beans.
When we finally get around to harvesting honey, late I know, we find our honeybee friends are not faring as well as we hoped. Several hives are nearly dead, the queens gone and worker bees doomed. Our top bar hive is strong, a few other colonies thrive, but the loss of those few hives feels like the loss of friends. They’d been with us for years only to perish now. I wish we could hear what bees are telling us.
We choose to harvest no honey. We will winterize with bales of straw, letting them keep every bit of honey and pollen to help them through the winter. Maybe the memory of flowers and sunshine will help them. Maybe not. But bees are a blessing that we can’t ignore in this era of genetic modification and pesticide application. They need all the help we can give them.
This winter they will cluster in a ball around their queen, moving from inside to outside to share the suffering freezing temperatures bring them. I hope we learn from our friends the bees. I hope it’s not too late.