February 18, 2017 11°C Photo: ‘Wild Bee in Winter' by Marco Moretti
Melting snow. Happy dog. Buzzing bees and cleansing flights. Can spring be far away?
Today was one of those glorious, brilliantly sunny, unseasonably warm winter days that made it easy to talk Ross into taking the 3-hour drive with me to check the bees. As a bonus, it was warm enough to bring Molly, our nearly 16-year old Husky mix, for what might be her last visit to her favourite place on earth.
It was such a good idea. I’ve never seen so many bees in flight in mid-winter before. The snow was covered in bright yellow dots, a result of cleansing flights, as well as an appropriate number of bees brought out for ‘burial’. Hundreds of happy bees were hanging around the upper and lower entrances of each hive soaking up the sun. Buzz buzz buzz. I didn’t think I would hear that sound until spring.
It looks like all the hives are doing well, although two seemed light on stores when I did the lift test. I’ll come back in a few weeks with some thick honey to feed them if they need it. I always keep a pail of honey in reserve for spring feeding if required. Sometimes one or two will run low, even though I leave plenty of honey in the fall. I make up 1-pound flat packages of thickened honey wrapped in wax paper and leave a few of them on top of the frames under the inner cover with an Imirie shim, or on top of the inner cover if it’s warming up and I don’t need the insulation any more. The wax paper keeps the bees from sticking to the honey; they just push it aside as they go, or if it’s nice, carry it out as hive garbage. The one hive I’ve lost in six years was a result of running out of food so I am hyper-vigilant about honey stores. Typically, beekeepers will feed sugar syrup in the fall and spring, but organic standards prohibit feeding with sugar, unless it’s certified organic, hard to find without impurities that will affect the bees’ digestive systems. But I’d rather not feed them sugar anyway.
So, in the meantime, Molly is having a splendid time rolling around in the snow and barking at the bees, something she hasn’t done since she was young and unstung. I can’t believe how well she is doing today, she has been diagnosed with a spinal condition that causes her hind leg to drag. We have a special harness for her with two handles that enables us to assist her up and down stairs and from a lying position if she can’t get traction on the floor. It’s been hard to watch, but kind of inspiring as well. She never loses her cheerful optimism and has managed to maintain all her annoying habits, (which, thinking about it, are suitable goals for anybody’s old age). We have three tests for quality of life for her: if she still likes to roll her treat ball, if she still wants to go for walks, and if she still checks out the garbage bins to see if anything tasty escaped. When those pleasures go, we’ll know ‘it’s time’.
Provisions: Hmmm, I didn’t plan this very well, leftover cold vanilla soy latte in a paper cup at the beeyard. But we made up for that with mid-afternoon lunch at Miss Lily’s: a steaming bowl of Southwestern corn and squash chowder with a toasted Montréal bagel dripping with butter, and a big glass of cold milk. Ross had a thick chicken and avocado sandwich on hand-cut bread and a Fanta*. Molly got a ham sandwich sans bread. And then Ross and I shared a slice of Miss Lily’s famous homemade carrot cake, you know, the kind with cream cheese frosting applied with a trowel? Yikes, I’m still thinking about that.
A great day.
*Speaking of Fanta, our 9 year-old grandson’s parents successfully deterred him from soft drinks until last summer during a family trip to Kenya, where he had his first Fanta. I swear, it was like he’d seen the face of God. In our family, Fanta is now code for ”when life exceeds all expectations.”