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Wilkinson: Bees At Work

The blossoms are now abuzz with pollinating bees – and without them, we wouldn’t have much food. That’s a scary thought since honeybees are battling a Colony Collapse Disorder that threatens their population.Knowing this, my husband and I thought it seemed only right to do our tiny part by keeping honeybees ourselves. First, we got advice - and honeyed pastries - from beekeeping neighbors at a local meeting of fellow apiary enthusiasts. Then we got the beginner kit: wooden boxes with frames, a bee suit, hat with face and neck netting, elbow length gloves, a “hive tool” that looks a little like a crow bar, brush, smoker, and guidebook.

Prepared and confident, we bought honeybees, which arrived in a wooden framed box with mesh sides containing about 10,000 drones and worker bees, and one queen. We had chosen the more docile Italian variety which we then transferred to the hive. I’d visit them, say hello as they flew by, and watch them excitedly as they became acquainted with their new home.

But with every new hobby, there’s usually a learning curve. And we’ve certainly been learning through our mistakes.

Year one attracted a bear that took some honey; then the summer months became abnormally rainy. Unable to leave the hive to collect more pollen and nectar our poor bees starved, which taught us to keep sugar water on hand until we knew they had plenty of sustenance.

Year two brought a rainstorm with hurricane force winds that knocked the hive over and the bees essentially drowned. That taught us to strap the hives to their base.

Year three found them all doing well, until they could not stay warm enough during a bitterly cold winter. So we insulated colony number four with more blueboard - and instead of starting the fourth year with Italian bees, we got brave and received part of a split colony of more aggressive but hardier Russian bees.

Success! They overwintered and were doing so well the next spring that we made plans to split the hive and give them more room.
But they beat us to it, swarming off with a deafening, disorienting thrum to find a new home. The remaining bees worked hard to make a new Queen and we hoped the colony would bounce back – but it didn’t.

I still hope to prove someday that I can be a competent steward of this part of Mother Nature’s bounty. The world needs it.

But for now, I’ll have trust the beekeeping pros until I become one myself.

From farmer to teacher, Brooke Wilkinson now works to bring music to young children throughout the region. She lives with her husband and two children in Strafford, Vermont.
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