So, Sunday was moderate and sunny, snow still in patches and piles on the lawn, but the sharp of winter was noticeably dulled and there was no more delaying the obvious: it was time to see if the bees had survived the winter.
We suited up and entered the bee yard and saw no obvious signs of life, but, as with so many of the very best secrets, sometimes the obvious is the noisy camouflage of the quietly wonderful.
I rapped twice on the south hive and put an ear to the hive’s side: gentle humming and then a single scout flew out to see who was disturbing her afternoon nap.
I did the same on the north hive: gentle humming and then one loud buzz practically next to my ear.
We lifted the outer covers for each hive just to confirm with our eyes what our ears knew without disturbing or chilling them. When we lifted the covers, we saw the plexiglass covered hole in each inner cover packed full of lively bees. We quickly put the covers on, and did our own little waggle dance right there in front of the hives and the confused goats.
Then we scampered back to the house to report the news to H and to study up on what happens next.
The next is what we did today, the warmest day by far of 2016. We returned to the hives for a more in-depth examination. The bees tolerated us so very well, placidly going about their business. In each hive we saw a good-sized, healthy colony. They had eaten much of their honey, but there is still plenty left to see them through the next month until spring begins to blossom in our part of the world.
Even better, we saw eggs, larvae, and capped brood in each. Two busy queens (still, as always) hidden from us, doing their work in the late winter darkness.
Yesterday, in anticipation of finding little or no honey, I cooked up a batch of “bee candy” (also known as fondant): a sugar syrup cooked to soft ball stage, then whipped into a moldable, rollable dough that we can place in the hive, just on top of the frames. They appear to have enough honey stores to see them through, but we gave the fondant to them just in case. They seemed appreciative of a new menu option.
The goats watched while they chewed their cuds. Ephraim’s never seen us in our bee get ups; he seemed unfazed. By the end, Wellesley, Darcy (looking pregnant, I really do believe), and Ephraim were lying in the yard like goat loaves, baking in the warmth of an early March day.
The hives are all closed up again. We’ve still another month to go until we can remove the insulation and really welcome spring. In between, there’s the threat of bears, and swarming. Nothing is certain, but it sure is wonderful when your heart is happily surprised by things not going wrong every now and again.
Now my hair is smokey and my hands smell like goats. Spring, with your baby bees and baby goats, I can hear you calling gently and calmly. The ice is clearing.