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Bees, Mud, and the Promise of Spring

On Saturday I had intended to drive to Champaign for my “New Illinois Farmers” class, but since Audra was up all night blowing country-style chunks (and yeah, they’re different than city-style) I needed to stay home to take care of the wee one. Once I got him down for a nap, I decided to run over to check on my apiary to see if my girls (my bees) needed some sugar syrup. I already knew that I had lost two hives, but my third was still going strong a week prior.

I got about 100 yards onto the property and as I turned the corner I began to wonder if it was getting a little muddy. Within seconds my little 2WD Escape had sucked its way into the sludge.

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So, I trekked the next 100 yards, back and forth, until I had all my beekeeping gear in place.  It was lucky that I went when I did, because the girls were literally on their last dregs of honey, most of them burrowed inside the empty cells, licking them clean. I did a full inspection and couldn’t find the queen, but based on everyone’s spirits and the apparent strength of the hive, I’m hopeful that I just missed her. I gave them a gallon of sugar syrup, took off all my winterizing insulation, and then inspected the other two dead hives.  They were both FULL of dead bees, still stuck in their winter clusters, which they use to keep warm. Side note: the middle of the cluster of bees stays about 90 degrees throughout winter. The queen stays here and the other ladies rotate in and out to stay warm. SIDE side note: winter hives are 100% female. Since the drones’ (male bees) only job is to mate queens, they are deemed useless in winter and are forced out of the hive to die a painful death every single winter.

It was depressing to see that my failure to leave them enough honey led to the death of thousands upon thousands of bees, but it was a good and necessary lesson to learn before I start really expanding my operation.

Here’s the one remaining hive with two medium boxes and a hive top feeder filled with syrup.

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After scouring the woods for anything and everything that could help me get my car unstuck, and then trying myself for an hour to get out of there, I was forced to call my invalid wife and ask her to come get me. We then tried together for over an hour before I threw in the towel. Three important lessons were learned: 1. I shouldn’t have bought a car that didn’t have four-wheel drive. 2. I should have known not to try to drive back there anyway. And 3. I have one helluva wife.

Tonight I plotted out our proposed planting area for this year. I still need to do some calculations based on what seeds and starts we ordered, but right now we’re looking at a 6,000 square foot plot, probably about 1/3 vegetables and 2/3 flowers. This is not including the 500 square foot hoophouse that still needs to be installed. Lots to do around here, but as you can see, we do have plenty of help around these parts.

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We’re starting extra-small this year, but we’re hopeful that it will be the kind of learning year that will allow us to go crazy and take some more risks next growing season.