Guest Post by Kate Ferry
A few years ago, the Ferry family experienced a traumatic death. We lost all our girls. During the winter, approximately 50,000 honeybees vanished from my backyard. They went into hibernation after Halloween and never woke up. I don’t know where they went, but come spring, there was no one home in either of my hives.
As the air began to warm and the flowers started turning their faces to the sun, the hives remained dark and empty. No one was home. Come the beginning of March, my worst fears were confirmed when the lids were lifted and not a soul was home. No droning hum. No fluttering wings on my hands. My girls were gone.
Honeybees have been a part of my life for many years now. I have a fondness for their company and I admire their lifestyle and work ethic. I devour honey and relish in the bi-annual collection of the blonde liquid. Their disappearing act and careless state of affairs that the hive was left in left me reeling. Questions kept running through my head and doubts clouded my mind…
Where did they go? Why were dead bee carcasses left in the hive and not carried out with all the waste honeybees unload daily? Why were the honeycombs still laden with amber food? Why did they vanish?
And, the question that stung the most…
What could I have done?
Low and behold the answers are still unknown. It appears that my hit was a case of Colony Collapse Disorder. CCD has been dotting headlines and major publications and news channels for the past few years. It is a mysterious enemy and is killing honeybees and destroying hives at an apocalyptic rate.
The beekeepers are helpless. It is a phenomenon of survival of the fittest. The bees are losing the war at a rate that will eventually devastate our food supply and the pollinated crops so many of us love.
My life as a beekeeper has been in a holding pattern until this year. I missed my girls. I missed the cyclical predictability of their season. I missed their comforting drone and buzz that fills my ears when inspecting the hives.
But, the list of excuses has been long and complicated for why these miraculous creatures have not come back into my life. The money hasn’t been there to start up the expensive hives from start. The time wasn’t there the summer after my daughter Beckett was born in August 2008. Sleep and eating on a semi-regular basis were higher priorities. Blah. Blah. Blah.
Truth be told, the nagging excuse that really kept the ship at bay was my conscience and dreadful fear. I didn’t want to lose another hive. I didn’t want to be disappointed and heartbroken. And, I didn’t want to let my girls down.
In April, I decided to take a deep breath and pulled my shoulders up straight. The order was placed for two boxes of bees and the arrival date was set for the first week for May. As soon as I got the phone call that the bees had arrived, I set about like a maniacal pregnant women counting down the days until the baby pops. I began prepping their house and cleaning out old hive boxes. The pollen patties that had been stored were set to thaw on the counter. The pot was bubbling on the stove and sugar syrup was under way. I wanted to open every door for the girls and give them every opportunity to survive and prosper.
A few days later, Beckett and I drove down to Burlington, Washington (about 30 miles away) and picked up the two boxes of honeybees. They are Italian – I call them my Italian lovelies. The trip home was filled with a monotonous, soothing drone intermixed with a toddler babbling “bees cute”.
The weeks before our fated trip to pick up the bees had been a personal struggle to find where to place the hives and how to provide the best protection for them. My first option was my mother’s home. She lives about 5 minutes from us and her property is 40-acres mixed with open fields and dense forests. The pollen sources available are varied and uniquely well rounded; there are snarled blackberry brambles, massive locust trees that touch the sky, gnarly old apple trees and dandelions as far as the eye can see. It is a wonderful home for honeybees.
My second option was the most obvious, our home and property. We are blessed to have a good size lot and the room to house a handful of hives if we wanted. One of my greatest joys with honeybees is the predictable rhythm of watching the bees go about their daily business.
Our home is also a honeybee’s paradise; we are surrounded by hundreds of acres of raspberry fields. But, the scientific evidence that points to the use of pesticides and other contaminants as a major contributor to their unexplainable death is overwhelming. Raspberries are notoriously one of the most chemical laden foods grown and our home is at the epicenter of this death trap. My mom’s house is a sanctuary in the country that offers enough pollen sources to keep the bees distracted and satisfied. I cannot observe them in my garden or watch their daily interactions, but I have loosely draped them with a safety net of sorts.
But, now the bees had arrived and their home was ready. The boxes of bees were filled to the gills with buzzing insects. The queen was carefully removed, placed safely inside the hive and the bees were dumped in. With a solid thump and shake, the bees fell into the hive like a cascade of sticky marbles – one unit of buzzing dervishes. The syrup feeder was filled. The pollen patty was smushed onto the frames. And, the hives’ lids went back on.
As their buzzing bodies were placed into their new homes, I said a prayer.
I pray that my bees live and flourish in my care and my yard.
I pray that they prosper on their staple diet of pollen and honey.
I pray that I am able to enjoy and deliver the golden nectar to my pantry and my fellow bee devotees.
I pray that my beekeeping fosters in Beckett a magical and wondrous respect for the honeybee.
I pray that my bees prepare for winter with steadfast determination and weather the storm with ease and grace.
I pray that my bees live and flourish.
And, onward we go.
Here’s to a terrific, beautifully successful beekeeping season!
Any beekeepers (or future/hopeful beekeepers) out there? I would love to hear about your experience with your bees!
Written by Kate Ferry. Visit her blog at www.sacredbee.net to follow the Ferry family’s effort to buy organic and local, reduce their waste and eliminate artificial and harmful products from their home.**