Honeybees pass the winter in rainbow covered hives.
Honey bees don't fly unless it's at least 50 degree F, so they may not appreciate their colorful hive covers, but it sure is fun for folks at our Friendly Crossways Retreat Center in Massachusetts to look across the snowy yard and dream about spring.
Season's Greetings from Keith and Mary Helan to all the beautiful brides, handsome grooms, fun wedding guests, fabulous family reuniters, talented musicians, curious students, religious retreatants, energetic nonprofit group organizers, enthusiastic workshop participants and global travellers who graced our Massachusetts Retreat Center with their presence in 2012, light up the night, and made this rustic barn vibrate with all that good energy. Thank you!
This was a great year for honeybee swarms, perhaps the result of a very early spring at our central Masschusetts Retreat Center. At any rate, what with catching swarms like the one above, I had 11 hives and about 800,000 friendly bees at the peak of the summer season. That's a lot of hives for one person to care for, I'm much more comfortable with seven hives. In the fall I combined some weaker hives, gave one colony away and then, sadly, one of my eight remaining hives was completely robbed recently. So now I have seven hives to overwinter. But, oh, when I taste this season's honey—rich, dark and spicy—I realize that extra work was totally worth it!
Honey Bee Swarm Moves into a New Home at Friendly Crossways
Like other folks in New England, my husband and I have been shoveling, plowing, snowblowing, knocking off stalactite size icicles from our gutters and cursing the damn ice dams. After the storm of, what, Feb. 2 or 3? (they've all blended into one blinding whiteout since early January) I had to use my cross country skis to check on my eight beehives. I wanted to make sure they colonies didn't suffocate with all the snow cover. I managed to dig open their entrances, and one little lady flew right at me. We both fell surprised in the thigh high deep snow (my thighs, not hers). I struggled to get upright, but she froze to death before I could rescue her. Dang, one less worker bee to keep the queen warm.
What is really warming, even amidst all this cold, white stuff, is the love, hope and really good imaginations represented by the engaged couples who have come to visit Friendly Crossways over the past six weeks. I show them around the bedrooms with the handmade quilts and hand stenciled walls, and they find those charming. We hike up to loft with its skylights and exposed barn beams (rustic) and down to the "subterranean suite" with the mighty white pine trunks that hold up the barn (very impressive). But what the couples really enjoy is looking over our backyard of field and glade, pine trees and granite fire circle, now covered in three feet of snow, and imagining the joy of celebrating their union with friends and family all around them.
...and the concrete stairs, and the banister, and the accessible shower. Extracting honey is a messy, sticky yummy process. Today I extracted the late summer honey I took off six weeks ago. Life, in the form of three wedding weekends and several retreat weekends got in the way of extracting in a more timely manner. The problem with taking honey out of the frames at this time of year, when there are hardly any flowers blooming, is that it drives the bees CRAZY and they will do anything to get to the honey. Admittedly it was their honey in the first place, but I am the Queen of queen bees at Friendly Crossways, and now it's mine, all mine. I do pay them back, of course, with sugar water (NEVER corn syrup) so they have enough food to overwinter. But in the meantime, it's a little unsettling to have hordes of bees hanging around the kitchen window.
I use a hot knife to slice the wax caps off of each cell of honey, then moved the frames of capped cells to the extractor and spin away. Honey, wax and other schmutz comes out of the gate at the bottom of the extractor and is filtered through two stainless steel nets into 5-gallon containers. From these containers I pour the liquid gold into one pound jars and adorable plastic bears. And that's all I do to process my honey. It's raw, gorgeously hued, and delicious as all get out. Due to the different nectar sources, late summer honey is darker than spring/early summer honey, and a little more piquant. The stuff my ladies make is just as sweet as can bee.
This summer I attended four weddings and a funeral. Whoops, not really a funeral, but a memorial service for my dear Uncle Jim. What can you say about a guy who won freckle contests as a teenager and then, barely out of his teens, was rescuing pilots in the Pacific with his Navy seaplane? Pretty cool.
And I didn't actually attend the wedding ceremonies, all of which took place here at Friendly Crossways, because I was too busy overseeing the catering to do much more than briefly get verklempt as I watched the wedding couples glide across our lawn.
What did we really have? Five beautiful brides, four fabulously decorated tents, three handsome grooms, two portapotties and an amazing dark chocolate fountain.