It wasn’t the way I had intended to celebrate the summer solstice, but because last Saturday was raining and wet, the Open-Hive Event (OHE) that Runamuk was hosting for the Somerset Beekeepers was postponed til the 21st–which just happened to be the longest day of the year–the Summer Solstice.
Most farmers, I think–are particularly attuned to nature–seeing as we are working so closely with nature and the land that we serve. But I have a special affinity for nature and this Earth–it is my religion, my passion, my heart. Our family celebrates the seasonal solstices and the equinoxes, we find joy in a rain-shower, the first snow-storm, squishy mud, and glorious trees.
This was the first event we’ve hosted here at Runamuk’s new location, and I was anxious about having people here because at the moment, our farm does not measure up to the mental image that most people have of what a farm should look like. When I look around I see all of the work we have yet to get done–the distance between where we are right now, and where I want Runamuk to end up.
There were eight of us all together, with my two boys running amuck (Keith worked the overnight shift the night before, and was sleeping in preparation for another up-coming shift off the farm that afternoon). We donned our gear and went through the 4 hives currently situated at the Runamuk apiary.
We lost 7 of our 12 hives this winter–it’s hard to say exactly why, but I believe it was a combination of factors. The fact that I am working toward going treatment free, resulted in at least a couple of the hives bearing high mite-loads. A couple of the hives were on the weaker side–they had plenty of food, but fewer numbers of bees. And I believe the severity of the winter played some hand in the loss of my hives. The hives all had plenty of food–in fact in most cases, they had frames of honey on either side of the cluster. But during those prolonged stretches of Arctic cold that we all endured, the bees wouldn’t break the cluster to go get food–it was just too cold, and it carried on for weeks at a time without a break.
The hives that survived the winter were the strongest of the lot, though most of them were still very weak as we made our way through the spring. I’ve focused all my attention on building their populations back up, even resorting to feeding the bees sugar-syrup, which I have avoided doing in the past. And on Saturday I was happy to see that all of the hives have built up to an acceptable level–with one hive just booming, and already making honey.
I had hoped to see some swarm cells that I might make some nucs with to start new colonies, which would allow me to recoup some of my winter losses, and in the process teach some of the newer beekeepers the process, but we found none. That’s a small disappointment, but the fact that these hives have recovered from the winter and are looking healthy, with good Queens, making lots of baby bees and ready to make honey–is a great consolation to me.
The Open-Hive was the first that our small beekeepers’ club has been able to hold in the 4 years we’ve been gathering and meeting. Up until this point we hadn’t had anyone who wanted to host the event, which is something of a ritual for beekeepers’ groups. I would have loved to host an OPE, but at our location in-town it was impractical, as my tiny apiary was situated almost on top of the property line, and the neighbor’s house was just yards from the hives–not conducive to beekeeping–let alone beekeeper education. But now that we have moved our apiary outside of town, I felt it was time for the Somerset Beekeepers to finally have an OPE.
It went well, the new beekeepers got to go through a hive with some of the more experienced beekeepers, see the brood in all stages, learn to distinguish between honey and pollen in the comb, tell the difference between capped brood and capped honey, and we even saw 2 of the 4 Queens.
OPEs are typically followed by a shared meal, and we did a pot-luck bar-b-que luncheon. It was simple fare, low-key and low-stress; I served hot dogs and burgers on the propane grill I borrowed from my father for the occasion (we do own a charcoal bar-b-que grill that we typically start a small fire in to cook hot dogs on a stick over the flames–they kids love it, and it’s quick and easy after a say laboring on the farm), there was pasta salad to share, cheeses and crackers with pepperoni and salami, and delicious brownies our group treasurer had brought for desert.
My beekeepers only had good things to say about the farm, which was a huge relief to me–everyone thought my garden was beautiful (and weed-free!–though I can see a few, the mulching that I have done has kept the weeds down considerably). They toured the hoop-house, scoped out the chickens and the goats, and they remarked at the amount of work that we’ve accomplished so far, understanding how hard it is, and journey we have embarked upon.
After the Somerset Beekeepers had dispersed and I had gotten Keith off to work, I spent the rest of the afternoon weeding and planting in the garden, enjoying the sun. And the two boys and I finished off the solstice by catching and watching fireflies in the gathering darkness, the night-sounds of the forest abounding around us.
So, while it was not how I’d intended to spend the Summer Solstice, it was very fitting. Working with the honeybees–creatures of the sun; one of 20,000 varieties of insects on Earth that pollinate plants (and the only ones that I get to play with!), giving life and diversity to the world. Tending my garden, cultivating the soil, propagating the plants that convert sunlight into food to feed themselves, which will in turn feed my community and my family is a precious gift–one given to me, and one that I give to others. And on this Solstice, I was grateful just to be able to be here, on this land, doing the things that fill my life with purpose.