March is always a dirty month. As the snow melts all of winters dirty secrets are revealed. The snow banks along the roadside created by the municipal plows are coated with dirt while frost heaves and pot-holes in secondary roads can make for treacherous driving. Trash that had been buried under a blanket of snow now litters the landscape, and everywhere you go the ground is wet and muddy. This is mud-season in Maine─laughingly referred to as the fifth season of the year. The winter was rough for me, but I’m still here and determined to make the most of it.
Thankfully it’s April now, and while the snow has lingered a little later this year, Spring is in the air─literally. I can smell it when step out to tend the critters early in the morning. Spring has a very distinctive fragrance: like wet earth pungent in the atmosphere. For farmers, gardeners and outdoorsy-folk it’s an intoxicating smell and like a cheap beer─so easy to get drunk on.
Together Paul and I put 15 hives to bed going into the winter. His 3 hives succumbed to the season, and only 2 of mine survived to see spring. 2 out of 12. Damn. I admit I let that get me down for a couple of days. I’ve taken so many hits along my farming journey, I can’t help but wonder sometimes when l’m going to start seeing some successes. I was so low I even considered giving up beekeeping.
Note: I wasn’t the only one who lost hives this winter; beekeeping is hard! Check out this recent article by Peter Cowin, The Bee Whisperer, who writes for the Bangor Daily News.
One bottle of wine and one night later─as a new day dawned I realized how ludicrous that idea was lol. I live and breathe for the bees; I truly believe my calling in life is to serve as caretaker and advocate. This dream that is Runamuk─with my grand schemes for a pollinator sanctuary to teach conservation of bees and wildlife through agriculture─that is what drives me. Every day I am working toward that vision that I have for Runamuk. Runamuk and I are one and the same and to deny Runamuk is to deny myself, and I refuse to do that. I’m going to live my life and tell my story even if it isn’t always easy. Even if it’s never easy.
So I picked myself up and reveled in my remaining 2 hives. Both are strong-looking colonies with lots of bees. I had already decided that I was going to begin raising my own Queens this season in order to produce my own nucs and eliminate the need to buy replacement bees when my apiary experiences the inevitable winter losses. With these last 2 hives I can still do that. The goal is to produce 30 Queens from my survivor stock and overwinter them as nucleus colonies, setting the Runamuk apiary up for a big expansion next year.
In the meanwhile I ordered nucs from Bob Egan at Abnaki Apiaries for the last time: 6 for me and 4 for Paul’s budding apiary. I’ve avoided buying packages thus far in my beekeeping career because most packages are shipped into Maine from the south and studies indicate southern bees are ill-adapted to Maine winters. However, Erin McGregor-Forbes (former MSBA president) did a SARE study that revealed packages that are re-Queened with Maine-raised Queens actually do quite well. With that in mind I ordered packages for the first time ever from Peter Cowin over in Hampden. This year I really want to generate a honey-crop so that I don’t have to look at that big fat zero in the “Honey” column of my business’ financial records. Not to mention I have customers who have been waiting 2 years for Runamuk’s local raw honey. The intention is to put those packages in 3 of the dead-outs which are already full of comb and honey and pollen, set them up at the Hyl-Tun apiary in Starks where fields and forage spread out for miles, and use them for honey production this summer. Then come August I’ll requeen them with one of my own Queens and overwinter them as nucs.
I see raising my own Queens as a big step for Runamuk. I’m really excited to learn this new skill and as you can imagine, I’ve been doing my homework so that I can be prepared later this spring and summer. Yes it was a long and difficult winter, but spring is in the air and I’m ready to make the most of the opportunities life has presented me with. Thanks for following along!
The growing season is almost upon us! Stay tuned folks!
I just discovered your blog and I love your passion and your commitment to your vision. I am a new beekeeper this year and have read, read, read and asked dozens of questions to other beekeepers. I was reading over your post about wintering honey bees and was wondering if you winter your bees using SBB or a solid bottom board? Also, do you drill a hole in the upper hive body for ventilation or is the winter cover with the entrance enough as far as ventilation? I am placing my next box on my colony tomorrow and am wondering if I should drill a hole first. Thank you for your help and keep up the great work!!!
Jen Thompson, Brunswick,Maine
Hi Jen! Thank you so much!
I actually have some equipment with solid bottom boards (the older stuff), and have been only buying the screened bottom-boards for the last few years. I keep the tray in the SBB pretty much all year, but I like to be able to paint the tray with sticky stuff to catch mites.
I have not had an open auger hole in the upper hive body, but I’m considering it. Another Maine beekeeper I know and trust said she does that and has had good results.
Hope that helps some!