What beekeepers do in winter
First and foremost, we miss our bees. That must sound silly to a non-beekeeper, but the rest of you know. It’s lonely out there, not having to duck and run, not sporting red welts on your hands. It’s eerily quiet. And like returning home from summer camp, the separation anxiety can kill you.
I worry about my bees. Do they have enough to eat? Are they warm? Do they have sufficient books and board games to keep them occupied? Will I ever see them again?
But for direct physical contact with stinging insects, I’m just as bee busy in winter as in summer. On cold rainy nights, bee reading beckons. A pile of books, like that tower in Pisa, tilts from my desk. Columns of reading material rise stalagmite-like from the carpet. Bits and bytes clog up my Kindle. I think about reading more than I actually do it, but it is pleasurable all the same. Like a new cookbook, a new bee book is more about anticipation than substance.
All of which reminds me of the plethora of recipes I want to try. Honey cakes and honey muffins, honey jams and honey mustards. And while I’m still in the kitchen there is wax to melt, candles to mold, and soap to wrap into gifts.
When I don’t feel like cooking or melting, I scan the seed catalogs for bee friendly plants, for flowers with blue pollen, for blooms with scads of nectar, and petals that look great in bee portraits. I imagine intricate bee gardens where something is always in bloom. In my mind’s eye I see honey bees, mason bees, and bumble bees vying for the sweetest meal. I see cheerful blossoms bending under their weight, happy to donate their burden of nectar.
Winter is the time when I draw sketches of new equipment or variations on the old. I dream up new ways of feeding, of catching swarms, of raising queens. I build supers, wire frames, and paint and repair whatever equipment is not in the field. I peruse the bee catalogs while jotting down lists and ideas for the year ahead. I think about the perfect bee suit, about a veil that doesn’t collapse against my face, a suit with pockets aplenty for hive tools, notebooks, cameras, voice recorders, dog treats, and duct tape.
The best part is preparing for the biggest honey crop ever. That crop is on its way. It’s coming next year. Always next year. I think about designing a new label for my boxes of comb honey—in fact, designing a whole new box. I think about inventing a new candy called a HoneyBeeSuiteSweet. Or a HoneyBeeSuite2. I discover, much to my horror, that I’ve spelled “trophallaxis” wrong in no fewer than six posts—for all the world to smirk over.
And while all this is going on, the calendar flips by. There are all those holidays to plan for and, before you know it, it’s time for adding candy boards, mixing up pollen patties, and checking on the queens. Suddenly the buds start to swell on those bigleaf maples and a five-eyed furry creature is peeking up at you from the safety of her hive. Her antennae sample the air. She doesn’t quite take off, but you can see her thinking about it. You relax. Life begins anew.