Before spring storms into summer,
Before April showers abate,
And May flowers, we wait.
Like those bluegrass thoroughbreds,
Anxious in their narrow chutes,
Waiting for the spring to give way,
For those doors to fly open to a sunny day.
By the time the summer harvest is put up, we are launching into duck season – for the next three months we spend every weekend out in the blind. By the end of it, we find ourselves in the far reaches of winter, tired and chilled. We spend many hours tucked in before a roaring fireplace in the weeks following, resting and warming our bones. We are lucky to have this lull between busy seasons, this down time. Eventually, though, our restless hands once again seek work.
This winter was cold, dark, and wet, even by Pacific Northwest standards. The spring has been long and largely the same. A warm ray of hope would shine through from time to time, but summer has seemed far off and faded.
Until about mid-May. All of a sudden, summer was back. It was sunny and 80°F. The plants that had been slowly reaching up to the gray skies, searching for light and warmth, quickly burst forth with flower and foliage.
The honeybees came out in force. Young bees lifted off for the first time, while seasoned foragers gave dancing directions to the best new places to find pollen and nectar. The Queens picked up their laying, ensuring their hives’ population was strong enough for the coming flood of clover blooms and blackberry buds.
Springtime is baby time for most animals – it’s a time for renewal and rejuvenation of the species. Honeybees are no different. In the world of Apis mellifera, there are two classes of organism – the individual bee, and the hive. The hive is the “super organism” – a socially complex, ordered colony made up of individuals. Honeybees have the same reproductive cycle as most other bugs. The hive, however, has a reproductive cycle all it’s own.
When a hive is thriving and healthy enough, it will reproduce. The hive itself, as a super organism, reproduces by swarming.
To accomplish this, they will start to raise several more queens, usually in cells along the bottom of the comb, as pictured here (cells opening downward). When the queen and her workers feel the time as right, she and about half of her court simply fly away. They travel to a new home – a place a scout has deemed a suitable location for a hive – and begin the process of becoming a thriving hive again.
The hive they’ve left behind is filled with young nurse bees, who continue to nurture the queen cells and maturing brood. A virgin queen will emerge, fly out to mate, and return to carry on the legacy of her mother.
(For a better, more thorough explanation of swarming, read here.)
As the bees are busy gathering, gaining and growing, we too begin the happy hurry of the early summer. The biggest task that taunts us is the garden. The tilling and hilling, prepping and planting, weeding and waiting – for much of late April and into June this beast eats up our weekends.
We hum along with the early summer rhythm, only to be interrupted by a tempermental June’s mood swings.