April is always a wonderfully hopeful month at the Honeybee Sanctuary here in Northern Michigan. Yes, it was snowing earlier this week, and yes, we still have some pretty cold nights - but life is emerging all around us; flowers are opening, insects are hatching, birds are returning, the world all around is quickly going from grey to green. A joyous and busy time of year, where food from the garden is scarce, but the promise of abundance is everywhere.
We had a warm March, with very little snow, and our resident wild honeybees have emerged from their hive in barn wall. This is the earliest we can recall it happening. In years passed we typically don't see any sign of them until some warm sunny day in late April or May when all of a sudden they emerge in full force, going wild for nectar, water, and forage.
This year has been different. We were shocked to see them active at the end of March, and initially were very concerned because there was almost nothing blooming.
Our daughter Linden was there the day they emerged, wearing her customary sparkly pink dress, and rainbow shawl. The bees flocked to her clothing like she was the honey goddess herself. She was covered with Honeybees (and was very pleased about it)!
Within a week the Pussy Willows came through and opened their buds, followed soon after by early season bulbs, and Maples. How did the bees know that these plants would be blooming so early this year? Even though it was a warm March, it was all so unusual, and yet miraculously the plants and pollinators somehow managed to be on the same page.
A brief history of our Barn Honeybees:
We moved into the basement of the barn on Laughing Linden Farm and Sanctuary in June of 2016. Soon after we realized that through a series of cracks in the barn wall, just above our front door, Honeybees were coming and going, evidently part of a robust hive. How long has the hive been living in the barn? We cannot say.
Over the past four years, they have consistently returned every spring. Though threatened by an array of predators and challenges (we once saw a hummingbird stick its beak into the cracks trying to steal honey), and with absolutely no human intervention whatsoever, they continue to survive, and from all indications, thrive. We have never tried opening the cracks to see the hive (though tempted), and intend on continuing to allow them to be completely wild.
There was a period during our first couple summers, when large numbers of bees accidentally flew into the barn apartment via the bathroom fan. It was good entertainment for our then-toddler Linden, but a bit stressful for us. We came up with idea of doing a deep smudging of the apartment (burning dried sage), and since then they have stopped flying in. The intelligence (and instinct) of these little friends is truly astounding. Often we find bees resting (and sometimes giving themselves over to death) in the sun not far from the hive. From time to time we will scoop them up gently in our hands, allowing them to crawl all over our skin, before setting them back down, or they fly off. We really feel like they consider us their friends too.
Here are a couple fuzzy picture. They don't do justice to just how active they are right now, but still beautiful.
On another note, in the interest of studying how the natural world deals with viruses, here is a short write up from the founders of Save the Honeybee Foundation:
When there is an invasion in the hive (hive beetles, mites, pathogens, mouse, frog...), the bees will, if they are strong enough, use propolis to create impenetrable boundaries within the hive, sealing off the invader. When bees are able to forage from a diverse array of pollens and nectars, free of environmental toxins such as herbicides and pesticides, then their immune system copes with viruses and molds and bacteria in the hive. On the other hand, when their immune system is impaired due to a lack of that diversity or due to the presence of toxins, they do get weakened, and will use swarming as a strategy and/or simply allow the hive to die.
In our way of beekeeping, it is important to not try to intervene with a dying hive or prop it up artificially, but to let it go and work to create circumstances--abundant, diverse, unpolluted forage--that will strengthen the immune response of the remaining hives in the area.
Ultimately the strong hives that survive will reproduce (through splitting/swarming) and strengthen the gene pool of all the honeybees in the area.
In our view each hive is a single organism, and the immune system of the hive is that organism's immune system.
There is much more to be said, and much of it is said and practiced by Gunther Hauk of Spikenard Biodynamic Farm. Check them out:
Thank you, Caban and David, for sharing this!
As always, nourishment and health is what strengthens communities of living beings, be it honeybees or humans.
Finally, you may be wondering who is writing this blog!?
We are a family of four: Steph, Eran, Linden (age 4), and Avena (age 1). We live on Laughing Linden Farm and Sanctuary, and are the stewards of the Foundations Honeybee Sanctuary.
You can find more information about us and our farm at: www.sacredearthlandscaping.com
Please check back to our website again this summer, as we will be actively updating our "Buzz" page with new posts. There is a LOT going on right now in regards to pollinator awareness, and a ton of projects happening on the sanctuary towards creating habitat, forage, and even a Bee Platform... Stay tuned!
For now - from Laughing Linden Farm and Sanctuary - BEE WELL!
-Save the Honeybee Foundation