Every once and awhile keeping honeybees feels like a chore. There are times when I just don’t feel like running out to the hives to do a mite count or to check that the fence is still working after an electrical storm. And there are days when the weather doesn’t cooperate with my schedule, forcing me to readjust – or worse – to rush. But really, those times are few and far between. The reality is that beekeeping provides me with a perfect excuse to take a long lunch, or better yet, to cut out of the office a couple hours early and spend the rest of the day outside.
I’ve noticed that the urge to impulsively go visit the bees seems to increase with the diminishing day length. Perhaps it’s because I feel the cold breath of winter lurking on the horizon. Certainly the stunning fall landscape might have something to do with it. Or maybe it’s just a plain old love affair with bees. Whatever the reason, I don’t fight it. Last week I headed out to the beeyard for a quick task and found myself lingering. I decided to have “just one more look” in my queenless hive
“just in case.”
I pulled a frame from the outer edge, not expecting to find much. I was just about to set it aside for another frame when I saw her. A queen. A petite queen, but undeniably a queen. Here is where I can’t decide if the world sped up, or went into slow motion. Before her presence could even fully register in my brain, I watched as she zipped off the frame and flew away, high into the sky. It’s a good thing I was wearing a veil, because I’m pretty sure I just stood there with my mouth open, dumbfounded, for a good minute. A rogue bee flying into my mouth would have only clouded the situation.
I pulled myself together and, of course, immediately started second guessing what I had seen. It couldn’t have been the queen, I told myself. I must have just imagined her, out of sheer hopefulness. I made her up, I was sure of it.
But I didn’t. A queen can be tricky to spot, but when you see her, you know. There is no maybe about it. I saw the queen I had been hoping to find for weeks just a clearly as I saw her fly away.
It doesn’t happen often, but it is possible when working with a hive that the queen will accidentally get out. I remember one occasion after a particularly rigorous hive check, I had everything put back together, ready to head for home when I happened to look down and see the queen sitting on the front porch of the hive, looking disorriented and maybe even a little miffed. I begged her pardon as I scooped her up and led her back into the safety of the hive. If you actually see the queen unintentionally fly from the hive, I’ve heard it is best to stand right where you are for 10 to 15 minutes and wait. The idea being that the queen has hopefully sighted you as she left and will use you as a guide to return.
So I stood. And I stood some more. I may have been standing still, but my brain was not. Was this new queen just waiting around for the exact right moment to depart on her mating flight? A moment which I had just indadvertedly created? Or had she already been on her mating flight but not really settled back in? Did I spook her out? Had I just undone a summer’s worth of effort from the hive to raise a new queen? And was that really the queen I saw?
Humph. That perfect golden afternoon light that drew me out to the hives in the first place was starting to fade. I put the hive back together and sent as many good thoughts as I could think out to the fly-away queen. Wherever she was. I drove home, wondering how the season finale would write itself. Would it be a gripping cliffhanger? A storybook ending? Hopefully not a tearjerker. It’s certainly been a roller coaster ride this summer – full of anticipation and thrills. And let me tell you, it’s been encourging to have so many people along for the adventure.
Don’t worry, I’m not going to leave you just dangling up there at the top of the ride. I couldn’t. Because I’d burst if I had to wait all winter to tell you that the hive is now home to Queen Freeda’s magnificent daughter. That’s right! The petite little queen made it back to the hive. I know, because this week, I saw her, plain as day, no maybe about it. And I found cell after cell of perfectly laid eggs. At this late in the game, I may need to borrow a few bits and pieces from other hives to make sure they have a fair shake at surviving the winter. But if their perseverance thus far is any indication, I’m not too worried. Those girls are troopers.
After a summer of meddling and fussing and worry, I finally have a daughter of my all-time favorite queen.This called for cake. But not just any cake. I wanted a simple, sturdy cake. One I could wrap up in a piece of waxed paper and head out to the beeyard with. Honey, of course, should be the star.
The recipe sort of formed from what I happened to have on hand. But after enjoying several pieces, I’ll make it a point to have these ingredients on hand again – it was just the combination flavors I was looking for. I intentionally used half spelt flour, because it adds a subtle sweetness to a not overly sweet cake. And I have to admit that I am drawn to cakes that go just as well with a late afternoon espresso as they do with a smear of butter for breakfast. This is that cake. Oh, and it tastes especially lovely outside on a fall day – with or without some bees to enjoy it with.
1 cup spelt flour
1 cup unbleached flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon cardamom
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup honey
2 large eggs
1/4 cup plain greek yogurt
1/4 cup melted butter
1/2 cup half and half or milk
1 cup dried blueberries
Sift dry ingredients together into a mixing bowl. In a another bowl, whisk together honey, eggs, yogurt, butter, and half and half. Stir wet ingredients into dry with a wooden spoon. Gently fold in blueberries.
Spoon batter into a well greased 8×8 baking pan.
Bake at 350º F for 30 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.