false hope

Well, the Lake Superior snow belt finally lived up to its name. Northern Wisconsin got dumped on last week. Which is a good thing because my skiing record this year has been abysmal. So with almost 2 feet of new powder on the ground and temperatures in the 20’s, there was no way I could resist when my husband Mark invited me on a ski date. We headed out to a nearby trail system and conditions were prime. As we dipped down to follow a meandering creek bed, I wondered why I hadn’t been out skiing every day, despite the lousy winter weather we’ve had this year.
It was, by all accounts, a perfect ski. We met a handful of friends out on the trails and arrived back at the car in great spirits. As we loaded the skis, Mark noticed the 2 snow shovels I had snuck in the car. “How about we go visit my girls?” I asked as casually as I could.
My bee hives happen to be located just across the road from the trailhead. It’s a heck of a story as to why my bees live there and not at my house, but it involves learning that Mark is incredibly allergic to honeybee venom. We discovered this, quite by accident, one summer afternoon almost five years ago. But I’m happy to report that two shots of epinephrine, several IV bags of benadryl, a night in the hospital, a course of prednisone, and 71 allergy shots later, Mark could, in theory, handle a sting without going into anaphylactic shock. This is why, if you have ever gotten a jar of honey from me, it is labeled “honey to die for.” I couldn’t help myself.
So it is on very rare occasion that I ask my husband out to the bee yard. Conditions have to be perfectly awful. Blizzards, ice storms, miserable 40ºF rainy nights when there is barely enough light to see by, you get the idea. And I’ll only ask if I really, truly need his help. Mark is brilliant with knots, and fencers, and fence lines. Sadly these things are not in my skill set. I am, however, very adept at holding a flashlight on miserable 40ºF rainy nights when there is barely enough light to see by.
I love my husband.

I knew my girls would be buried after the storm. Snow doesn’t hurt them, but it is important to keep an upper and lower entrance open and clear to allow for good airflow throughout the hive. Moisture is a bee’s worst winter enemy. I also like to keep my electric fence shoveled out after big heavy snows. The weight of the snow creates extra slack in the lines, and eventually it will mean I need to plead with Mark to come out on a miserable 40ºF rainy night when there is barely enough light to see by to shore the lines up. I take prevention seriously.
Surely I could shovel them out on my own, but I knew the two of us together would make much faster work of it. Plus, we were right there. I promised Mark I’d take the hives and he could just work the fence perimeter. I also assured him that no bee in her right mind would be venturing out. Fortunately I was right on both accounts. In retrospect, I  probably could have gotten by with a quick clean-up. It looks like the spring thaw is already on it’s way. We got seven days of winter, anyway.
I stayed with my girls for a moment after Mark left to hike back to the car. Spring might be just around the corner, but sitting there in all of that snow made it hard to imagine the first dandelions blooming or looking up to find the maples bursting with pollen. I haven’t opened up my hives for a spring inspection yet, but I know that things are already bustling inside. My two queens have most likely started laying spring brood. Which means there will be more mouths to feed. And soon the girls will be venturing out daily for cleansing flights and food source checks.
So it won’t be long before I step in and play mother nature – offering pails of sweet sugar water and a mock pollen substitute. It’s a fine line as to when to get involved though. I want my bees to make it as long as they can on their own. Because adding a nectar source (albeit a fake one) right in their hives will get them even more fired up and eager for a spring flow. So I’m careful not to give them too much false hope. I know just how many long weeks it will be before that dandelion blooms. But as I got up and brushed the snow off, I smiled. I have a hunch they know too.

4 Responses to “false hope”


  1. 1 Ella Thayer March 8, 2012 at 7:36 am

    So that explains it. I wondered how you continued to have honeybees after Mark’s allergy showed up. And “honey to die for” too. Now I know the rest of the story. Thanks, Jill, I love your blog and I’m enjoying facebook and you tube a lot.


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