Watching the bees

I grew up around ranchers and I know that the good ones enjoy watching their livestock. I’ve spent many happy Sunday afternoons going out to check the cattle with my cousin and other ranchers. Sometimes we would just watch as they grazed in a field or gathered around bales being fed. When heifers were getting near to delivering calves, they deserved special attention. Although there are occasions when a rancher needs to intervene and assist, much of even calving season involves carefully watching. The same is true of sheep ranchers. They learn to notice things about their animals that give them clues as to the overall health of the flock. We raised meat chickens when I was growing up, but I never was much of a chicken farmer. I thought the birds were stupid and the chores associated with their care were not that much fun for me. But there are those who are fascinated with chickens. We have a nephew who speaks of their egg hens as personal pets, identifying the traits and habits of individual birds, bringing them into the house, and holding them in his arms. Our son and his family aren’t that carried away with their chickens, but they do keep the chicks that they will raise to laying hens inside for a while until they get feathers and are ready to go into the brooder. The meat birds arrive later in the summer when it is warm outside and stay in the garage. I have noticed, however, that the children, especially the two girls, enjoy watching the chicks and later the growing birds as they go through their life cycles. The laying hens acquire names and are treated as individuals.

I have never been a rancher, however. Outside of pet cats, whose care was shared in our family, we have not kept animals. My life has centered around caring for and serving people. And I did become attached to them. Not that I didn’t become attached to our children’s pet cats. They were wonderful companions. During our years in South Dakota I became an observer of the deer and wild turkeys that came into our yard. I became able to recognize individual deer and observed a few bucks and does that we saw repeatedly. The turkeys are creatures of habit and I learned when to expect them parading through our lawn, looked forward to the showing of new chicks and laughed at their antics.

But I have a new category of livestock this year and I have a whole new appreciation for the process of observing their activities. I started two colonies of bees from nuclear colonies at the farm this year. I’ve been observing them daily. At first it was chilly and the bees were getting used to their new home, so I fed them each day. The sugar water syrup was a bit of supplement to tide them over until they could begin to actively harvest nectar from the yard and orchard. Now, temperatures are rising and I will stop feeding them. Soon they will receive new covers for their hives, this time without the feeders. I don’t want the sugar water feeding to affect their honey production later in the summer and they are very active now and there are abundant sources of nectar on the farm.

I’ve only been stung once since I started caring for the bees and that was my own fault. One has to pay attention to them when working around them, but they are not aggressive. I can stand near the hive entrances with bees buzzing all around me and they simply go about their business without paying attention to me. l have a bee suit, but it is only necessary for complete hive inspections when I am disrupting the hive to look at individual frames of bees.

I am fascinated by them and am surprised to learn that I enjoy simply watching them. At first when you look at the entrance to the hive, at first all you notice is a flurry of bees. If you sit and observe, however, you will recognize which bees are departing the hive and which are entering. Those milling about the entrance are waiting to get in. Those leaving will take to flight as soon as they reach the entrance. The bees returning from the field will have lots of pollen on their legs, especially their hind legs. Right now, with plenty of dandelions around the pollen is bright yellow and easy to see. Pollen from different plants can be different colors, and I am fascinated to see how the bees will look as the season progresses. Outside of the bulb flowers such as tulips and daffodils, most of the flowers are not yet producing blossoms. The fruit trees, however, are filled with blossoms. Later the berries will start to blossom and there will be plenty of other flowers. I think I will learn a lot about where my bees are finding nectar and pollen by simply watching them. Right now, when we have a very warm day, I can hear them working in the apple and cherry trees. The sound of flying bees is almost as intense in the trees as it is near to the hives.

The forecast is calling for warm days, so I will be removing the entrance restrictors from the hives today and I am excited to see the increase in bee activity after they don’t have to wait in line to enter and exit the hive. There are new bees emerging from the brood every day and the number of bees in the hive can increase exponentially. They now have access to three times as many frames for building comb and raising brood as was the case in their small nuc boxes before they moved into the hives. They have had time to spread out and the queen has been busy laying eggs. For the next little while, I’ll observe the growth of the hive primarily by checking the weight and just watching.

It may be that bee keeping is a perfect hobby for those who have time to simply sit and watch. I know that I’m drawn to activity that appears to be just wasting time around my bees. I know that I seem to need to check them every day although they are not dependent upon my activity right now.

Maybe I’m becoming more of a rancher in my old age.

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