Saturday, March 13, 2010

Checking in with the bees

Well, one hive made it through the winter--one did not and here's the story of how it all happened.

Last April I started two hives with bees delivered to Maine from a bee farm in Georgia--being a transplanted southern girl myself, I had a great deal of sympathy for the 20,000 little honeybees and I committed to giving them the best life possible in this cold climate.

I named the two hives for the first two 4000 footers that I climbed. Washington and Madison. From the very beginning Washington seemed to be the stronger hive. They built their comb faster and seemed to be filling up their space with hive and honey. Madison was working hard but just never quite seemed to keep up with Washington. Then---tragedy struck in the form of the summer of 2009 with basically two months of rain, no sunshine or warmth. Veteran beekeepers said it was the worst summer ever for them and my two hives apparently had had enough and swarmed while I was away in Latvia and Sweden during August.

My dad and I consulted with the State Beekeeper--yes, indeed a sweet state job if ever I heard of one. He re-assured us and said that he had been fielding calls all summer about hives swarming. He told us to be patient and leave the hive alone for a couple of weeks.

Before a hive of bees decide to swarm--they plan--they are such smart little creatures. They begin their plan by building some queen cells. Queen cells are larger than the regular cells that the bees normally create for eggs and the nurse bees feed the larvae in the queen cell something called royal jelly. The royal jelly triggers her to grow larger and to develop sexually so that she can reproduce. Both my hives had created queen cells and when they swarmed they left behind nurse bees to take care of the developing queen.

So, during the time that the State beekeeper told us to leave the hive alone it was doing naturally exactly what it was supposed to--it was developing a new hive full of bees--no remnants of the Georgia bees any more except maybe a little bit of DNA telling them to seek out sweet tea and cornbread.

By early September, both hives were again producing and storing honey for the fall--despite our abysmal summer, the fall of 2009 was full of sunny warm days and the bees were busy. Washington completely filled its 3 "supers". Supers are the boxes that contain the frames on which the bees build their comb. The experts told us that we should have all 3 supers full before we could harvest any for ourselves--well under the circumstances we were just hoping that the bees filled the supers for themselves and we resigned to wait until next year for our honey.

Washington filled its 3 supers by mid-October when we were ready to cover the hives for the winter. Madison had filled 2 supers and the third was completely empty but we left the empty box on and hoped somehow that maybe they would be able to fill it. That was our mistake. We covered the hives with tar paper and watched the snow fall.

One day in between Christmas and New Year, we had a terrible storm full of fierce wind and the next morning when I looked across the field at the hives--I realized our error--the empty box on the top of Madison had blown off exposing the hive to the cold.

I threw on my snowshoes and ran to the hive--I could still see that some bees were alive--I brushed the snow off and covered it as quickly as I could but I knew that it was probably too late. So, I cried a little bit yet hoped for the best.

Last Sunday, the temperatures were in the 40's and the sun was shining so I went out to check. I was hoping to see little yellow spots on the snow around the hives--the bees will not urinate or defecate in the hive so they hold it until a sunny day then fly out to relieve themselves. I was encouraged when I got close and saw little yellow spots on the snow around Washington--and then as I got even closer some bees flew out to greet me. Washington Lived! I was so happy.

I opened Madison knowing what I would find and I did find a hive full of dead bees. But one hive had made it and while I am very sad about Madison, we fight on through adversity and so I came home and ordered another box of those Georgia bees--they'll be here in mid-April and they have a nice little hive to move into with beautiful comb and even a good bit of honey--all courtesy of Madison. The new hive will be called Lafayette in honor of that beautiful mountain in Franconia Notch--the third one I climbed on my personal journey to find new heights.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Mt. Chocorua--March 2010

From many of the summits that I reached while completing the list of New Hampshire 4000 footers, I would notice an interesting mountain to the south and say "What's that peak?" and Charlie would reply, "Chocorua". Hmmm, I would think--that mountain seems to look different from every angle but from every angle it looks intriguing. Eventually, I stopped asking what the funny looking peak was and just assumed that the one that caught my eye was Chocorua. Among the White Mountain hiking community, Chocorua is a name that comes up repeatedly as a favorite summit--people hike it over and over and over and now I know why.

This past Saturday, along with Sally and Elise, I headed up the Champney Brook Trail to the summit. The snow was perfect and the air temperature was cool enough to keep the snow solid and our body temperatures comfortable but high enough that we could retain feeling in our fingers and toes. The trail follows along and climbs above the Champney Brook with a side trail leading to the Champney Falls. We saw ice climbers heading to the falls and decided to take that detour on our descent.

We estimated that the snow was at least 5 feet deep based on the fact that the trail signs were right at our feet level. Sally climbed up on one of the signs for a photo shoot.

The trail took a turn to the west away from the brook and started a series of switchbacks which led us into an area just below the summit. The wind was pretty strong in the open but the views were spectacular.

We headed back into the trees to find a place to eat our lunch before heading down. Our descent went really fast and in some of the steepest parts I used the slide on your bottom and pretend you did it on purpose method. Tried and true.

We made it back to the s ide trail to the waterfall and tramped through some fresh snow in order to meet up with the ice climbers. It looked like an ice climbing class with lots of people climbing on the frozen waterfall. Good clean fun. Another great day in the mountains feeling like the luckiest person in the world

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Hello from Maine

Oh, it's been a long time since I have written here. What a lot of life there has been since then.

At Christmastime my brother and his family flew up from Chile. His family now includes an ADORABLE chubby cheeked baby. The little baby stole all of our hearts and you can imagine our fears when we woke last Saturday morning to the news that their world had just been shaken beyond imagination.

I saw the news on-line at 5 a.m. and after reading the newswires and watching CNN for 20 minutes decided that I should wake up my parents. The village of Alhue is located about 100 miles as the crow flies from the epicenter of that monster 8.8 earthquake. I wrote quite a bit about Alhue in 2008 when we traveled there for my brother's wedding. Charlie and I headed over to my parents' house to set up Chile Information Central. Between the internet and CNN we were able to gather quite a bit of information but not until our skype icon bounced were we able to learn anything about our family.

Brother had been working in Mexico and was flying back to Chile as the earthquake struck. He was re-routed and landed at the very northern part of the country--some 1500 kilometers from home. He was able to chat with us through skype from the airport and re-assure us. He had little information about his family except that his wife had cut her feet on glass getting out of the house but that everyone was safe. Over the next twenty four hours, he made his way home and we have heard from him sporadically since then. The family is safe but the village is very damaged. All of the adobe buildings crumbled and even the new construction has suffered. They are currently living and sleeping in the courtyard to avoid the risk of the aftershocks and eating their laying hens.

Life can be unexpected and so very frightening sometimes.