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  • Writer's pictureErin Lair

Darling, my honeybee

I apologize to the fledgling group of blog followers that have inquired about when I might be sending along another post. It has been over two months since I wrote about the various cherry varieties and pruning. I will try to carve time to be more consistent. There are so many things to share! To that end, catching up on the orchard happenings will be another post for another day. Today, I want to share all of the excitement of bees!

When we purchased the orchard, there was a line item in the expense ledger for bees. This orchard, according to the previous owner, should run around 40 hives. He always sufficed with 20, he said, as bees from the neighboring orchard would find their way and the large hives seemed sufficient to cover the 45 acres. A hive an acre, or one every two acres because of proximity. Not much more was thought or said about it, and we moved along in the process of learning the work of an orchard- namely, pruning.

Fast forward to spring. A regional apiarist- or beekeeper- came out to look at the orchard and determined that the previous owner was off by a few hives... over 100 to be more specific. His recommendation for the orchard was 160 hives, or around 4 per planted acre. This would amount to upwards of 8 million bees! Once the blossoms started to set on, and hives were being placed, this quote did walk back a bit to a final count of 120 hives. On April 21, they were all placed and literally buzzing around the orchard going to work pollinating! Shane would tell you this is also the exact day my productivity screeched to a crawl- it's impossible to work in the orchard without stopping in fascination of these little creatures.

Possibly more intriguing than bees at work is a bee swarm. We have had two (that we have seen, there may have been others). Audrey has talked for a few years about wanting to get into beekeeping and raising her own honey. Being able to graft a swarm into our own hive was going to provide the highest probability of success. We were pretty excited to have the opportunity to try! Brooke had been relatively indifferent to the idea of bees, but that was also about to change.

I need to back up a bit and tell the story of seeing this swarm before I go into the retrieval. I was not home, so this is my attempt at retelling the tale from Shane and Brooke's belly-laugh-filled account. Apparently, Shane and Brooke were headed up to the machine shed to finish working on a few things. Brooke spotted the swarm in a tree alongside the orchard road and pointed it out to Shane. About this time, our old Chester dog lumbered up to check out what they were up to. With Brooke pointing, he headed over to investigate and managed to stick his head right in the middle of the bunch. While bees are relatively docile, being stuck to a dog that is rubbing its head on the ground trying to oust them results in a few stings and a bit of extra nervous energy. The bees got a little excited and started flying around and away from the swarm. Some landed in Brooke's hair. This obviously started to unravel our otherwise unflappable five year old. Shane and Brooke would back away a bit and Chester would follow, bringing the small frustrated bunch of bees with him. Finally, Shane told Brooke to 'run' and they left their old, half-crippled dog to fend for himself with his unfortunate honey bee face mask.

Photos by Delaney Paullus (IG: @delaneyxphoto)

The afternoon resettled. The swarm stayed put. Chester put himself to an early bedtime after a dose of benadryl. And we plotted the retrieval by first calling in some back up. One of our favorite families has a teenage beekeeper. She happened to inconveniently be in Hood River; however, her older sister was available to pop over from Pendleton with some bee suits and enough understanding of bees to help us try our first recovery. With Audrey gone at the Cove May Day celebration, Brooke was the solo beekeeper's assistant. She was right in the middle of the process and is so very eager to learn more about bees; we have another beekeeper in the making (check our social media for more images and videos of the retrieval).

My correspondence with Phyllis continues and when I sent her the photos of Brooke as beekeeper, she sent the following message:

Erin dear.. Brooke is a brave soul.. to attempt the BEE situation. Daddy’s little helper !!

A family friend on rural route raises Bees.. and gathers a quantity of honey.

During WW 2 rationing, my Aunt added honey to peanut butter.. to make it spread smoothly.. & increase quantity.

One of the staff members here, said she at one time had Four bee hives.

I prefer to keep my distance!.. Ha.

This particular swarm was relatively small and we never did identify anything that looked like a queen. A few days after the retrieval, it was apparent the hive wasn't going to be viable or stick around. Later in the day after final confirmation of the failure of that first attempt, there was a second, much larger swarm by the machine shed. We had another opportunity to see if we could build ourselves a hive. We worked last night for a long while getting the bees moved into a bee box. The next day or two will tell if we were successful.

The commercial beekeeper arrived first thing this morning to gather his hives for the season. It likely means that the swarms we saw will be all for the year. This season of bees will be something I look forward to each year. I imagine that cherry blossoms and bees with the soaking warmth of the gradual transition to spring will be forever some of my most enduring memories on the orchard.

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