The Milkweed Diaries

Monday, May 2, 2011


After day three of the three busiest days in our farm's life (selling more than 2,500 plants at the biggest grower-to-gardener sale in the region, with an estimated turnout of 25,000 people) I was ready for a slow and easy evening with a glass of wine and my couch. Christopher and I had finally collapsed in a limp pile of plant-selling exhaustion and were preparing to lie still for as long as possible when Christopher looked out the window and said, "WHAT IS THAT?!?!?!"

A beautiful swarm of honeybees had settled in a small hawthorn tree in the garden, about three feet off the ground! (If you click on the image above, you can see a larger version in which you can see the individual bees.) From the depths of my foggy, exhausted brain, I somehow located a dusty memory of learning about swarms at Bee School. I remembered that it is a rare and special occasion when a swarm crosses your path, and I felt certain it was beyond my beginning beekeeping skills to capture it. But I knew you have to act fast with a swarm, or risk the bees moving on.

I called two super-knowledgable local beekeepers, Joan Chesick and Calvin Robinson. Joan wasn't home, and Calvin was in another state, but answered his phone and talked me through the process, encouraging me and telling me I could do it, giving me step-by-step instructions and the confidence to peel my tired self off the couch and get out there and give that swarm a home!

Thanks to Calvin's calm and clear instructions and my best efforts, the new bee colony is housed in an empty hive body I had. The hardest part was robbing a frame of drawn comb and honey from my existing hive to keep the swarm interested in their new home. Normally our bees are easygoing and don't seem to mind my intrusion, but this time they were riled up, and I got stung a few times through my clothes and even through my rubber gloves.

Dealing with the swarm was much easier, and really magical. Here's a poor-quality video Christopher shot on my phone - it was dusk, so it's a bit hard to see, but captures the process.

What a blessing from the universe on a busy Beltane. I am so grateful for the overflowing abundance - the overwhelming turnout at the plant sale, the hundreds of gardeners who bought plants from us and the few who even brought us gifts of special and rare plants, the other vendors who created a lively barter and gift economy at the sale, and the BEES who decided to make Red Wing Farm their home!


Kathryn Temple said...

Oh my freaking goodness! I didn't think I could have any more respect for you than I already did. You are so hard core. I love that this happened on Beltane!

Dana said...

Ditto what KT said. And that picture of the swarm is gorgeous. Good place, good people, good bees.

Amber said...

That is amazing! Beautiful! I can't wait for my own hives. I hope you did well at the Herb Festival, you had a lovely set-up. :)

Sharon said...

Wow you are so lucky. - I came thru Google search looking for info on Cherokee Trail of Tears beans. So glad I found you.

Milkweed said...

Hi Sharon, and great to meet you here! Are you growing the Trail of Tears beans? And thank you, KT, and DanaDee - takes one to know one. Amber, you are going to love having bees! They are incredible.

sharon said...

Thanks for following my blog. I checked your out and Wow! Really love what you are doing in such a committed and down to earth way.
Looking forward to your posts.

Milkweed said...

Thank you, Sharon!

jack-of-all-thumbs said...

Nice work! I confess to being a pitiful beekeeper, but my bee girls are doing fine all by themselves.