We checked the hives on this gorgeous last day of September. One of the workshops we attended at the Common Ground Fair last Saturday was on “Keeping Your Hive Alive in Winter.” It was an hour-long checklist of our shortcomings as beekeepers. The expert, Lincoln Sennett from Swan’s Honey in Albion, Maine, said that a lot of novice beekeepers think they are doing well into their second year, because the hives are still strong. However the problems arise getting through the second winter. An “old” queen doesn’t produce the brood needed to survive the cold months. This smaller hive won’t have the demand on food supplies that a thriving one does, but there also aren’t enough bees to start replenishing and rebuilding on those first nice, warmer days. Mites also will become a problem in the second year, if not treated.
One of our hives was started last year, in 2010; the second, this year. While we knew we weren’t doing enough, in the backs of our minds was the thought “well the bees are okay.” We are too late to replace our two-year-old queen, but not too late to treat for mites. The bees have produced a lot of honey, but not enough to see them through the winter, so we will start feeding them sugar water (according to Mr. Sennett, nectar flow has ceased in Maine; we are hoping the bees are still getting some here, in addition to the pollen they’re collecting).
We also learned about insulating the hives, which we will definitely do for the older hive, which is light on bee population (quite possibly because the queen is too old). The newer hive has a lot of bees, but isn’t making much brood right now so we will keep an eye on its winter population. Insulating the hives will help the bees conserve energy they would otherwise expend staying warm. It keeps them healthier, and they are able to eat more, so we will supplement their own stores throughout the winter months.
The Common Ground Fair has close to 250 workshops each of its three days, on topics related to “Agriculture,” “Livestock,” “Farm, Homestead and Forest,” Traditional Arts, Fiber & Fleece,” “Cooking, Herbs, Health and Whole Life,” and “Environment, Community & Education.” Run by MOFGA (Maine Organic Farmer and Gardener Association), this fair isn’t like the Iowa State Fair, or my favorite growing up, the Guilford Agricultural Fair. There is no midway; no rides; no cotton candy. There is food, but it is all sourced from Maine, and ranges from Thai to wood-fired pizza to vegetarian pea soup. (Until a few years ago there was no coffee because it wasn’t grown in Maine; luckily MOFGA relaxed that standard to include organic coffee roasted in Maine…a happy day for most fair-goers and participants). Like other fairs, you can look at cows, horses, poultry, pigs, goats and sheep. But there are also tents with alternative energy products, canoe making, basket weaving, timber-framing, and spinning (wool). There are Maine artists selling the craftwork you might find in the finest art shows. You can talk to dairy farms responsible for your local milk, beekeepers selling honey and beeswax candles, some of the best maple syrup (and maple candy) found anywhere, organic apples and apple cider (a rare commodity because of its extreme difficulty), and lots of fresh produce. MOFGA’s grounds have test gardens, hoop houses, orchards, a woodlot…for their on-going programs and for fair-goers to walk through and learn from.
Because our time there was limited, we only went to two workshops; the second was on uses for beeswax, which was also very informative (and didn’t highlight our deficiencies as beekeepers). I would have loved to attend a Poultry Health workshop, but it was scheduled too late in the day. I did talk to a woman who raised angora goats (and sold their fleece). I am very tempted…they would provide a product that can be easily stored (wool), keep our fields mown, and poison ivy in check. Plus they have engaging personalities. Cherisse had intended to go to the workshop on “What We Do in the Orchard and Why,” but instead spent a lot of time with someone demonstrating an interesting wood-splitter, something we need.
For what we missed, there is always next year to look forward to. In the meantime we will apply what we’ve learned to our bees, and hope they survive the winter in good health.