Church of the Pilgrims started its apiary, or honeybee yard, about four years ago. We have a beekeeper, Jeff Miller, who started DC Honeybees, who helps keep our hives healthy and alive. I fell in love with the bees, beekeeping, the role they play in our ecosystem, and their liturgical symbolism in congregational life. I've written several articles about honeybees at Pilgrims: here, here and here. When we moved into a new house two years ago, I decided to get my own hive for our backyard. Goal: have Jeff as the beekeeper for my home hive and build the best backyard honeybee hive ever! Image: I'll have honey flowing all over the place and create Etsy like mason jars with cute "Nelson Street Garden and Apiary" labels. Piece of cake!
Except that beekeeping can be friggin' annoying. I can write all I want about the sacred symbolism of honeybees and their vulnerability from human created colony collapse disorder. And, at many times, I can get downright greedy for honey.
The first year my queen flew the coop after a spring time swarm and that messed up the production of the hive.
This year my bees made it through the horrendous winter with the help of a couple of 1975 sleeping blankets my kids lovingly placed over the hive for warmth.
In March, I was convinced my hive was the last one standing on the East Coast. THIS WILL BE THE YEAR OF HONEY! My bees NAILED IT! Take THAT Colony Collapse Disorder!
I put two honey supers on top of the two big boxes so my backyard could turn into a river of honey. I keep clover growing in our backyard, I planted borage and the cover crop, buckwheat. All are loved by bees.
In this area, the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, honey flow is in June and then again in September. So, a few weeks ago I check my hive and no honey in the supers.
I had a swarm in May. Did the queen again fly the coop? Did the queen die? A queen is essential for the health and growth of the hive.
I called Jeff, my beek, who is now Interim Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development for D.C. (I like my beekeeper to roll in high places) and he came out this morning to check. Still no honey. I see the empty supers and want to process with Jeff---"But why? Why no honey? What happened to the queen? Why is my hive lame? Should I have checked the hive more? Given them more attention?"
I want answers.
Jeff hits the limit of knowledge with me and comes back with, "Not sure. I'll get you a new queen" as he gathers up his equipment. He knows the hive has a life of its own, humans can only do so much, and you just forge ahead.
Beekeeping can be friggin' annoying because I'm not in complete control of my hive. Romanticizing bees and a honey flow doesn't help either. I can be attentive to the hive, do the checks, put out water for them, and feed them sugar water in the early spring season for food. Ultimately I have to wait on the bees to do their work, and the waiting sucks. I can feel unbeatable but, well, the hive isn't about me. The bees are in charge. I hit a setback and go forward. Humility arises in this sacred endeavor of beekeeping.