“First Pollen” by Annie Watson, Thistle Hill Studio
As soon as the weather warms up in April (we hope!) the bees will begin to collect pollen from the early-blooming plants. In Vermont, the first ones are pussy willow, goat willow, and red maple. Keep a lookout for that red “glow” on the hillsides in April. It’s easily seen on a rainy day. Get up close to see the colorful red maple flower and maybe even a honey bee on it. Oddly, red maple pollen is a rather drab grey-brown in color. Willow pollen is pale yellow.
“Feast Your Eyes” by Annie Watson
As March begins, the cold continues unabated. Let’s feast our eyes on something other than more snow and ice. This photo shows a worker honey bee on a sumac flower. Sumac blooms in June and is a major food source for Vermont’s honey bees. This picture is a reminder of the coming of spring. The amber blob on the bee’s back leg is pollen.
In March, the beekeeper checks on the hives and feed the colony honey or some form of sugar if necessary — this is the month when colonies can starve. Believe it or not, if the temperatures warm up, we will begin to see the bees venturing out for the first pussy willow and alder pollen of later this month, at least in southern Vermont. The spring equinox arrives on March 20th, when the day and night are of equal length. Happy Spring!
“Weather and Pollen Stores, an Intricate Dance” by Annie Watson
Even as we face the coldest days of the winter, the queen begins laying eggs for the young that will replace those lost over the winter. If her family collected a lot of pollen in the fall and has abundant honey stored, she will start earlier, and as the weather warms, there will be more new bees and the colony will go into spring stronger. In colonies with a lack of pollen, the queen delays her laying until fresh pollen is available in early spring. Those colonies emerge from winter with reduced populations.
The gift of the queen’s laying, along with her timing, are in an intricate dance with the weather and pollen stores, all part of the miracle of the bees’ connection with nature and communication with each other to work together for the survival of the colony.
“Winter’s Depth” by Annie Watson
In the deepest part of the winter, there’s no sign of life from the hives. But the bees inside are very much alive. Rather than hibernating, they are clustered together in a ball, surrounding and protecting the queen. It is remarkable that they can survive these cold temperatures.
The hives, with their covering of ice and snow, become part of the beauty of the winter landscape and when we pass them on our way out to snowshoe or ski in the fields, they stand as a promise of continuing life and eventual spring.
“Celebrating the Bees” By Annie Watson
Photo credit: © Jon Shave 2012. Title: Beehives in the Snow. Taken in the Dolomites of Italy.
The first snow is on the ground. It was 16 degrees this morning here in the Champlain Valley. Inside the hive, the bees have massed into a ball to keep themselves warm. Now comes the time when we trust that they can withstand the cold weather of the year. We too withdraw to the indoors as the days of gratitude and celebration come upon us. Barr Hill Gin, Vodka, and Elderberry cordial help to keep us warm and remind us of the astonishing work the bees do every year. Without the honey bee, we could not make our wonderful products, which are outstanding because of the honey they contain. We are truly grateful for the bees.
“Chicory and Thanksgiving” by Annie Watson
We had long warm fall, which allowed the bees to forage late into October. On many days the temperature got well above 60 degrees, allowing the bees to fly, and, we hope, make more honey to prepare for the winter.
During the warm fall the lasting blooms of the chicory flower (Cichorium intybus L.) were one of the flowers bees could visit. Here, a worker bee gathers both nectar and pollen from this beautiful blue flower. The sprinkling of pollen on her head and thorax looks like stardust…
Introduced from Europe, Chicory is widespread in North America. Like the dandelion, it’s a superb medicinal plant. The chicory used as a coffee substitute is a slight variation on the wild plant.
As Thanksgiving approaches we voice our gratitude for family, friends, a bountiful harvest, and the opportunity to share healing, compassion, and nourishment.
“New England Aster” By Annie Watson
This is a great year for our native purple New England Aster (Aster novae-angliae) . These perennial flowers provide beautiful fall color in our meadows, hedgerows and roadsides, and food for many creatures including bees and other insects, wild turkeys, deer, and rabbits. The flower petals can be purple, lavender, or light pink in color, while the central disk florets are yellow or gold — the complementary color for purple. When two complementary colors are put next to each other, each color “pops”: The purple looks more purple and the gold looks more gold. This is the last big summer flower to give food for the honeybees. The honey made from these flowers has a hint of spice in its flavor and it crystallizes very quickly in the comb. The flower itself exudes a subtle spicy scent.
As the leaves on the maples turn yellow, orange, and red, warm sunny days have allowed the bees to gather the maximum amount of nectar and pollen from these flowers, as well as the smaller White Heath Aster (Aster pilosus), in their preparations for the colder weather to come.
For more information about this wonderful plant go to http://www.illinoiswildflowers.info/prairie/plantx/ne_asterx.htm
“Late Summer Abundance” By Annie Watson
The sunflower is such a symbol of the richness of late summer. The bees have pollinated them; their seeds are gradually maturing. Beekeepers have been harvesting honey since mid-August, elderberries have ripened and been picked. This month the honeybees will bring in goldenrod pollen, working overtime to make enough honey for the winter. Though wistful about summer’s approaching end, we rejoice in the bounty of all the wonderful foods our rich land has produced. Here at Caledonia Spirits we enjoy preserving the summer’s bounty with elderberries in our cordial and raw northern honey in all of our products. We can look forward to tasting summer on a cold day next winter.
“The Height of Summer” By Annie Watson
Yesterday we walked the Champlain Valley, surrounded by the richness of the peak of summer. The honeybees foraged in the hot sun on burdock, white sweet clover, purple globe thistle, chicory, white clover, black cohosh, motherwort, and more; the hummingbird moths and swallowtail butterflies sipped from bee balm, and the bumblebees and many other native pollinators enjoyed it all. Passing the beehives, our noses caught the yeasty aroma of honey in the making. The blackberries are ripe; within twenty minutes we filled our baskets with two quarts of summer’s “black gold”, pollinated by native and honey bees a month ago and now come to fruition.
We so appreciate the bees and all they and the thousands of other pollinating species do to provide our food. Speaking of fresh picked blackberries: Pick some up at your local farmer’s market or grocery, or if you are lucky enough to live in the country, pick your own beside the road or hedge. You can make a Blackberry Cobbler for dessert – or perhaps a blackberry gin fizz with Barr Hill Gin. Try this recipe at Epicurious.
Honey Bee on white sweet clover.