Bees and Blueberries


A swarm in May is worth a load of hay
A swarm in June is worth a silver spoon


Each May, we watch the fruit buds on our blueberry bushes expand and finally, the bell-shaped blossoms begin to open. Back in January, John had contracted with a Michigan beekeeper to bring in 120 hives of honeybees to help pollinate the flowers. Very few bees thrive in the wild. Without these migrant honeybees, our bushes would not produce as many tons of berries as we typically harvest. Our plants also depend upon bumblebees and carpenter bees who provide additional pollination. So John called the beekeeper who set a date for when he would bring the hives.

The bees are migrants because most beekeepers transport their hives to Florida for the winter. Come late October, they load the hives onto a large flatbed truck, cover it with a huge net, and roll south. When our sons kept bees, they would subcontract with a larger keeper to take their hives, too. Usually, the hives are unloaded in an orange grove where the bees can feed throughout the winter months, instead of cuddling in a hive buried in a snow drift. Bees stay healthier when they can fly in and out of their hives enjoying sunshine and waxy orange blossoms. When spring touches the southern states, beekeepers move their hives to apple orchards in Georgia, and then follow the warming temperatures north to Michigan’s orchards and blueberry farms.

“He’ll pull in about midnight,” John informed me one evening. “Guess we better keep our phones handy so he can call us if he gets stuck.”

Due to the constant rain showers, parts of our blueberry bog resemble shallow ponds and in between the rows, water sparkles in ruts. John spent the day mowing the sites where the hives would sit and in some soggy areas, he hauled in dirt to raise the level of the ground. The hard work paid off as our phones didn’t ring.

Instead, the flatbed rumbled in in the cool of the night when the bees are safely tucked into their hives, nailed four to a pallet. With a wee forklift brought along on the truck, the beekeeper carried the pallets to locations set back from roads and pathways. When the bees woke as the sun rose, they zipped out of the hive and to the berry blossoms. They will reside in the bog for about three weeks.

During that time, the beekeeper will check on the hives, adding supers, those white boxes that sit on the bottom hive body. He provides them with foundation, wax sheets fitted into the supers, so the bees have room to expand their honey making. If the hives becomes too crowded, they will divide and the swarm will spiral up and away.

In the past, if we spied a swarm, our sons would follow it and place a super containing some honey where the bees landed, say on a blueberry branch. Usually, the bees would drop down in to the super, a lid was added and the new hive traveled to a new home on the farm. Now we call friends who keep bees to capture the swarms.

About the middle of June, the beekeeper returns again at midnight, to insure that during hot weather the bees have gone to bed, loads up the pallets and rolls away to a farm where either pickles or pumpkins grow. At some point, he will remove some of the supers and extract honey. The hives will remain at those farms until they need to move south, again. While on our farm, clusters of little green berries now hang on our bushes, drawing in sunlight, slowly turning blue as June flows into July.

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