“Keep Cold” – timing is everything

Dr. Weeks’ Comment:    Here in the northwest, it is a hard place to keep bees.  As a doctor and beekeeper in Vermont, things were simpler, more black and white:  winter laid siege by early November and it had us trapped until mid April. Then the muds came and then blessed early May, just before the no-see-ums swarmed (only to be followed by the mosquitoes). But in early May, as I was saying, we had spring – glorious spring.   A spring as Tenneyson recounts  in his epic  Idylls of the King,  (chapter Guinevere when Lancelot, ambassador of King Arthur is sent to bring the new queen safely to Camelot but they two fall in love!),

” Rapt in sweet talk or lively, all on love and sport and tilts and pleasure (for the time way Mattime and as yet no sin was dreamed, rode under groves that looked a paradise of blossoms, over sheets of hyacinth that seem’d the heavens upbreaking  thro’  the earth…   “

Ahhh..   “the heavens up breaking through the earth”  –  How lovely is that! (gazing as we can now of the pink clouds of plum blossoms stunning the Whidbey island landscape).


But let me get back to the bees:  it is hard here keeping bees on Whidbey Island because we get this early tease of spring which begins in mid-February and puts our queen bees in a laying mood so by mid-March the hives are boiling over with teenagers ready to go out an forage for propolis, pollen and nectar BUT….. here comes the mid-March freeze and so the bees stay home, eat the queen mother out of hive and honey so that she, tearing her antennae out, stops laying (BIG MISTAKE!) and awaits warmer weather. That comes in mid-April (about the time her teenagers, not graced with Royal Jelly in their diet, start to die off – they get about 6 weeks to live, those worker bees- – no union)  and so, when the Spring really comes, the queen is off balance and hasn’t been laying,  so the hive is week when it should be exploding.  Anyways, that is a intimate story known only to beekeeper and his/her 40,000 lady friends, so if it perplexes you, I suggest you get a hive…   but as for that fickle weather,   I wanted to introduce you to Bobby Frost’s take on the issue – a classic.



Robert Frost

This saying good-bye on the edge of the dark
And cold to an orchard so young in the bark
Reminds me of all that can happen to harm
An orchard away at the end of the farm
All winter, cut off by a hill from the house.
I don’t want it girdled by rabbit and mouse,
I don’t want it dreamily nibbled for browse
By deer, and I don’t want it budded by grouse.
(If certain it wouldn’t be idle to call
I’d summon grouse, rabbit, and deer to the wall
And warn them away with a stick for a gun.)
I don’t want it stirred by the heat of the sun.
(We made it secure against being, I hope,
By setting it out on a northerly slope.)
No orchard’s the worse for the wintriest storm;
But one thing about it, it mustn’t get warm.
“How often already you’ve had to be told,
Keep cold, young orchard. Good-bye and keep cold.
Dread fifty above more than fifty below.”
I have to be gone for a season or so.
My business awhile is with different trees,
Less carefully nourished, less fruitful than these,
And such as is done to their wood with an axe–
Maples and birches and tamaracks.
I wish I could promise to lie in the night
And think of an orchard’s arboreal plight
When slowly (and nobody comes with a light)
Its heart sinks lower under the sod.
But something has to be left to God.

– a great poem!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *