Between the Rows

Between the Rows: A sweet deal

A swarm in May is worth a load of hay,

A swarm in June is worth a silver spoon,

But a swarm in July ain’t worth a fly.

Bees are in the air, literally and figuratively. My friend, Edward Maeder, who just moved to an old house in Greenfield, suddenly saw clouds of honeybees and saw that a swarm had settled into the barn attached to his house. He raced to visit Don Conlon of Warm Colors Apiary to find someone who could help him. A local beekeeper who had also been at the Apiary returned with Maeder and said that he and a friend would remove the swarm.

However, before the swarm could be collected, the bees moved into the wall of the house. A little research revealed that, two years ago, another swarm of bees had been removed from that wall. Though the bees had been removed whatever honeycomb and honey they had made had not been removed. The new wandering swarm smelled the old honeycomb and moved right in. Local beekeepers are always happy to be called in to collect a swarm, especially in May.

My husband and I had a similar experience. Our first spring in Heath, we set up two beehives right in back of the house. People had advised against this because of the local bears, which were known to make quick work of a hive. I thought bears would not come so near the house. Wrong again, Pat.

Though there was very little for them to enjoy, bears came two weeks later and tore the hives apart. We realized we’d have to put beekeeping aside until we figured out a good way to protect the hives. In the meantime, we put the hive remnants, with whatever honeycomb remained, in a corner of our old barn. A couple of years later, we saw that honeybees had been attracted the broken hives by the fragrance of honeycomb and set up housekeeping. We just let them stay there. Unfortunately, they were destroyed along with the hives when our barn was hit by lightning in 1990.

A couple of weeks ago, Nan Fischlein and I gave a tour of the Bridge of Flowers to three first-grade classes from the Discovery School at Four Corners. They had been studying bridges and pollinators and the bridge provided the perfect example for both studies. The classes are in the process of designing and planting a butterfly garden.

Butterflies and bees are both important pollinators. Cross pollination is vital for many crops. All the orchardists in the area treasure their honeybees and hope the weather will cooperate to give the bees lots of nectar and pollen and, therefore the orchardists lots of apples, pears, peaches and plums. Many farmers around the country bring in truckloads of beehives to pollinate their crops. Honeybees and other pollinators are vital to our food supply. It is good that children are being taught at an early age of their importance.

Greenfield holds a place in the history of beekeeping. Lorenzo L. Langstroth, inventor of the moveable frame beehive, was also the minister of the Second Congregational Church between 1843 and 1848. His invention came after he left Greenfield and he received a patent for his hive in 1852. Still, there is a memorial in front of the church that reads as follows:

Lorenzo Lorraine Langstroth

December 25, 1810

October 6, 1895

Pastor of the Second Congregational Church, Greenfield, Massachusetts

1843 to 1848

Inventor of the moveable-frame bee-hive which made modern beekeeping possible, 1851

Scholar, Observer, Author, Friend of Mankind

This tablet is erected as acknowledgement of the debt of beekeepers of the world to his skills and unselfish leadership

July 18, 1948

While Langstroth found a way get honey out of a hive without destroying it, other problems have beset honeybees and other pollinators since 1851. There is the use of pesticides and herbicides that kill many useful insects. There is the recent mysterious problem of Colony Collapse Disorder, which causes the bees to leave the hive and die. Beekeepers have been known to lose half their hives over one winter, from a still unknown cause.

An even more serious problem is the varroa mite, which has been a scourge of bees since the 1980s. Varroa mites suck the “blood” from mature honeybees and the brood. They are a serious problem for bees all over the world.

Considering all the threats to the honeybee and other pollinators, and therefore threats to our food supply, we can all help by eliminating pesticides and herbicides in our gardens.

Pollen is an important bee food. We can plant pollen and nectar-producing plants that are especially valuable. Do not despise the dandelion. They are an important source of nectar and pollen in the early spring. Other common plants that are especially useful are marigolds, zinnias, cosmos geraniums and sunflowers, to name few. The vegetable and herb garden needs pollinators and it supplies good bee food: mints, bee balm, sage, thyme, squash, cucumbers, raspberries and strawberries. I have planted a pink agastache (hyssop) in my vegetable garden to attract pollinators. When planting for pollinators plant a big visible clump. A few plants dotted about will not do the job.

Maple trees, fruit trees, mountain ash, poplars and willows also supply pollen.

Bees, butterflies and other pollinators need water. This is an opportunity for a birdbath or fountain.

How do you welcome pollinators to your garden?

Forbes Library Garden Tour

June 8, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., is the date of the Forbes Library Garden Tour featuring six different types of beautiful gardens. e_SNbSThe tickets are $15 ($20 on the day of the tour) and can be bought at Forbes Library, State St. Fruit in Northampton, Cooper’s Corner in Florence, Hadley Garden Center and Bay State Perennial Farm in Whately.

Pat Leuchtman, who is The Recorder’s garden columnist, has been writing and gardening in Heath at End of the Road Farm since 1980. Readers can leave comments at her Web site:

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