What’s the Buzz: The First Parish Beehives
The First Parish Beehives were funded by the Lydia Maria Child Fund in late 2017 as an environmental stewardship initiative. The Fund has provided ongoing support since then. Located in Wayland’s Community Apiary field adjacent to the Community Gardens — where First Parish’s Pantry Garden is situated — the beehives are tended by a team of First Parish volunteer beekeepers.
Bee Team members take beekeeping classes to prepare for their role. Throughout the spring, summer and fall, the Bee Team tends the bees as they gather nectar and pollen from the nearby Community Gardens, providing essential pollination for the flowers and vegetables there. It is estimated that bees pollinate one in three bites of food. They are essential to the health and prosperity of our ecosystem.
The Bee Team posts periodic updates here about our activities. We also make occasional presentations at First Parish or in the community, for adults as well as children. We enjoy educating people about bees and the critical role they play in sustaining the world’s food crops, including many of the foods we eat every day.
Spring 2023: Growing the Team and the Hives
The First Parish Bee Team prepared for the spring beekeeping season by cleaning equipment and hive components, building and painting new hive boxes so we can add more hives, and creating lesson plans for teaching about bees. We’re delighted to have added more people to our team; we are now a team of seven beekeepers.
Education about bees is part of our mission, too, and in March Nan Jahnke and Ann Gordon presented lessons about honeybees to two classes at Creative Preschool, located in our own Parish House. The children were enthusiastic learners as they each took on a “bee job” to learn how bees live and work together cooperatively.
If you’re curious about bees or beekeeping, please speak with any member of the Bee Team. We’d love to chat!
Summer 2020: Busy Time in the Bee Yard, and Honey!
The rocky start was winter losses. Honeybees winter over in their hives, huddling up against the cold and stopping reproduction. It is a precarious time, and this year all but 2 of the 15 colonies in our apiary perished, including all three of the First Parish colonies. The cause, we believe, was viruses carried by varroa mites, a common and destructive bee parasite. We treated for mites in the fall, but apparently too little and too late. By January, the colonies were dwindling, and by March all the bees were dead. It was a sad day in the apiary on Old Sudbury Road, which we share with four other Wayland beekeepers.
Beginning Again. Fortunately, beekeepers can buy new bees (they come in “packages” of about 10,000 bees, each with a queen), and that is what we did. We bought two packages, installed them in two of our hives, and fed them with the honey left behind by the winter bees. Both hives are now humming, sending thousands of foragers out each day to pollinate trees and gardens for miles around, including the Wayland Community Gardens (home to the First Parish Pantry Garden)—and maybe your garden, too.
COVID restrictions have changed our beekeeping habits—no more group inspections, lots of shared photos and online discussion—and mite suppression has become a high priority. We are grateful to the Lydia Maria Child Fund for continuing to support our work by helping with the costs of equipment, mite treatments, education and training (welcome to our newest member, Kathie Schmidt). We feel we are in good shape for this year and next.
And now we have honey to share! To be honest, honey harvesting is not a big priority for the First Parish hives. Honey belongs first to the bees—it is their primary source of carbohydrates, and their only source of food in the winter (unless we feed them sugar). In our first year of operation, we took no honey from the hives, but last year the bees that died left many frames of honey behind. We took 12 of those frames and Ann Gordon spun them out (because of COVID restrictions, only one of us could operate the extractor, which we borrowed from fellow beekeeper Kaat Vander Straeten—thanks, Kaat!).
The First Parish Bee Team: Ann Gordon, Nan Jahnke, Kathie Schmidt, and John Thompson
Summer 2019: Three Hives
Throughout the summer we tended these three hives, monitoring their health, feeding the new hives sugar syrup, and treating them for varroa mites, one of the biggest threats to honeybee health, and one of the reasons that about 40 percent of managed colonies die every year.
The new hive we started in April — we call it Polenta, the color of the paint we put on it — is the strongest of the three, with a very large colony and lots of honey. (A word about honey: we feed our first-year colonies sugar syrup to boost their energy for all the work required to build the wax honeycomb for a new hive. As a result, the bees produce a substance that is not pure honey, not the same as if they were using only nectar from nature. First-year “honey” is adulterated, and it is illegal to sell it as honey.)
Our split hives are doing well but are not as robust as we would like as we head into fall. For that reason, in August we began feeding sugar syrup to our original hive (“Greyhive”), which was disappointing since up to that point we had not fed them syrup, and the honey they were producing was pure. But supporting the health of the colony is our primary goal, and we are boosting their food stores to prepare them for winter. We will likely move some of the honey from Polenta, which has produced so much, into the two split hives before winter: another reason why having multiple hives is beneficial.
The Bee Team — now including Ann Gordon, Nan Jahnke, Deb Stubeda, John Thompson, and Kathie Schmidt Cromwell — continues to learn from our hands-on experiences and from reading and interacting with beekeeping groups online. We are so grateful for the support of the LMCF, and for the congregation’s interest in our work.
December 2018: Ready for Winter
Perhaps the most amazing thing about this winter dance is that, with all this wiggling, they maintain a temperature of about 90 degrees in the cluster. Amazing, right? And because of this rather moist heat they generate, they create condensation. This is actually one of the biggest threats to the hive during winter — too much moisture, which can cling to the ceiling or walls of the hive and turn icy cold.
The colony will live off the honey they spent the summer making. This is why we did not harvest honey — they need it to survive their first winter. If they do survive, they will have a head start in the spring compared to last year, because they won’t have to build all the honeycomb they built last year. They can make more bees to pollinate the nearby gardens, and they can spend more time making honey. With luck, there will be enough honey for them and for us.
Our heavy strap and big rock are to protect the hive from bears — not a real concern for us, although some hives in neighboring towns have been destroyed by bears — but we hope the strap will keep the hive together if a strong wind should blow it over. Goddess forbid.
We gave them a final blessing and we’ll say some prayers for them through the winter. We’ll probably stop by the hive from time to time and put an ear against it. And we’ll hope to hear their soft buzz.
September 2018: Sugar Roll Test
We treated our colony for varroa mites prophylactically in the early summer. Now it’s mid-September, and time to perform the Sugar Roll Test to see what our mite load is.
Oh, and open the jar and pour the sugar-dazed bees back into the hive. The other bees will clean them up.
We couldn’t be happier with the results of our sugar roll test — ZERO mites! We’re glad we took steps earlier this year to prevent an infestation, and we hope our hive stays mite-free going forward.
August 2018: A Summer of Learning
There is so much for us to do! We give them sugar water to supplement the nectar and pollen they collect, to provide them with enough calories to build the hive to full strength before winter. We do weekly hive inspections – looking for eggs, larvae, pollen, nectar, honey and indications of pests or problems.
We’ve built and added more hive boxes to accommodate the growing colony; administered a week-long treatment to control varroa mites, which can kill off a colony; addressed the threat of aggressive yellow jackets nesting nearby, which can attack honeybee hives; and solved the mystery of our missing Queen Bee by borrowing, installing and monitoring a hive frame from a neighboring hive. (We think she left with a swarm, but the remaining colony raised a new Queen — they are so smart.)
We are beginning to anticipate fall activities and chores — including something called a “sugar roll test” for mites. Stay tuned for more details about that.