Bleak season for bees

The hive of honey bees I keep out back is just as much a gardening tool as, say, my sharpened shovel, garden rake, or hoe. I used to have two tall, white stacks, buzzing with the consummate pollinators, but an unfortunate, late-spring cold snap did in the weaker of my hives. To make up for the loss, I placed an order for a new package of bees -- about three pounds of bees and a queen -- to be mailed in the mid to late spring. But lots of beekeepers in my area had had the same problems and were well ahead of me on the waiting list for bee shipments. Turns out, I wouldn't be getting any local bees after all, and finding out that I'd been "right at the cut-off point" was little consolation.

Figuring the middle of May was still early enough to place an order for an extra colony of bees, I contacted a Tennessee-based apiary and was assured that, within the next couple of weeks, they'd pop the bees in the mail to me. Still, May came and went and, by mid June, I thought I'd better check in. Apparently, heavy rains had slowed things down, and the bees couldn't safely get outside to forage for pollen and nectar. Without those essentials, a colony can't properly expand its ranks. It would be another two weeks at least. July came around, and still no bees. I called the out-of-state beekeepers again. This time the long holiday weekend was to blame. Ship bees too close to the Fourth of July, and they could die in some stuffy post office. Certainly wouldn't want that, with all the trouble they've had lately.

But, by the end of July, it seemed much too late to really establish a strong, second colony. I held out hope anyway, and, last week, I checked in with those beekeepers one more time. Much worse than too much rain or the threat of postal abandonment, their entire apiary had suffered a pesticide kill. Oh, those poor bees just couldn't get a break. Here's hoping next bee season is not nearly so bleak.

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