A hard freeze and a puzzling bear | TheFencePost.com

A hard freeze and a puzzling bear


The door slammed shut on summer over the weekend. After three grey days of drizzle, a little snow and precious little sunshine it was 24 degrees Sunday morning and 26 degrees the following morning.

I was anticipating a frost and had gone into town early in the week for enough tarps to cover the tomatoes, but it was futile. I picked all of the ripe, semi-ripe and green tomatoes worth saving when the weather changed, but when frost turned to freeze the tarps were of little value and all of the tomato plants and whatever fruit was left froze completely. Ditto the peppers, I had a nice crop of bell peppers, Anaheims and Jalapenos. I picked them all and am going to give them to Miles and Rosa because I leave Thursday for a conference in Yakima, Wash., and won't have time to deal with them. That's the excuse anyway.

All of the buckwheat is history now. The freeze killed off everything in the active garden as well as the buckwheat so now the entire garden has been tilled and planted to winter rye. The fallow garden was tilled and planted two weeks ago and the rest yesterday. If we get a little warmth and sunshine over the next three weeks I should get a good stand before it stops growing and the garden will be tucked away for winter.

The hard freeze will bring an end to the wasps. There may be a few that will survive a little longer if the colony was in a sheltered spot like the wall of a building, but their days are numbered and before long they will disappear completely and we won't see them again until next spring when the overwintering queens appear and start the process over. The same holds true for the bumblebees, their winter survival strategy is mated queens just like the wasps, and their parent colonies die out with the cold too.

In the fall I have to keep reminding myself of the story of the ant and the grasshopper and remember that the change of seasons is imminent and inevitable. Just twoI weeks ago from the time I write this I was running the last of the honey crop, the days and nights were warm and we were enjoying the last warm days of summer. How quickly it changes. The crop is off and all of the extracting equipment has been washed, dried and stored away and good that it is. I had an early candle order so after a round of the bees for a quick mite check I dove right into candlemaking. These cold grey days of fall and winter are my favorites for time in the Honey House doing candles. Sunday morning it was 45 degrees inside the Honey House when I got over there and I was darn glad that the crop was off and all of the equipment was washed and stored away.

There have been some huge flocks of blackbirds in the area over the past three weeks, 300 or 400 in a bunch. When they alight the sound of their chatter blocks out all other sound and they forage intensively in fields or yards and then move on. I welcome their arrival when they show up at the house because I think they are probably clearing my real estate of a lot of bugs and weed seeds.

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Saturday afternoon I was wrapping and labeling candles from the morning run and I stepped outside the Honey House for a breather just in time to see a large flight of sandhill cranes pass over. I'm sure there are many passing over at this time of year, but normally they would be way up high, out of hearing and almost out of sight. The cloud cover brought them down low and reflected their chatter downward. I don't know what they are talking about, but they seem to communicate constantly while in flight. I couldn't help but think about what incredible changes this species has seen on their migration. They have been following these same flight patterns for hundreds of thousands of years, perhaps millions of years.

The freeze brings an end to summer for the bees as well, and for the next several months they will be dependent on whatever they've stored over the summer. It will be late February before they see any new pollen and the middle of April when the dandelions bloom before they see any appreciable amount of new nectar. That means for nearly six months they will rely on their stored resources, a pretty incredible evolutionary accomplishment for a species that started out in the tropics.

I will be going to Yakima, Wash., Thursday to be part of a public forum on the bee problems, organized by the Central Washington Beekeepers' Association. It will include showings of the documentary "The Vanishing of the Bees" and a public forum including two of the leading commercial beekeepers who were the focus of the documentary, several bee researchers and yours truly.

As I've said in the past, I always have second thoughts about these trips when the time finally rolls around and wish I hadn't committed myself and could just stay home, but educating the public to the problems we face is critically important so I'll do my part.

Aside from my apprehension about the trip, it isn't coming at a good time for some very practical reasons. Sometime between September 24th and the 30th a bear got into the beeyard at Table Mountain, breaching the electric fence. It rolled two colonies, one a two story deadout, but the second was a strong three story colony. I went through the bees in that yard checking for mites on Wednesday the 3rd of October and that night the bear hit me again, this time a good two story colony in the front row. Then just two nights ago the bear was back and rolled the same two story colony it had rolled a few days earlier. Whether it is just coincidence or not is part of the puzzle.

The strangest thing about these bear hits is that there is no sign that the fence has been breached and no tracks or scat anywhere. There is no hair on the barb wire, no stretched hot wires, nothing. Stranger still, the bear is not going into the bees, not pulling out any frames or causing any destruction beyond tipping the hives over. This is hard on the bees nevertheless and they may not survive the winter as a consequence.

I've done everything I can short of camping out overnight at the beeyard; I have hung fresh bacon on the hot wires at nose height in hopes of training the bear to the fence. I have gone out before dawn to make sure the battery is not running down overnight, it isn't. I went out before dawn the night it snowed to see if there were any tracks anywhere in the vicinity of the beeyard, nothing.

The only thing I can conclude is that it is an inexperienced yearling, small, slipping through the fence somehow. It tips a hive over, but after a few stings loses interest and leaves. Or maybe the cattle mutilators have turned to bees.

I'll have to hope for the best for a few days because it is off to Yakima, back Sunday. ❖