Hives with ekes behind windbreak of bales of marsh grassThe picture shows our hives as ready for winter as we can make them behind a southern wall of marsh grass bales (fewer weed seeds than straw bales) and sporting their long-promised ekes. To the west they are shielded by the barn and on the remaining sides by a thicket of sumac. The rest is up to the bees themselves. They have been raised from colonies that survived last year’s fimbulwinter so there is perhaps a glimmer of hope for overwintering.

We had erected the bale wall in timely fashion when the weather began to cool. Eventually the growth of the bush cherries and other to-be-determined plantings ought remove the need for these annual fortifications. We had also covered the shiny rooves with black landscape fabric and corked most of the entrance holes. The construction of the new-and-improved ekes on the other hand we continually postponed for other tasks until two Saturdays ago when we were threatened by predictions of a fierce drop in temperature that night.

Our original eke design for Annabelle and Beatrix consisted of a wooden frame of 1"x3" with a windowscreen bottom and filled with wool batting to absorb humidity and insulate. Unfortunately the open top allowed mice seeking refuge from the bitter winter cold to move in. The new design therefore is screened top and bottom. It is also thicker, made of 1"x6" to allow more layers of wool batting and a top layer of foam insulation board to be enclosed.

The ekes for Clarissa and Dorcas posed a special problem. Beatrix has rabbetted sides like a Langstroth hive body so her eke could have screen stapled flat against its bottom as well as the top. Having found the rabbet a hindrance to easy lifting of top bars we did not include one when designing the twins. Their ekes therefore had to have the bottom screening stapled a little bit within the frame so that the edge of the eke would rest flat against the walls of the hive. Even more of a pain in the sit-upon than it sounds.

By the time we finished construction it was dark outside and, fortunately ignored by the bees, we installed the ekes by lantern light. Frustratingly none of the ekes sat quite level, not even Beatrix’s, but in the insufficient lantern light we could not tell why.

The next day, luckily a warm one, we discovered that proper seating of the ekes was being thwarted by the thin wooden strips we had been using to cover the top openings in the frames. With a well-fitting eke they would no longer be needed so with each hive we removed roof and eke, cracked the strips of wood free of their propolyzed bonds and removed them, applied heavy smoke to repel the bees, who very much noticed this operation and came flooding out the openings, and finally replaced eke and roof to see a much better fit.

For now, all is well. Where eke and hive body still do not mate perfectly there is the merest sliver of a gap. The various walls against winds should blunt a piercing blast sufficiently to prevent fierce entry. And perhaps later, when we are done with agitating the bees for the season, we can run a layer of residue-free duct tape around the seam. And next year perhaps apply some spongy weatherstripping to the bottom of the eke frame to seal in spite of small irregularities.

And so we move from the time of worrying about what we need do for the bees to the time of worrying because there is nothing we can do but hope to see them come springtime.

Short prairieIn other news we have cleared and seeded some land to start a prairie. The clearing consisted of weekly tilling to taunt weed seeds into sprouting only to be chopped and buried to decompose. The first tilling was the hardest as that one had to chop the existing lawn. After that the main problem was the occasional large stone jamming the tines. After six weeks we were able to scatter a low-growing prairie mix to which we added some other bee plant seeds we had acquired and cover it with marshgrass mulch. With luck it ought resemble the picture at right by next year or the year after that.

And lastly we planted a dwarf Shinseiki Asian pear to be a pollinator for our Hosui.