Having spent most of my life in the Deep South, the concept of seasons was often vague. Our hot and humid summers would transition to a slightly less hot but still humid fall, followed by two days of winter and back to a less hot but still humid spring. It wasn’t until I began keeping bees for a hobby and then as a livelihood that the distinctions of the seasons, even in the Deep South, became more apparent. Rather than measuring a season by degrees of misery, I began to see, what was once invisible to my jaded eye, a hidden beauty in the landscape and plant life: the first Maple bloom in January, the greening of a Tupelo tree in March, or the “goldening” of Golden Rod in September. Noticing these subtle distinctions in the context of my craft of beekeeping brought not only a new awareness of the natural world where I lived and worked but also a love of place as described by Wendell Berry.

One of the biggest shifts in daily life when moving toward a land-based lifestyle was the constraint seasons placed on our work and life. Yet we have learned to welcome the limitations they impose on us when coming from essentially a limitless world of global trade, manufacturing, and information technology. We dove into beekeeping on a commercial scale, and working bees has a tremendous variation of work requirements. The summers can be grueling in hot, humid air, especially inside a bee suit! And winters can bring everything to a near-total halt. We have been inclined to even say, “I want more winter!”

Being finite beings ourselves, it seems there is something deep within us in need of limitations, and when we accept those realities on the homestead rather than force our will, the work is not only more fruitful but also comes with greater ease. We learned from the bees to see the limits and times of the seasons as something beautiful and instructive. Making up new bee colonies too late in the summer or fall will certainly mean they perish over the winter; there is just no way around forcing them to grow in time. Spring greens grow best in mild weather, and tomatoes do best in the summer warmth. Even the wild deer instinctively know when it’s best to breed and birth their young based on the abundance of seasonal resources. Working within these confines providentially brings freedom and peace of mind, knowing everything doesn’t have to be done right now but rather lets the seasons and the rhythm of natural cycles dictate work and leisure.

After winter, the bees begin bringing in pollen and nectar from Elm and Maple trees in our area well before spring is visible to most. The hive begins to expand with the incoming resources, and within a matter of weeks, the colony is wanting to reproduce itself in phenomena called Swarming. This typically only occurs in the spring or early summer when the bees instinctively know there is abundance and they are months away from the following winter so there is time to reproduce and still collect enough resources for the colony to survive the winter dearth later in the year. As a beekeeper collaborating with nature, we use this swarm instinct to our advantage. Every spring, we go through each colony and take half the bees and honey, creating an artificial swarm, then place this new split in a different beehive with a new queen. We replace any colonies that perished from the previous year this way or sell any surplus splits for additional income. That’s all we are focused on for about four to six weeks; we are not worried about making honey or treating for disease or building new equipment. By the end of that four-to-six-week period, my neck is sore from looking down, my shoulders ache, and I feel cross-eyed from staring at thousands of frames of bees, but I know that task is complete for the year and soon there is a lull in the work before the task of making honey starts in the summer. It was hard to adjust to at first, but focusing intensely on seasonal tasks yields better results for the land, the bees, and even my family.


On the journal

My Reflection on 2023

Happy New Year from the Van Horns (the family behind Ambrosian Candle Co.)! As we reflect on 2023, the word that comes to mind is “reality,” as I think about...

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