The first day of spring is still officially four weeks away, but I must have forgotten to tell my honeybees. The weather has been amazingly warm, and they have broken out of their winter clusters and have taken flight to forage for food.

I always worry that there will not be any bee food for them to find in the creek valley and that they will burn up their precious energy and starve. This is a precarious time of year to be a honeybee.

But it is a good time of year to harvest the greenhouse citrus crop. It is in late winter that the fruit turns its sweetest, just before the trees flower with the next year’s crop. With morning chores done, I decided to walk down the hill to the greenhouse.

It was a chilly 45 degrees outside, but sunshine filled the morning, as well as my greenhouse, and the temperature inside was already a toasty 85 degrees.

The three grapefruits were bright yellow and bigger than any I have seen before. The little tree bent sharply under their weight. The oranges were the size of tennis balls and pulling their branches down to the ground. The lemons were absolutely lemon-sized and very abundant. The limes had actually sweetened several months ago and had already been harvested, but this is where I return to my worrisome honeybees.

I carefully picked each individual citrus fruit off of my seven trees. Their wonderful aroma surrounded me, washing away any lingering cares that I might have had about my bees, or anything else for that matter, and as I picked, I could not help but notice that the trees were beginning to flower. Some of the flowers were still tight green buds, but others were beginning to open, sweet white petals just starting to unfold.

Soon my bushel basket was quite filled with my citrus harvest, and I turned to leave the warmth of the greenhouse. As I walked toward the door, I absentlymindedly brushed a passing honeybee from my hair, and then I turned and sat down in my greenhouse
swing.

I watched the little bee flit from flower to flower, and in time she found one that was open and briefly settled down to sip to its nectar before she flitted on in her search for more.

I pushed back on my swing, and as I coasted through the citrus-scented air I saw another bee, and then another, and soon I could hear their buzzing as more bees that I could count passed from flower to flower, finding those that were open and ready for pollination. I felt as though I could have lingered on my swing forever, but the day
called, so I stood up, and with bushel basket in hand, I closed the greenhouse door behind me to head back up the hill to the cabin.

I passed by several dandelions and paused to watch one of my honeybees as she stuffed the yellow pollen into her leg sacks. I was curious. I set the bushel basket down on the front porch and headed out past the goat yard to the apiary. I walked behind each of the eight hives and saw a steady trickle of bees coming and going from seven of the eight.

Perhaps the colony in the eighth hive had simply decided to sleep in for the morning, or perhaps they did not make it through the warm winter. I am always the optimist. I returned to the cabin dreaming of tomorrow’s grapefruit for breakfast, perhaps with honey drizzled across the top. Without a doubt, life in the creek valley is filled with many smiles.

Christine Tailer is an attorney and former city dweller who moved several years ago, with her husband, Greg, to an off-grid farm in south-central Ohio. Visit them on the web at straightcreekvalleyfarm.com.