The raw emotion generated by their reunion surprised no one as it followed several long, cold months fraught with uncertainty and traumatic travel.
And, when Pat Del Ponte finally laid eyes on the beehives he’d sent to California for the winter, he could barely contain himself.
“When they said they were alive, I pretty near cried,” he said.
A gentleman bee farmer, Pat hosts several hives on his and his wife Ann’s property near High Cliff State Park, and he tends them with care. Prior to this year, though, the hives had not survived the harsh Wisconsin winters.
So, when Pat heard about a program through which beekeepers could send their hives to California, where the little buggers and their descendants could work off their room and board by pollinating almond trees, he jumped at the opportunity.
The arrangement worked beautifully for both keeper and bees, and the hives returned to Wisconsin sunkissed, amped up and full of fresh bees ready to produce honey.
I got to witness the harvesting of all that liquid gold and I found the whole process fascinating.
Pat and his beekeeping buddies Paul Kayser and Eric Toshner scooped up 321 pounds of honey with the kind of efficiency you might expect from two engineers and a high school science teacher but find astonishing anyway given the sticky nature of the task.
Paul lifted heavy frames he’d pulled from the “supers”(the boxes stacked above each hive), and handed them off to Pat, who used a hot knife to slice the wax off each comb and then passed the frames to Eric, who manned the extractor.
They collected the honey in buckets, rough strained it, let it set for a few days, skimmed the wax off the top, strained it one more time and then bottled it up for distribution.
I got to taste the honey as it came right off the frames and I have to say those little snowbird bees made some tasty honey.
As for where all that honey goes, you’ll have to tune in on Friday, but here’s a hint: some of that California-seasoned honey provides the secret ingredient in one of Wisconsin’s favorite beverages.