Tag Archiv: bees

Thistles

Thistles, by Shibata Zeshuin (1808-1891). Compliments of thefamousartists.com

Thistles, by Shibata Zeshuin (1808-1891). Compliments of thefamousartists.com

Lawn mowers are my life long love affair. The roaring drone of the engine is ironically all about quiet. Sometimes I sing, or not. What I never do is hear who did what to whom, or what anyone needs, wants, or is looking for.  My lawn mower is a portable combination church, library, nature sanctuary, divine telephone line and therapist all rolled into one.

Before this summer, I mowed the fields when the lawn wasn’t big enough. Sincere men tried to explain that this was not what the ride on mower was designed for.  They were missing the point. Twice we had to have the blades replaces half way through the summer. The fix it man could not understand how a lawn could be so hard on a mower. But it wasn’t the lawn. I was traversing a field/pasture/premier breeding ground for frogs, snakes, praying mantises and mice, and swerving accordingly for any sighting of small life. The whole farm sits a few inches above bedrock. What can I say? Sometimes it sticks up.

This year we have bush hog, “to do the fields properly.” This is a mostly blessing. But the bush hog has to be officially hooked up in some kind of grand manner and then grandly unhooked and parked just so in order to fit everything in the barn. The bush hog cannot be summoned because I feel the yearning to mow rising to fever pitch. The current lawn mower is slower, coughs, squeals, and after it’s years of service, mows drunkenly uneven swaths . . . but it does not require advance notice to use it. The old girl still gets a go at the open spaces if no one is looking when the lawn is not big enough by half.

Farms can fill you with joy and overwhelm you with discouragement. It was a day of the latter a few weeks ago. Bee hives were not thriving. Ditto for apple trees. Ewe #3 did not get pregnant this year. Small but promising garden was demolished by a hurricane of cows. (When they couldn’t reach to eat any more off the tops of the tomato plants, they knocked down the fence and ate everything except the weeds to the ground.)

I finished the lawn and finished the apple/bee yard. It wasn’t enough so I started in on part of field covered in thistles. Ruining our beautiful, previously pristine field, thistles. I imagined the farm in a few more years. No bees, dead apple trees, and the pasture an unwalkable sanctuary of thistles. We would have to name our farm Thistledown.

I began mowing a hopeless protest through the four foot high sea of thistle. After four or five passes, I stopped for a honey bee. I looked closer and laughed. Honey bees were everywhere, inches apart from each other, buzzing in and out of endless thistle flowers. For the bees, the thistles were a paradise of flowers a short flight from home. The kind of thing a beekeeper would plant on purpose to help them.

I stopped mowing, happy. The thistle looked beautiful. It could stay, even multiply. Grace tickled my heart asking what other thistle things of my knowing might be secretly brimming with the stuff of honey.

Two unexpected acts in the drama of bees

I need you to do the bees by yourself today, I told Boy one. My list is already longer than I can manage and besides I’m grumpy. You’ll be happier out there without me.

Famous last words.

Boy one was back in a few minutes. An entire hive had been ripped apart. The bees were still hanging around but the top honey super (almost ready for human consumption and looking like our best producing hive) was ruined. What wasn’t scraped and eaten was filled with bugs.

 

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There was a third toppled section not pictured here.

 

The amazing part was that inside the toppled mess, the bees were still at it. Despite a night of pounding rain, two boxes of bees were hard at work. We were back and forth as to what had happened. We looked for breaks in the fence,  called around for advice, read our book, and eventually confirmed that our situation met all the criteria for a bear. We also learned that there have been sightings of a bear in our area.

 

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The girls hanging in there with us until we could get them upright in familiar hive space.

 

It took us a while to carefully put everybody back together and clean up the mess. We were finished with the work and standing to catch our breath (and talk about electric fence devoted to the hives) when we looked over at another hive.

Wow! I said. That was the hive we were worried about. Look at all those bees. That’s incredible.

So incredible that I took a picture.

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Look at the sky! we all said.  The picture doesn’t do it justice but hundreds of feet high and wide looked like fireworks of bees, everywhere around us, then above us.

 

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We realized it wasn’t the kind of incredible we were aiming for (the bees were swarming) but it was such an incredible view of nature’s genius that it felt like a privilege to see it. Four of us were there at that point. Girl two left shortly after the fireworks. She was unimpressed by what we’d read about bees being gentle when they swarm. They were thick in the air, and she was out of there, thanks.

 

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After a few minutes, they began to gather on a cedar try about twenty feet away. It took them a good five minutes to conglomerate themselves. Being there meant we could recapture the swarm. Boy one was the man of the hour and directed the recovery of our bees.  (Since we spend one to two hours at the hive per week, the fact that they swarmed when we were there is especially fortunate.)

 

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With the branch cut, Boy one carried the swarm to an open box. Luckily, we had an extra hive in the garage. We set it up, quickly read up on how to and watched the next unbelievable thing.

 

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Just like the book said they would, a few of them figured out where the hive was and let everybody know about it. Then it was a river of bees marching across the sheet and into the hive for at least ten or fifteen minutes.

Hopes and prayers for bee mentor to materialize continue. So far, so good on no return from the bear.

 

The buzz of the impractical

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To our great satisfaction, our bees remain alive. Hive #2 is vibrant and buzzing madly. Hive #1 (which we worried about due to our human error) is not nearly as vibrant as the other, but it is alive. Buoyed by these wild achievements,  :)  we are with trepidation and a little excitement expanding our partnership. A friend is getting out of the bee business. Weather permitting, we are picking up two more hives over the weekend. Or should we get three? We can’t decide.

A brief list of the things I know:

  1. We don’t know very much about bees.
  2. We might not have what it takes to stick with it. Continued investment into something which has yet to produce a jar of actual honey is questionable.
  3. Bees are the only place where Boy one and I meet as two people who can’t do it without the other person’s help. In the rest of life, he’s struggling to find his feet in ways that don’t require stomping on other people’s heads. With the bees, it isn’t like that. I read, ask questions, try to figure out what we aren’t thinking of that we should be. (My most remarkable ability is that I can do something at an undesirable time because it needs to be done.) I am also ten times as afraid of the bees as he is. This is not a secret, but he never mentions it. I don’t tell him he has to do all the things that make me scared, he does them without me saying anything. 80% of the physical work on the hive is done by him. 100% is done by him until I observe that the bees are calm and work myself up to an approach. This doesn’t bother him.
  4. Boy one never self selects to do the next thing on the bee list. But when a teacher asked his class to fill out descriptors of themselves, he wrote down: trombone player, soccer player, beekeeper.Boy one is a mirror image of my quick, sarcastic, best defense is a good offense, approach to interpersonal conflict. In the winter I proposed a contest. We put a chart on the fridge. A point if you could respond to harsh words with a gentle reply (actual unfairness not required, just the perception of harsh). Boy one loved it. (When he started losing he found a ball and bounced it behind me one day for five minutes waiting for me to snap so he could come back with a gentle reply.) We kept at it for a weeks, awarding points to each other with grace. The whole thing reminds me of the bees. Where losing could still be winning.
  5. At the hives we’re not young man and a forty-two year old privileges/duties dispenser. We’re two people trying to figure out the art of bee keeping. One of us understands that it will probably prove beyond us. The other is a non-cheque writing optimist, with no concept that failure is standard practice for more than half of life’s experiments.
  6. What we are doing is not practical: but there might be more to it than honey.

 

 

 

March Buzz

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You can see at least a few of the bodies here.

 

The business of bees nags at my brain. I want a sugar alternative, I want kids on fire for living things, and I like us learning whenever possible. People tell you to expect nothing for honey harvest in year one, while simultaneously telling you how much honey their uncle Harold, neighbor Frieda, and son, Billy, got their first years. We did not become a story like Billy; our first year we got zero.

I discovered in early January that the winterizing of the hives had not been done properly. Exits and ventilation are as important for bees as they are for people. One hive seemed ok. The other had both entrances inadvertently sealed. I removed hundreds of dead bodies and ice and settled into hopelessness. I mentally pronounced hive A dead and the hive B potentially terminal.

February broke all kinds of weather records for average cold, most consecutive cold days . . . This past weekend saw warmer temperatures. Despite the sunshine, I walked with heavy steps through snow higher than my boots (or knees) to make myself look at the hives.

“Good news!” I told my husband afterwards. “There were dead bodies all over the snow.”

I had hoped to see a bee or two fly out into the sunshine (they use the warm days to relieve themselves). I didn’t see that, but I did see a lone bee fly. Granted, she flew straight to the snow and committed frozen harakari . . . but before that she flew.

“It’s kind of weird,” said my husband, “when you say, ‘good news,’ because you discovered dead bodies and witnessed a suicide.”

But good news it is. Dead bodies on the ground mean the girls inside are alive and cleaning house. Should the buzz continue into spring, I’ve made some resolutions in celebration of hope’s resurrection:

  1. We’ll buy better bee protection. Winterizing would have been done better if we weren’t so sick of getting stung.
  2. I’ll give up expecting the boys to own the bee project. We all find the bees exciting. The boys are willing to work and willing to get stung. For the foreseeable future, they aren’t going to carry the emotional burden, initiate anything, or wake in the night with what they’ve forgotten to do. I can own the project or we can quit. I can be bitter about what my bee men aren’t doing or be happy for what they are.

With dreams of project watching gone, I am officially the project manager. May the eventual honey sweeten the gaps in working style among the partnership. I’ve got the ability to make myself do what I don’t feel like doing at a particular moment because it needs to be done and the notion that the pursuit of ongoing knowledge is required.  The boys are actually much more comfortable handling the bees than I am. We could do worse for a combined skill set.

Last Notes of Autumn

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We’re squeezing out the last joys of fall while winter whispers that its coming. The smell of the leaves is fainter but not gone. The sound of my sneakers on the path still sings with leaves crunching underneath and brushing against each other.

This year’s fire wood has been drying for at least a year. Next year’s wood is being split and stacked. We’re using the wood stove, but it’s not even close to the continual feeding of wood and blazing fires that winter will bring. Black winter jackets have gone on the bee hives and mouse guards have been tacked across their bottom entrances. Little by little, we’re battening down the hatches and getting ready.

Rumors of rising electricity bills have me dreaming again of hanging my clothes on the line all winter. I’ve learned from experience to commit in smaller chunks. Nothing like a whole season weighing on my shoulders to make me give up before I start. Ergo, I’m hoping to hang the clothes all winter, but I’m only promising one additional load to the one that just went up on the line. If I make it to the end of December, I get a party. If I make it to the end of January, I get an entire day off. It may be cheaper to run the dryer than to get my just desserts if I make it to the end of February.

I have a sense of accomplishment this week. We made it to the end of birthday season. All kids dutifully celebrated. All details of figuring when and what and with whom are past. Memories of overwhelming are melded together in the shape of a birthday cake. Fuzzy. Like the feeling most people get after a few glasses of wine. Or that I get after a swallow.

Pudding cakes were the big hit this year. They require a cake, a wooden spoon to poke holes all over it, and some fresh homemade pudding to pour into the holes and all over the top. Fun while they lasted, but I’m not sure I’ll make another one before Christmas. Maybe not until Easter. Who knows. Who cares. They’re officially all clocked in now at 6, 9, 11, and 14. For another year, it’s over.

Oblivious to its role as an illusion, time, like the seasons, dependably marches on.

State of things

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Apple trees:  Only some bore fruit this first year. The ones that did had one or two apples, except our champion tree with more than a dozen. Resulting apple cobbler was priced at $70 a plate, but maybe it was only $60.

Bees: Despite the failure of the Let the Boys Become Men campaign, and my subsequent involvement in beekeeping (due mainly to my ability to read) we are still glad we got our bees. If they can survive the winter, we’ll be sittin pretty for next year. If they don’t, well, we’ll re-evaluate.

Misty (the pony who arrived with a “staying for one year only,” guarantee) has had her chances of staying around here upped mightily. We had an actual horse person come and work with Boy one. They were happy with what he was already doing and gave him some help going forward. (Strike one success for the Boys Become Men Campaign.) The clincher was a show by a Canadian folk singer (Marie-Lynn Hammond) that I went to last weekend. I bought a CD about horses called, Hoofbeats. I thought I bought it for the kids (who are absolutely crazy about it) only I am in love with it too. (Honestly, if you love horses, kids, or good storytelling, you would love this CD.) There is some kind of magic floating around in the music because I’m starting to feel lucky when I see Misty in the field instead of wondering how many pounds she’d dress out at for the freezer.

The other animals are all happy. Chickens are laying billions of eggs. Currently, 1103 to wash on the counter. 31 little meat chicks are growing like weeds. We’re down to one chicken left in the freezer, so I am pretty happy to see them getting ready to address the situation. Until then, I’m scratching my head for recipes to hide tongue, heart and liver in. They seem to be most of what’s left in the meat section. I thought I’d done it with a stir fry the other day, but later Boy one got to shivering, telling me he knew there was liver, he just knew it.

Maybe you had a little, I said, but less than half of that meat was liver.

Mine was all liver. I could tell by the smoothness on the outside.

Statistically, that’s just not very likely, I said. Anyway, heart meat is kind of smooth on the outside too, so I doubt you could tell the difference.

His eyes bulged out and his lips trembled a little bit. Cocky boy whispered, you’re not joking are you.

Hmm – not joking, but feeling pretty good.

Lastly, the cats are failures. There are a lot of little somebody’s moving in for the winter to the space between the downstairs ceiling and the upstairs floor.  If, for example, you sit quietly writing during the middle of the day, they run over your head, in and out for hours. Does marvels for the peace and concentration.

Pictures of August

 

Boy one the beekeeper going out to check the hives.

Boy one the beekeeper in the beeyard.

 

Some of the girls on their way out to work, or just back.

Some of the girls on their way out to work, or just back.

 

Filippa is crazy about lego . . .

Filippa is crazy about lego . . .

 

Buster has grown a bit since March.

Buster has grown a bit since March.

 

Against her wishes, Misty the pony/pig cross is slowly shrinking.

Against her wishes, Misty the pony/pig cross is slowly shrinking.

 

Other girls out for a walk. The foxes would prefer if they were available for daily picking but we limit the free meals and make them sporadic to keep flock numbers up.

Other girls out for a walk. The foxes would prefer if they were available for daily picking but we limit the free meals and make them sporadic to keep flock numbers up.

Revelations

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If each one of the dragon flies on my clothesline is a little revelation waiting to fly, it went about like this last week.

Since the sick lamb died, we are on watch. We took a fecal sample in for analysis from a different lamb.  The vet recommended based on analysis that we treat the whole little flock for some not so nice parasites. Duly noted. Medicine on order.

Meanwhile, bee boys reported trouble in hive #2.  Yes, they’re sure.  The laying pattern for the eggs is all wrong. I have them consult by telephone with a friend, who advises that poor laying pattern does indeed call for a replacement queen. So I order a new queen, by telephone, to be delivered by mail.

The next day my friend calls. She is going to pick up a few bee things herself in a few days. Do we need anything? As everything bee related seems to be at least an hour away in any direction, this is a good offer. I send bee boys out to reassess the hives and think if there is something else we need.

Wow, they say. Hive 2 is fine now. We don’t need a queen. Hive 1 needs one though. Definite problems there.

Tough questioning yields murky answers.  Well, maybe we should get two queens . . . well, maybe their both fine . . . hard to say. Neither will hold an opinion for longer than a minute if I press. I realize with a sigh that my grand idea that a 10 and 13 year old would manage to be the brains of the operation may have some difficulties, but I don’t give up yet, I start pulling things up on the internet. Pictures.

Look, I say. We’re going to be logical. Here are pictures. Point to which egg pattern you are seeing.

There is silence, then:  Is that really what eggs look like?

So yes, I give up for now on not being involved. Boy one and I head out to the hives despite the late hour. He touches everything. I boss him around. He expresses amazement that there is something different about my brain. Like I just don’t give up until I figure everything out and he can’t believe how helpful that is. I smile and it isn’t such a bad time together.

In one day, the new queen arrived, kids went to swimming lessons, and I drove an hour for the lamb medicine. When I got back, Boy two was obsessed with wanting to know what would happen if it turned out that one of the cats was a girl. I said we dealt with disasters when they occurred and kept getting dinner together. Would it mean, he finally asked, that the girl cat would have to go? I said of course not. He then announced, followed by demonstration that in fact, our little miniature brother kittens from months ago seem to have developed rather differently than expected.

The debate on what now to call Filippo rages.

Me and you

Girl two in her favourite towel.

Girl two in her favourite towel.

One bee hive is doing beautifully, the other is a concern. Some of the apple trees look good. On other trees, the buds have shrivelled tiny, never turning into apples. Our sick lamb did not get better. For five days, she got worse. Friday I called the animal health lab and booked a post mortem. Except she wasn’t dead yet. I walked out to the barn thinking things would be clear. Instead, she literally talked her way out of the post mortem. The whole way to the car the lamb had her head up talking. Forget this, I said. I put her in the shade on the front lawn, got some water, and told the lab I wasn’t coming.

All day she seemed alert. Not walking, but head up, nibbling grass, happy for drinks of water. I spent too much time pouring over websites, reviewing symptoms to see what we were missing. We had already treated for two things that were not the issue. I found a third possibility. I researched a fourth to rule it out. (The solution for the third would aggravate the fourth.) I was becoming attached to our friendly talking lawn ornament.

We treated for the third possibility. Our sick girl took her next water with her head sideways on the ground. The treatment was not a good idea. Sick lambs are gentle, helpless and sad to watch. Trying so hard to help and then making it worse is a very powerless feeling.

Summer is not going as planned. My little charts about how things would work lasted less time than it took to write them. Meanwhile, in and out of background and foreground, the kids disemboweled a few stuffed animals and morphed some barbies into a new kind of creature. The chatter of their play keeps me going. Champions of the imaginary, they ground me in everything that is real.

On a long day, but their voices bounce through the window and the teetering world gingerly begins to right again. I know it’s July, but I wonder what it might mean that God came as a baby. From the perspective I usually consider, God takes the humble form of a baby we can welcome without fear.

But there’s another side. If God came as a baby, then every baby becomes a symbol of salvation. Raised up to her natural dignity, a child dances weightless through the fields of wonder, an intended promise of our own possibilities. If we reach to touch the hem of these small ones, we know with certainty; Christ still walks among us.

We who once were children might dare observing them, to see in ourselves the child. Sacred. Delightful. Chosen. Blessed. Rather like the proverbial writing on the wall, children cross our paths on good days and bad singing . . . me and you, and all of us. Beloved.

Happy Men

First real hive inspection a week after the bees arrived.

First real hive inspection a week after the bees arrived.

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The book you can’t see the top of is “Bee Keeping for Dummies.” :)

 

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We don't know what we're doing but they know more than I do. Time will tell if we're meant to stay beekeepers or not but to date we have no regrets. The boys are very happy talking bees.

We don’t know what we’re doing but they know more than I do. I enjoy their fearless lack of worry about all the things they don’t know.