Poetry Sunday: The Bees

The Bees

BY BRUCE MACKINNON

One day the bees start wandering off, no one knows why.
First one doesn’t come back, and then another and another,
until those who are supposed to stay and guard the hive, those
who are making the royal jelly and feeding it to the queen,
those who form different parts of the great brain, must
put down what it is they are doing and go off in search—
having no choice, not if the hive is going to survive,
and where do they go, each one vanishing, never to be seen
again, off wandering in the wilderness, having forgotten
how, forgotten what it was they were after, what it was
that gave meaning, having known it at one time, now
a veil drawn. Is it that each one is a cell, a brain cell,
and now they’re failing one by one, plaque to Alzheimer’s,
or the way the cells in the esophagus will begin to mimic
the stomach if the acid is too intense, if you’re sleeping
and the valve won’t close, a lifetime of eating and drinking
the wrong things, those cells compensating, trying
their best, but opening the door to those other cells,
the wild ones, the ones that call those bees, out there,
somewhere, lost, having nowhere to return at night,
their search for nectar fruitful, their small saddlebags full,
but no one to go home to, no home, no memory of home,
it’s as if they’d stumbled into some alternate world,
one looking like ours but just a glass width different,
just a fraction of sunlight different, the patient waking up,
finding herself wandering, someone leading her back
to bed, but there is no bed. Confusion of the hive,
they call it, and the hive dies, each bee goes down,
each light goes out, one by one, blinking out all over town,
seen from a great height as the night ages, darkens,
as you’re parked in your car with your own true love,
until it’s just you two and the stars, until it’s just you.
Belly up

Yes. But I Cannot Go Belly Up.

Belly up

Here’s my current dilemma: How can I get a bee business to steadily grow in a contained sort of way?

This is what happens: Along the way, some wonderful people learn that I keep bees and that I help other people begin beekeeping. And those wonderful people really really really want to keep bees, too. So they invite me to help them get started. Now, how do I say “Yes” to all these nice people while also keeping the business contained (which means keeping my costs down, my profits up, and my time well managed)?

Let me explain why this is a challenge: Not all of these wonderful future beekeepers live near me. Most of them live 30-40 miles away…and they don’t all live near one another either. I mean, if they all lived near one another, then most of my problem is solved. But some live 30 miles to the north; others live 25 miles to the east; another 20 miles south, in Kentucky. And next season, we hope to install 10-20 hives on the farm south of Lexington. And somehow I need to coordinate all these visits to all these hives once every 9-14 days.

Not only do I need to coordinate all of my visits to the hives placed in a certain region,  but I also need to coordinate my visits with the keeper of the bees…the bee stewards…and most people aren’t available during weekdays to inspect their hives. Which means I could be driving hundreds and hundreds of miles each week…and at inconvenient hours.

So, yes, of course I can do it. But I can’t do it for free. I cannot go belly up just because I love bees and all these wonderful people. Which gets us into a tough spot—I have to charge for this service. Yes, there are all sorts of financial models for this…I just have to figure out which models make the most sense for my purposes. No matter how I cut it, though, some people will not like the way I answer “Yes.”

I won’t bore you further with this, Reader. Just want to let you know what I’m wrestling with now that the bees have slowed their activity. The bees and I are all turning inward and preparing our big plans for spring.

Rebecca Chesney: dead bee. again and again, 2008

A Nuc Hive of Dead Bees :(

Rebecca Chesney: dead bee. again and again, 2008

I revved up the table saw and made three inner covers for my nuc hives, and I cut a round opening in each through which I can feed the bees their syrup.

But when I opened the hives to give the bees their snug, new, inner covers, I discovered one of the hives dead. A dead hive is soooo quiet. Creepy. And disheartening.

Wow. The dead hive really surprised me…this is not the time of year for a colony to completely die off. And the other nucs, all of which have the same arrangement, were doing fine. So, I presented all the living hives with their fancy new inner cover and a new jar of syrup, and they’re all still flying.

After sort of reviewing the situation to figure out what happened, I scraped the pile of dead bees into the grass. I’m leaving the comb from that hive in its box and out in the sun so wax moths don’t destroy it before winter hits us.

What happened to the Nicola hive? I’m not sure, but the comb and all the dead bees were wet. Either condensation (warm days + cold nights = condensation build up) had collected on the top cover and dripped onto the bees, or (and this is my suspicion) I didn’t let a proper vacuum seal the inverted jar of syrup I placed atop the hive, and it dripped onto the bees. And they died.

Either way, I guess I killed them. Dang.

I’ve learned to cut myself a lot of slack when it comes to making mistakes that cost either bees or honey. It’s disappointing, but I try to consider these lessons learned. And I’ve found that it’s good for me to immediately get over the situation…analyze the hive, say some sort of thank you to the bees, and scrape them out onto the ground. Then I clean up the equipment for the next colony.

 

 

Poetry Sunday: Equinox

Equinox

BY ELIZABETH ALEXANDER

Now is the time of year when bees are wild
and eccentric. They fly fast and in cramped
loop-de-loops, dive-bomb clusters of conversants
in the bright, late-September out-of-doors.
I have found their dried husks in my clothes.
They are dervishes because they are dying,
one last sting, a warm place to squeeze
a drop of venom or of honey.
After the stroke we thought would be her last
my grandmother came back, reared back and slapped
a nurse across the face. Then she stood up,
walked outside, and lay down in the snow.
Two years later there is no other way
to say, we are waiting. She is silent, light
as an empty hive, and she is breathing.

Poetry Sunday: Intimate Detail

Intimate Detail

BY Heid E. Erdrich

Late summer, late afternoon, my work
interrupted by bees who claim my tea,
even my pen looks flower-good to them.
I warn a delivery man that my bees,
who all summer have been tame as cows,
now grow frantic, aggressive, difficult to shoo
from the house. I blame the second blooms
come out in hot colors, defiant vibrancy—
unexpected from cottage cosmos, nicotianna,
and bean vine. But those bees know, I’m told
by the interested delivery man, they have only
so many days to go. He sighs at sweetness untasted.

Still warm in the day, we inspect the bees.
This kind stranger knows them in intimate detail.
He can name the ones I think of as shopping ladies.
Their fur coats ruffed up, yellow packages tucked
beneath their wings, so weighted with their finds
they ascend in slow circles, sometimes drop, while
other bees whirl madly, dance the blossoms, ravish
broadly so the whole bed bends and bounces alive.

He asks if I have kids, I say not yet. He has five,
all boys. He calls the honeybees his girls although
he tells me they’re ungendered workers
who never produce offspring. Some hour drops,
the bees shut off. In the long, cool slant of sun,
spent flowers fold into cups. He asks me if I’ve ever
seen a Solitary Bee where it sleeps. I say I’ve not.
The nearest bud’s a long-throated peach hollyhock.
He cradles it in his palm, holds it up so I spy
the intimacy of the sleeping bee. Little life safe in a petal,
little girl, your few furious buzzings as you stir
stay with me all winter, remind me of my work undone.

Painted box #1

Updates 11/21/11

UPDATES:

  1. The guy who wanted bees removed from his reconstruction project called. The general contractor for the job found an exterminator to kill the bees. It’s done.
  2. So, for $600, the bees were killed. Now the homeowner has to go in and remove comb and whatever honey may remain after robbers (of the honeybee and yellow jacket and hornet and ant varieties) have had their fill.
  3. Too bad. It would have cost much less to hire me, and even if the bees had died, we’d still have viable comb and edible honey.
  4. The guy liked me, though, and said he could tell I know what I’m talking about. And I do.
  5. I ordered my next beekeeping hat. It’s on its UPS way to my head right now.
  6. And, noooo, I didn’t construct the inner covers for my nuc boxes yesterday. I don’t think I can do it today, either. It’ll have to wait until tomorrow.
  7. We’re planning on painting the wood floors in our Waco, KY farmhouse. When we were in New Mexico, we saw some painted floors that made me melt with happiness.
  8. I’ve been practicing the floor-painting technique on bee boxes…good idea, huh? That way, the woodenware is protected with paint, they look awesome, and we can now base our paint-color decision on the resulting boxes…which are made of pine, just as the floors in the farmhouse are pine.
  9. I’ll show you the results, and then you can paint your floors however you like. :)
  10. Below is box #1:
Painted box #1
Painted box #1 (close up)

Okay, in real life, these do NOT have a greenish cast. I think that’s coming from the overhead fluorescent lights in the basement (I can’t tell you the trouble I have spelling “fluorescent.” I don’t even know how to get started on it). Bad idea. But it’s dark out right now…maybe later in the day I’ll take this outside and take a picture for you in honest-to-goodness sunlight.

Don’t worry, Reader, we will not choose floors with a greenish cast for the farm. That would be nauseating. Plus, this color is waaay too light for a farmhouse floor. Things get dirty on a farm. For crying out loud…half the time we’re there, we wear muck boots.

Handygirl to the Rescue

I woke in the night worried about the bees in my three nucs (a “nuc” is a small hive—usually composed of 5 frames rather than 8 or 10—and is the abbreviated form for “nucleus” hive). It’s getting cold. Tonight’s temperatures will be in the 30s with highs today reaching only into the 40s. And the few bees in a nuc have trouble enough heating the hive. To make matters worse, I’ve kept an empty box on top of each nuc so I can fit a feeder jar…which translates into an entire box of dead space for the bees to heat. This is asking too much of them.

So, in the dark of the night, I decided to construct an inner cover for each nuc…one with a hole in the center through which I can still feed. In other words, I’ll construct a fitted plywood inner cover with a hole cut from the center; I’ll place that new cover directly over the 5 frames…which should keep the heat generated by the bees concentrated in the lower box; then I’ll place the feeder jar of syrup over the hole so that when the weather is warmer and the bees break cluster, they can eat from it; the empty box surrounding the feeder won’t need to be heated.

I have a rockin’ table saw and an ancient jig saw, so why on earth hadn’t I yet thought of constructing my own inner cover with a feeder hole for those nucs?! Sometimes, I am a dullard.

Ya Do What Ya Gotta Do

Just when I posted that this is a difficult time of year for removing bees from a structure, I get a call from a guy doing a renovation project on a historic home in Kentucky. They’ve got a huge, 15-year-old hive in the ceiling of the old porch, and they’re ready to tear into it now…they can’t hold the entire project off until spring.

There’s already a lift on site. And there are contractors waiting to take the porch apart and put it back together again. And the homeowner has volunteered to be my assistant.

So, I guess I’ll do it. If I don’t agree to remove these bees, they’ll have no choice but to open the cavity and exterminate them. And then we’ll lose all the honey and the comb as well. So, I told the guy I’d do it.

Perhaps I can add the bees to one of my existing hives and see if they’ll live through the winter. I’ll save the comb I collect from the removal and use it in a new hive next spring.

I’ve assessed the situation, and I’ve answered, “Yes.” Which is my new motto (except when I answer, “No”…which often results in just as much fun as “Yes”).

Gardener's hat by Tula Hats

My On-Going Quest for the Perfect Hat

The good news is…I am almost satisfied with my beekeeping hat. The bad news is…almost isn’t good enough.

Which means the quest for the perfect beekeeping hat continues.

Currently, I wear a dang good hat. I found it online, ordered it, and have worn it for months now. Then I went to the Apple store at Kenwood Towne Center and discovered a Tula kiosk right outside the Apple store with my hat hanging all over the place.

This is the hat I wear now:

Gardener's Hat by Tula Hats

I like it because the straw is firm enough to keep its shape no matter how much I toss it around. And the brim is wide and stiff enough to hold the veil draped nicely away from my face. It fits fine. For some reason, though, I don’t like the look of the crown. The crease bugs me a little bit. Don’t get me wrong, I am an absolute sucker for a beautifully shaped crown on a good hat. But I want my beekeeping hat to be creaseless. I want it round. I don’t know why.

So, this is the hat I’ve got my eye on now. I’ll probably be wearing it by the time you see me next.

The Ranch Hat

Perhaps you can’t tell the difference between the two, Reader, but I can. And I can report that I am not far from being satisfied with my beekeeping hat. I will look awesome in it. I may just go get that hat today…if it’s not available at the Kenwood Towne Center kiosk, then I’ll order it. (Tula Hats is located in Austin, Texas…which is practically my hometown. Which makes it even better.)

On another, non-beekeeping note: Below is the hat of my dreams…it’s worn by Mattie Ross in the newest version of True Grit. Made of pecan-colored pure beaver with a 1″ black satin ribbon with a little bow on the side. Sigh. I’m definitely gonna have it one day.

Mattie Ross hat