Poetry Sunday: The River of Bees

The River of Bees

BY W.S. MERWIN

In a dream I returned to the river of bees
Five orange trees by the bridge and
Beside two mills my house
Into whose courtyard a blindman followed
The goats and stood singing
Of what was older

Soon it will be fifteen years

He was old he will have fallen into his eyes

I took my eyes

A long way to the calendars

Room after room asking how shall I live

One of the ends is made of streets
One man processions carry through it
Empty bottles their
Image of hope
It was offered to me by name

Once once and once
In the same city I was born
Asking what shall I say

He will have fallen into his mouth
Men think they are better than grass

I return to his voice rising like a forkful of hay

He was old he is not real nothing is real
Nor the noise of death drawing water

We are the echo of the future

On the door it says what to do to survive
But we were not born to survive
Only to live

 

 

To Do 11/10/2011

I do not have the knack for working ahead of the weather. I’m always already late.

You see, Reader, I’m the kind of person who reacts to my surroundings. Some people (like my mother) have already purchased and wrapped their Christmas gifts. Is it any wonder I’ve got a bit of a complex?! Bees, too, act in preparation for what lies 3 months ahead. I’m always so surprised that it’s already 3 months later.

Here’s a list of things I need to do pronto:

  1. add the shim atop all hives
  2. continue to feed but also add granulated sugar
  3. place Styrofoam on both the top and bottom of the hives
Things to do to prepare for spring:
  1. organize my disorganized basement
  2. order woodenware for the additional hives
  3. hammer and nail and staple all that the equipment together all alone in my basement until my hands fall off
  4. (really, the above is sort of therapeutic for me)
  5. find a couple of out yards that can handle 20 hives each

Preparing the Hives for Winter

Reader, I thought you might like to see how I plan to winterize my hives. I’m probably a week or two late with these preparations—it’s already getting chilly, and I want to give the bees time to propolize the shim so cold air doesn’t come blowing in, but there’s the plan:

This is the top hive box (it’s a medium-depth, 8-frame hive body):

Hive box

I built shims from scrap lumber to fit atop each hive. The shims are 2″ tall which allows me an extra 2″ on top of the hive in which I can place dry sugar. I’ll spread newspaper on top of the frames. Then, I’ll pour dry sugar (to which I’ll spray water so it lumps together…the bees don’t love the little granulations). If the bees eat through their stores and the sugar, I’ll add cakes of bee candy in the spring, and the 2″ gives me ample room for that. Also, the two extra inches on top of the hive isn’t difficult for the bees to heat.

Top hive body with 2" shim

Next goes the lid. On the bottom of this migratory cover (you can buy these 8-frame, reversible, migratory covers from Rossman Apiaries), I glued thin shims I find at the hardware store (I go through a LOT of these cedar shim slivers. I use them for everything!)…this lifts the lid ever so slightly and gives the bees their upper entrance. An upper entrance helps moisture escape from the hive in the winter…which reduces condensation on the lid…condensation that then drips drips drips on the cluster of bees and freezes them. Got it?

Top hive body with shim and upper entrance

I found packages of Styrofoam sheets in the insulation aisle of Home Depot, and I cut the sheets to fit the lids. Yes, I hate to contribute more Styrofoam to the world. But the bees want a bit of top insulation (so long as there’s also a way for them to release the moisture that results). These do the job and are weather resistant. I intend to use them for years and years. Forgive me.

Top hive body with shim, upper entrance, and Styrofoam

And, finally, the rock that keeps it all in place. You gotta love the rock: It resolutely stands there in every weather and does its quiet job.

Top hive body, shim, upper entrance, Styrofoam, rock

 

Honeybees as Housemates

I receive a lot of calls for bee removals at this time of year.

This is a lousy time of year to remove honeybees, and, believe me, it’s a tough challenge to encourage homeowners to live throughout the winter with their hive of bees as housemates.

Asking some people to live with their honeybees is sort of like asking them to live with their cancer for a little while longer (yes, I know this analogy falls short because cancer is serious business and honeybees are simply a nuisance, but go with me on this one).

Usually, the bees have been living undetected in the home for some time. So, it’s not as if this is something that needs to be addressed immediately. For some reason, however, simply KNOWING about the bees’ presence seems to instill a sense of urgency in their removal.

However, if we can keep our wits about us, we will make better decisions…decisions based on information and made with a cool head.

In just a few weeks, the honeybees in Ohio will cluster. They’ll be quiet. They’ll stop flying around the doorframe or the windowsill or from the attic where they’ve previously been so active. They will simply live out their winter in a quiet ball of sweet humming. Over the winter, the population of the hive will slowly decrease. And that great store of honey they’ve collected all summer will dwindle as the colony slowly consumes it.

If we were to remove the bees right now, the bees could not survive—removals are hard on the bees, and they need some nurturing from their beekeeper to recover from it…and this late in the season, they don’t have time to reestablish themselves before winter hits. So, even though we can rid the house of bees, we would lose the bees entirely. And my priority is to establish a viable hive from whatever bees I remove.

If I can convince the homeowner to wait until late March (or after) to part company with their bees, we would find three things beneficial to a successful removal:

  1. There are far fewer bees to remove because the hive population dwindles over the winter (this also translates into less expense for the homeowner).
  2. There is far less honey to deal with because the colony eats through the stored honey over the winter. Therefore, there’s far less mess to clean up from the space in which the colony overwintered (this also translates into less expense for the removal). It also means far less honey remains behind to draw ants, mice, and other pests which the homeowner surely wants to avoid.
  3. Most importantly, if we remove the bees and all their honeycomb in the spring, the hive stands every chance to recover and thrive and pollinate and produce local honey (a portion of which is usually gifted back to the homeowner). In the spring, we would expect a healthy, vibrant hive to carry on once it’s re-hived and re-established in a bee yard where it can forage and flourish. Doesn’t that make you happy, Reader?
I sort of like the thought of overwintering a hive of humming honeybees in the warm walls of my home—a dog, a cat, some mice, a few spiders, and a hive of honeybees. It all adds heart.

 

 

 

Smoke Bomb

Cardboard "Smoker Bombs"

I know, I know. I’d planned to visit with you about the “colony vs. hive” nomenclature challenge when it comes to writing about the bees.

But I’d rather tell you about smoke bombs instead.

Smoke Bomb

Keeping bees is challenging…which is probably why I’m so hooked. One constant challenge is keeping the dang smoker lit. Funny, this summer at the Zia Queenbee workshop, ten rather-experienced beekeepers all hauled our smokers and our veils to New Mexico to learn how to rear queen bees. It shocked me that each of us wrestled with our smokers. Of the ten smokers present, only one or two kept a good smoke going the one or two hours of our work in the hives.

Simon, my friend and one of my bee stewards, has convinced me that cardboard makes great smoker fuel. Then, I saw a video of a guy who uses rolled-up corrogated cardboard in his smoker…loading one of these bombs into the smoker feels good. It also provides for a slow, cool burn.

So, I began to roll what I call “smoke bombs” from cardboard boxes. I roll the cardboard tightly, making sure the corrugation runs up and down in the smoker so air can flow from the bottom to the top and out the smoker spout. I tie them off with string, or I wrap them with masking tape so they hold their shape, and I keep a collection of them in a bag with my bee stuff (some of them find their way under the seat of my car or other surprising places). So far, I can report that they burn better than anything else I’ve found. They’re lightweight, they keep forever, they’re completely portable, and it’s a good way to recycle.

UPDATE: If you wait until your bomb is smoking a bit, then pack some burlap around it, you’ll get a TERRIFIC smoke that lasts a very long time. Bingo.

P.S. I now use a propane torch I bought at Home Depot to light my bomb. These days, my smoke starts fast, lasts a long time, and doesn’t poop out.

 

 

 

Grammatically Challenging Little Suckers

I think I’ve probably inspected the bees for the final time this season. Now we give the colony time to set its hive in order for winter. Which means it’s time for the colony to propolize the gaps between the boxes and to move honey to wherever it’s wanted and to cap the honey for safekeeping until needed.

ANNOUNCEMENT: Let me interrupt this lesson on “propolis”—which was where this post was headed and which you can look up on your own if you’re so interested in learning more about it right this second—because I need to share with you something that’s giving me fits.

For me, writing about bees is made difficult because of three things:

  1. Bees, of course, are singular creatures. However, the single bee is usually not the focus of my conversations nor of my attention. The bees (plural) are the focus of our efforts here. But the (plural) bees operate as a (single) unit called “the colony” or “the hive.” So, while the “bee” is grammatically singular—as is the hive or the colony—“bees” are plural. I am constantly going back to change sentences or pronouns from plural to singular and vice versa. I stop myself almost every sentence to ask, “Am I talking here about the bees (plural) or about the colony (singular)?” It drives me nuts.  But it’s this increasing awareness—that the colony is composed of thousands of individual bees operating as a single organism—which intrigues me beyond measure.
  2. Now I can’t remember the second thing that gives me fits. I’ll let you know when it rears its ugly head again, though.
  3. Which word to use—“hive” or “colony.” (But because this post has already gone on long enough, I’ll save this nomenclature challenge for next time.)
P.S. I know, Reader, that you may now wish to scrutinize my grammar and punctuation. Go for it. I’ll let you know right this second that I don’t necessarily follow the rules. Which is why I had to resign from my last job. And which is why you may notice sparse use of commas.

Poetry Sunday: Everyone Is Afraid of Something

Everyone Is Afraid of Something

BY DANNYE ROMINE POWELL

Once I was afraid of ghosts, of the dark,
of climbing down from the highest
limb of the backyard oak. Now I’m afraid

my son will die alone in his apartment.
I’m afraid when I break down the door,
I’ll find him among the empties—bloated,
discolored, his face a stranger’s face.

My granddaughter is afraid of blood
and spider webs and of messing up.
Also bees. Especially bees. Everyone,
she says, is afraid of something.

Another fear of mine: that it will fall to me
to tell this child her father is dead.

Perhaps I should begin today stringing
her a necklace of bees. When they sting
and welts quilt her face, when her lips
whiten and swell, I’ll take her
by the shoulders. Child, listen to me.
One day, you’ll see. These stings
Are nothing. Nothing at all.

All the pretty weeds

Why Mow It?

Did I tell you, Reader, that Jerod keeps his bees at his grandparents’ place where there is quite a bit of open land and a couple of massive gardens? Earlier this week, Jerod took me for a stroll into the thick weeds of the open lot—once the bees arrived last spring, Jerod’s grandfather stopped all mowing in the back lots, and now it’s full of glorious weedy delights. And the bees are hog wild on the flowers. I don’t know why we mow our yards. I’m of a mind to let some of our lawn go.

All the pretty weeds

 

"Is it worse to be scared than to be bored, that is the question."—Gertrude Stein

I resigned from my job. I resigned from my job without a plan for another. I think I may be finished working for other people. I am trusting the universe on this one, and so I’m focused squarely on the bees. The bees are in front of me right now, and I’ve learned to handle what’s in front of me without looking too far ahead and borrowing trouble. This should lead to something. Right, Reader?

Each day that I’ve been free from the old job, I’ve accomplished at least one thing to move TwoHoneys Bee Co. toward a business that will employ me full time. And wouldn’t it be great if TwoHoneys could eventually employ more people, too: students, interns, apprentices, carpenters, contractors, web masters, designers, marketers. I like it.

I envision teaching a university-based, experiential-learning beekeeping course…a writing course…a course in composition; then, I envision taking that course abroad…say, to Kenya or Tanzania to learn how people in Africa work with and earn a sustainable living with Africanized bees.

I see myself in a small storefront operation. A storefront well lit with natural light. And bare, wooden floors (I’ll want to walk around barefoot on those floors in the summertime). Walls filled with jars of honey and beekeeping equipment. A few beehives out back.  I’ll drive an old pick-up truck with TwoHoneys Bee Co. painted on the doors. People will call me the Bee Lady.  People will say, “Call her. She’ll do it.” I will respond, “Yes” when called. I will figure out a way.