Miracles and Sky Lanterns

You know, Reader, I’m in beehives almost every day, but I forget to tell you about it. I forget to take pictures (which is not easy to do when my hands are covered in honey and bees and my phone/camera is in my back pocket and I’m alone). So I miss sharing delightful discoveries with you.

I also realize that all those pictures of bees and honeycomb and queens sort of run together…if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all.

So I might just start writing whatever is on my mind here:

  1. I’m in conversation with someone about placing bees in a very cool location. We have a few hurdles to face, but we have desire. I’m keeping my fingers crossed. I would tell you more, but I’ve learned not to articulate my vision too concretely in public until the deal is sealed. It’s not that I don’t trust you, Reader…I think this strategy was ingrained into me as a child. Don’t say it until it’s done. It’s a hard thing for me to do.
  2. I heard last night that miracles occur naturally and frequently…in other words, miracles aren’t meant to be phenomenons. When they don’t occur, it’s probably because we won’t get out of the way and let them.
  3. Sky Lanterns
Let it go


Sky Lanterns Aloft
Sky Lanterns swinging in the night

Radishes, Lettuce, and Pears

I love keeping bees not only because of the bees and the honey…I love keeping bees because they present me with challenges, and they allow me to spend time with people I might otherwise never meet or hang with.

You remember Amy the swarm capturer? I think of her as Cincinnati’s version of Martha Stewart (with attitude) complete with garden, kitchen, chickens, etc. (FYI: Amy is way more buff than Martha. Amy lifts the heaviest hive boxes). Some of my visits to Amy’s bees end with a gift from her garden.

Yesterday, on the way to her hives, Amy pointed out that her pear trees (from which she collected her swarm) are already bearing fruit. Sure enough…there were tons of little brown pears growing. I love pears. And when I left her, Amy gifted me with some beautiful finger radishes, lettuce, and two jars of the pretty pears she canned last season.

Deb ate every radish that I didn’t add to our Amy’s-lettuce salad, and at Amy’s suggestion, we used the pear syrup to sweeten our iced tea. It was a delicious meal (though Amy would probably disapprove of the tube of Pillsbury Grands! Golden Layer biscuits that Deb specifically requested we eat with our steak. Deb needs comfort food right now).

We’re Gonna Need a Ladder!

I took a few pictures as I built three top-bar hives this week, but I think the pictures are boring, so I’m not posting them. Perhaps I’ll document the progress later this week when my friends Heidi and Anne spend the afternoon building their hive.

As the construction days wear on, and as I wrestle to install a new blade on the table saw, and as all of my crevices fill with sawdust, I become less interested in taking pictures and more interested in finishing the work. So, I sort of stopped taking pictures about half way through.

But, much to my delight, my car is now packed with a couple of top-bar hives for placement in the “prairie” section at Brazee Street Studios, and there are a couple of additional, uncommitted hives waiting for action in my garage. I’m finally ahead of the game.

More about the Brazee Street Studio project in another post. For now, please enjoy with me the monster hive that’s growing over at Simon and Patti Foster’s apiary. Holy cow. It’s only early April and this hive is already seven boxes tall.

The 2012 Monster Hive
The Monster Hive: side view, staked down


So You Want to Be a Beekeeper

My friend Wendy is thinking about keeping bees. So are my friends Heidi and Anne. So is my friend Liz. So is practically everyone I know. Frankly, every day people ask me how they can start keeping bees.  Perhaps it’s time I compiled these details in a single spot.

Almost everyone I know is drawn to beekeeping because they want honey. That’s what enticed me, too. But, after only a little while, honey becomes simply a reward for doing a good job at managing the hive…honey is the celebratory by-product of an entire experience. The bees—and the experience of observing, smelling, hearing, and feeling the colony as it lives and works and makes decisions—keep us…not the honey. And you should know this: You won’t harvest honey the first year. You may not harvest honey the second year.

So, yes, I know you want some honey, Reader.

I know you also want to improve the world. And keeping bees will do that.

What you may not yet know is that keeping bees will change you—it will change the way you think and the way you live and the way you feel.  I can almost guarantee it.

Here are some questions to consider as you embark. Your answers will determine how you’ll begin your adventure:

  1. Why do you want to keep bees?
  2. Yes, I know you want honey…but how much honey will satisfy you? Do you plan to sell your honey? Or do you need only enough for you and your family and perhaps a bit to give to friends.
  3. Where will you keep your hives (it’s best to begin with two hives…for reasons I’ll go into later)? How much room do you have for them? In other words…do you have access to a rooftop or a yard or a farm? Are your neighbors nearby, and do you have good relationships with them? Do children play in your yard?
  4. Bees do best in sun. They like to face East or South or Southeast. So, as you look around for a spot, keep those factors in mind.
  5. I like to watch my bees fly. You’ll probably want to watch yours, too. Keep that in mind as you think of a location, too.
  6. If there’s no water source nearby, can you provide a dependable source of water (by way of a birdbath or a water bowl)?
  7. How much time can you devote to your bees each week? An hour? Two?
  8. How much money are you prepared to spend? And if you don’t have $200-$300 for start up, are you handy with tools?

I’m too sleepy to write any more (I LOVE daylight savings time, but I’m still sleepy this morning) and you would get too bored with my suggestions right now, so…in tomorrow’s post, after you’ve thought about these questions for a bit, I’ll suggest ways to get started.

We’ll talk about ways to acquire your bees (packages, nucs, swarms, cut outs, splits) and which type of hive is best suited to your situation (Langstroth or top-bar hives…or variations on each).

Oh, and read. Read, read, read. Beekeepers are smart. Seriously. Begin with The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Beekeeping.








Bee Stewards Are Not Dullards

At the stove

I get to hang out with some real characters. Dull people don’t usually want to keep bees. The people who want to keep bees are either already very interesting or they’re about to become that way.

Yesterday, Murphy the dog and I drove up to Wilmington, Ohio to scout out a place for bees on a farm there. The farm belongs to my diabetes doctor and her radiologist husband.

When I arrived, Mark and Barbara were boiling maple syrup they collect from the trees in their woods. I can’t tell you how elaborate the tapping and collection set up. Mark met me at my car and walked me through the woods until we found Barbara, dressed in Carhartt coveralls and a stocking cap,  ladling thin but bubbling syrup at a wood-fired stove.

When you first meet your doctors, you have no idea that this is what they do on some sunny, chilly Tuesdays. It makes me like them even more.

I have the greatest doctors.

Ladling maple syrup

It’s Happening in Cincinnati’s East End

Meet Joe Cocoran. Joe is the energy and the vision behind the East End Veteran’s Memorial Garden on Strader Street (off of Eastern Avenue in Cincinnati and within a stone’s throw of the Ohio River).

Joe constantly talks in terms of “we,” so I know there are others involved in making this spot of the East End exciting, and I’m eager to meet them as spring and summer bring more and more color to the garden.

Joe Cocoran at the East End Veteran's Memorial Garden

You know how a place feels just before it becomes sort of “the place” in a city? That’s the way the East End feels to me right now. There are good vibes. The neighbors are painting their houses bright colors—that’s a great sign, isn’t it? Joe and his friends are creating an urban oasis. Joe can’t stop himself. He has ideas. And then those ideas happen. Amazing.

We plan to introduce a couple of top-bar hives full of bees to the emerging gardens and orchards there. This is gonna be downright interesting.

And while you’re in the neighborhood checking out the community garden, walk over to Eli’s BBQ…it abuts the community garden. Places like Eli’s build communities. And there is no better BBQ in Cincinnati. Trust me on this.

Eli's BBQ on Eastern Avenue (AKA Riverside Drive)



Getting our Ducks in a Row

The Georgian packaged bees and their queens arrive in less than a week. The California packages arrive about a week later. So, yesterday I helped my new bee stewards set up their new hive boxes.

Each bee steward has agreed to host two hives. I’d initially planned to have many bee stewards…I dreamed of bees in every yard…but something told me to set some limits. Thank God. I’ve settled on two stewards who live near me…these are people I like a lot and with whom I’ll enjoy visiting. This summer I’ll have to feed the bees almost daily, so keeping them close to me means they’ll more easily become a part of my daily routine. Because new bees require a lot of attention and food, I have a feeling that keeping these 7-9 hives thriving this summer will be a handful (for those of you doing math: 2 stewards x 2 hives each = 4 hives. I’ll keep 3-5 hives at my place).

For each steward family, I’ve ordered The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Beekeeping, one veil, one hive tool, and one large smoker…to be delivered when they receive their bees.  I think that’s a nice way to start off, don’t you?

This year the bees and the equipment belong to me, and I agree to oversee all management. The stewards will receive a percentage of the honey their hives produce. Next year, if the bees survive the winter, the stewards can choose to buy the bees and equipment from me and assume the management. If everyone’s happy with the way it works this year, we can also just stick with our current arrangement. If the stewards tire of the bees, I’ll move the bees to a new yard.

Liz and Simon check out a veil


Simon and Patti (and Molly the dog) set their hives
Eunice (left) and Burnsie (right)