I'm Sorry, Honey Bee

The Most-Spoken Word in a Bee Yard

I'm Sorry, Honey Bee

There’s something wonderfully interesting about people who have heard the voice of intuition (or the voice of the universe or God…you know, the voice of something larger than we are) and who have then acted upon that calling by becoming beekeepers.

Beekeeping isn’t a hobby that we simply pick up. I’ve come to think of it as a calling…a calling that requires a commitment we might not initially have anticipated but a commitment that we don’t shy from, and I love that quality in people. But that’s not the point of this post.

Here’s my point: I visit many colonies with numerous beekeepers, and long ago I realized that the most often-spoken word in the bee yard is “Sorry.”  After all these years and all these bees, I still find myself saying “I’m sorry” all the time. I say it without speaking, and I say it aloud.  Everyone I work with says it. A lot. And we don’t wait to express ourselves…we say it right away as we make our many mistakes.

We screw up. We hurt others. We squish bees or unsettle them or drop things or fumble. We’re sorry for that. And expressing that apology for being imperfect, clumsy human beings is a high quality to me…it requires humility, and I will follow humble-yet-confident people to the ends of this earth. It is my favorite quality combination. Pompousness can go jump in a lake.

As beekeepers work to become more confident stewards of our colonies, we’ll make our mistakes. To hear “I’m sorry” mumbled as the bees teach us to become better beekeepers and better people, though, is a sweet experience.

Festooning is more fun than sulking

Don’t Sulk—Festoon!

Festooning bees rebuilding comb

Perhaps the quality I admire most in honeybee colonies is resiliency. I can’t tell you how often I make mistakes that set the colonies back: I mishandle individual honeycombs; I squish bees; I’ve accidentally dropped an entire eight-frame super filled with brood and honey and pollen…eight frames rich with bee economy and life was strewn on the ground around the hive while the air filled with displaced bees. I’ve mutilated queens that eventually died. I’ve been neglectful when the colony needed nectar or sugar water. I am sometimes a klutz, and the hive pays the price for my mistakes.

But here’s the miracle in it: the bees don’t fret. They don’t hold resentments. They don’t attack me in anger or act out in retribution. Actually, it seems to me that when I make my bad moves, the bees don’t even acknowledge my presence. I am invisible to them. Why? Probably because they sense that I don’t have a single thing to offer them when it comes to their recovery. They know I am powerless when it comes to helping them repair my ignorant or careless mistakes and that the rebuilding must come from their own efforts. They organize and set about IMMEDIATELY repairing. They waste zero time in looking back with regret; instead, they festoon—they link themselves together, Reader, and they channel their combined energies into what needs to be done to set things right again.

So, on this day following the 2016 US Presidential election, the results of which did not swing my way, I plan to link up and start the rebuilding, too.

Straw bale garden

Straw Bale Gardens: An invitation to do it differently

As you know, Reader, bees need flowers. They need flowers because they need both nectar and pollen which are found only in flowers. I could go on and on about why they need nectar and why they need pollen, but I’ll save that for another post.

I’m often asked what people can do for the bees and other pollinators, and this is my answer: Plant wildflowers. Please, friends, allow wildness. That’s the answer. Let’s not try to control every inch of our lives. Let’s not mow every dandelion and violet and clover. I am forever encouraging my friends to allow a part of their yards and their lives to go freaking ape crazy extravagantly loose. (I wanted to throw in some curse words there, but I resisted. So far.)

But it’s not easy to change, is it? It’s not easy to dig up some part of our yards and introduce wild things. Which is why I love this idea of Straw Bale Gardening (SBG). This SBG approach doesn’t require a complete overhaul of our yards. It’s not permanent. We can sneak these bales into odd little areas of our yards or on our properties and fill them with things that are not only good for pollinators but that are also good for us. (By the way, if something is good for pollinators, Reader, it’s also good for us. That’s a good thing to keep in mind.)

We can produce vegetables and flowers in places we’d never before considered viable. Which will give us good things to look at and good things to eat. It will also bring the wild things. Which will make us happier.

I’ll be hauling some bales into my yard soon. Then I’m gonna plant vegetables and flowers in it.

Before I leave you, here’s the book I’m using to guide me:

Sam Comfort and Anarchy Apiary queens

So far, so good from Anarchy Apiaries

Sam Comfort and Anarchy Apiary queens

 

The temperatures these past couple of weeks have given those of us in Ohio an opportunity to check on the bees and to feed sugar candy or honey to those colonies running low on stores. I’ve made a wonderful discovery, Reader: By my calculations (which might be off by a smidgen because my record keeping isn’t perfect), every single hive in which I introduced a queen from Anarchy Apiaries is still living. What a joy to open a hive in which a colony is quietly working toward spring.

Colonies with genetics from my own queens…queens that I started from local surviving stock…are still flying as well. Though I’m not ready to produce quantities of queens, Sam Comfort is. So, if your hive died this winter, I suggest you consider replacing your queens mid summer with those from Anarchy Apiaries.

 

bees on honeycomb

Take it Down a Notch

Okay, friends. I’m just gonna post this little WKRC video about the bees at the zoo farm right here. But I cringe when I see it. Because I must have been hyped up on adrenaline when the news people came around. I hate to think I really talk this fast and that I sometimes sound so know-it-ally. I don’t know what it is about the presence of a video camera that makes us act differently. And I don’t know what it is that makes me feel as if I need to have all the right answers when journalists ask their wonderful questions. I prefer humility. I don’t mind self confidence, but I dislike sounding as if I am certain of every single thing.

I’ve decided to speak more slowly. And to take that extra moment to think before I speak. And to smile as I think. All of which should make me a more pleasant person to hang with, don’t you think? Sometimes I miss that slight drawl in the conversations of my native Texans. Because there’s a certain casualness to it. A drawl makes you feel as if not everything is an emergency. And it’s usually drawled out with a slight smile as if to say, everything will be all right.

Made by Hand: The Beekeeper

My friend Heather posted this video on her Facebook page yesterday.

I have two favorite parts:

  1. I like how Megan Paska, the beekeeper in the piece, uses twine to light her smoker. I swear, Reader, keeping that smoker alive is one of my greatest challenges. So, I’ve decided to throw a big ball of twine into my bag to use in my smoker.
  2. I love how she simply slices off a little bit of comb from the bar. I don’t know why it’s never occurred to me to simply harvest a hunk of honey at a time and put it in a clean jar right there on site. I don’t know why I think things have to be so dang complicated.

My least favorite part: the fact that posting the video is so laborious. It’s a pain because it’s not from YouTube. So, I’m just gonna link to it here. Sorry.

 

Telling the Bees

A question arose on one of the forums I read: Do you talk to your bees?

Well, of course I do. I can’t imagine not. After a while, you know, I believe we get to know one another. I already ask them to forgive me for squishing them, to tell me what they’re doing, to move just a little bit so I can put this thing back, to get the heck off my veil, to quit head butting me.

I’m eager for the day when I can simply tell them what’s on my mind…to tell them the events of the day. Well, come to think of it, I guess I already do this. It’s funny…both Deb and I walk back there at least once a day and visit them. I don’t know what Deb says to them, but I see her there.

There’s a long tradition of “telling the bees” when there’s a death in the family. Someone, usually a child, is sent with black cloth to tell the bees of the death. The cloth is then draped over the hives. And, you know, I love this idea. When I die, will someone please tell the bees?

Why Do I Keep Bees?

So. Yesterday I received news that Deb’s Uncle Doyle in Waco, Kentucky has collected tons of honey this year. Over the years he’s kept many hives, but now that he’s older he keeps only one—simply because he loves it…the heat in all that protective clothing keeps him from expanding his little operation again.

Anyway, I was bummed. Which, I quickly admit, is a lousy response to such news. It’s not that I’m bummed for him, I’m bummed for me. I’m envious. Although I have to say that I’m cherishing what little (gorgeous) honey I collected this year, so I guess you could say that I’m appreciative.

When that look of pain crossed my face, Deb asked me a simple quesion: Why is it that you keep bees? Which made me think for a while. It seems this answer should be simple. Or at least clear. And it’s not.

After much silence, I responded that I want a hobby that is both challenging and rewarding.

There. That’s my answer. So I guess I shouldn’t be entirely disappointed if I don’t harvest loads of honey each year…and in the long run, I’m not. I’m grateful that I’m up to my eyeballs in educating myself, in reading about bees, in thinking about bees, in planning ahead for next year, in developing a beekeeping philosophy, in spreading an interest in bees and beekeeping, in watching what blooms with a new eye, in paying closer attention to the weather, in thinking about the long-term consequences of chemicals in our lives, in aesthetics. Oh, Reader, you know I could go on and on.

Ten more reasons I want to keep bees:

  1. It’s not boring
  2. I want to give away honey
  3. I want my friends to learn more about bees
  4. Managing hives intellectually challenges me
  5. Beekeeping is an art
  6. Most of the time, there is no right or wrong way
  7. After all the reading and thinking and talking and experimenting, in the end, I have to go with my gut
  8. Managing hives demands innovation, which is something I  need to practice…I’m not entirely comfortable with it.
  9. I’m going to make some TwoHoneys T-shirts. They’ll be very cool
  10. Want one?

But, honestly, I’m still amazingly disappointed to have such a small crop of honey this year.

On Second Thought

You know, I’ve been thinking. I think I’d better stick with beekeepers who share my newly emerging philosophy of natural beekeeping: chemical-free hives, foundationless frames, small-cell comb, etc.

Then again, if I don’t work with beekeepers who subscribe to other philosophies, how can I hope to spread what I’m learning about natural beekeeping?  I don’t want to come off as an elitist know-it-all. And I’m sure I can learn a lot from experienced beekeepers of all philosophies.

But this fellow I mentioned in an earlier post greeted me by immediately telling me all about the chemicals with which to treat the hives at what time of the year. That’s not at all the way I want to go.  It doesn’t sound like fun. I want keeping bees to be a fun and innovative and creative and aesthetically pleasing lifestyle.