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The Cincinnati Zoo “Pollinator Garden Challenge”

Friends, I’ve just been outside planning a spot for another apiary, and THE WEATHER IS DOWNRIGHT SPRINGLIKE OUT THERE! Packaged bees arrive in Cincinnati on Easter Sunday morning, April 21, 2019….if you need a package, contact me.

But planning the site and ordering the packaged bees are only the first steps…once the bees arrive, they have to eat. And build honeycomb. And raise brood. And that takes nectar. Which comes from blooming plants. And that’s where the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Gardens comes into play right now.

The CZBG has begun a Pollinator Garden Challenge, and I implore you to register your garden on their website. I registered mine a few weeks ago, and then I received their very nice little garden sign in the mail. The sign indicates to my neighbors, any visitors to my yard, or all the Sunday-afternoon drive takers who cruise down my street that the glorious flowers they’re seeing are recognized by the Zoo as a pollinator garden.

If you don’t already have pollinator-supporting flowers or bushes or trees planted in your yard, you can start right now, right here.  Then register your garden and let the Zoo know you’ve become a part of Cincinnati’s garden solution.

 

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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.

Friends, expect to see more log hives this season. :)

Because it’s April, and because we have both snow and bees…a poem

Because it’s April, and because those of us in Cincinnati have experienced both snow and bees in the same breath this week, let’s break for a poem. And this is a good time to remind you of two things: 1) some poems are dark…because it snows in April; 2) expect to see more skeps and log hives this season. Neither of which are exactly legal hives in Ohio. Which is also dark.

*glowering all around*

Friends, expect to see more log hives this season. :)
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.

A comb dripping honey

The Risen Jesus Ate a Hunk of Honeycomb and Was Happy

A soon-to-be-eaten comb of dripping honey

 

Reader, today is Easter, the day on which Christians celebrate the risen Christ. Today is also the day on which I will be making my soon-to-be-famous Ambrosia fruit salad to take to the Easter dinner. I shall provide images later.

But here’s what I want to tell you, and it has something to do with Easter. First, I should let you know that I was reared a very good Southern Baptist. My family was in Sunday School and church almost every Sunday. Which means I know my Bible and its stories quite well. Full disclosure: I have since moved on from my conservative Southern Baptist upbringing—from a church where the people are wonderful but whose theology excludes me—to a more open, more liberal church, and I don’t always show up on Sundays. I’m relaxing with it all. Which seems much healthier for me.

I tell you all of this because I have just discovered something in the Bible that I didn’t know until this Easter morning, and here it is: The gospel of Luke tells us that after Jesus arose from the dead—as the resurrected human Jesus interacted with his fellows—he ate a hunk of honeycomb.

Jesus appeared to his disciples, and in a move that I love because it shows me that he and I think a lot alike, Jesus asked if they had any food. That’s what I would do. Food is one big thing I love about being human. And what did the disciples offer him? Broiled fish and a hunk of honeycomb.

Now, some versions of the Bible omit the honeycomb. I don’t know why…I might explore that in another post. But a number of versions include the honeycomb. Look it up…Luke 24:42, 43. Look it up online so you have several versions to compare. The Bible says Jesus took what the disciples offered and he ate it. There you go: Christ arose and ate broiled fish and honeycomb.

Which is sort of exactly what the newly emerged bees do. First they eat pollen, which is a source of protein…like the fish…for muscle development; then, to fuel energy to those newly developed muscles, they eat honey. Which is what Jesus did. I know for a fact that he loved the honey in its comb more than the broiled fish. Which might be why the Biblical writers omitted it…perhaps to make Jesus appear all serious. I like to think of Jesus happy, so if I were writing this story, I would have kept the honeycomb.

Praise of the Bees by Barberini Exultet Scroll circa 1087

Bee Season: I Am Ready, and Yet I Am Never Ready. Which Is Thrilling.

Praise of the Bees by Barberini Exultet Scroll circa 1087

 

Dear Reader, it is Easter time, and in Ohio this means the beginning of bee season.

The colonies that successfully overwintered in my bee yards are bursting at the seams. Which suggests to me that swarm season may come earlier than usual this year…I usually expect my first swarm call on Mothers Day. It’s one of the most exciting calls of the year, and all my nerves are alert for it. Which is why I love this “Praise of the Bees” image. Because it is in every way full on glorious bee.

In this image, beekeepers smoke a swarm and cut the branch on which it hangs. This swarm will then become a happy hive in the beekeeper’s yard. Bees fly in the air, and it seems to me that they’re all over the blooming trees and shrubs and flowers. Another beekeeper cuts comb from a suspended long hive, honey runs through a sieve, and his assistant collects the small amount of honey in a jar. (I like that this is a sustainable practice. They are not taking more than the bees can give and not more than the beekeepers can use.)

For several months each year, I’m this busy. I’m deliriously, exhaustedly busy and I’m happy with that. And who wouldn’t be? It’s so freaking exciting.

So, friends, if you happen to find a swarm hanging sweetly in a tree or on a bush or on a lamp post or wherever, please contact me. I’ll be delighted collect it. I might look tired and dirty when I see you, but I will be happy. And I think it will make you happy, too.

"Quantum physics: 'it is not possible to predict the outcome of any situation. god is the author of nature; nature can be changed.' Ambrose"

Honey-Tongued St. Ambrose and My Easter Ambrosia Salad

Quantum physics: “it is not possible to predict the outcome of any situation. god is the author of nature; nature can be changed.” Ambrose

 

I’ve received a very nice invitation to Easter dinner on Sunday. And I’ve been invited to contribute a fruit salad to the meal. So I’ve been thinking about fruit salads and what makes a good one. I mean, most of them are pretty run-of-the-mill, right, Reader? What on earth can make you excited about a fruit salad?! So you understand my dilemma.

Well, I’ll tell you what can make a special fruit salad…HONEY! And good coconut. And good pecans. And whipped cream. So, my dear Reader, I’ve decided to whip up a wonderfully exuberant Ambrosia. Because Spring is exuberant. And Easter is exuberant. And all the world is exuberant. And the image above is not only exuberant in its colorful Easter-egg-like bees, but embedded in it is a quote from St. Ambrose, the patron saint of bees.

Legend has it that a bee landed on the infant St. Ambrose’s lip; when she flew off, she left a drop of honey on his mouth. When St. Ambrose’s father discovered the honey on his son, he took it as a sign that little Ambrose would grow up to speak gently and smoothly and with a honeyed tongue.

Reader, in this present election season, one in which our attentions have become riveted to hateful speech and vitriol and the power of language to do harm and raise ire, it’s good for us to recall the healing power of speaking gently and with a honeyed tongue. So St. Ambrose is my man this Easter. Therefore, dear Reader, I shall be making Ambrosia, a fruit salad named after our sweet-talking saint—a fruit salad with just a touch of  honey…honey collected from my own bees.

Thanks to Francesca, the young artist who created this very exuberant pastel.

 

 

 

 

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:

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.