Justin Dunham prepares California Woods Nature Preserve for bees

The Wild Is Far, Far, Far More Beautiful

The new bees arrive next Saturday, Reader. And, boy oh boy, am I ready.

I spent some time at the farm this weekend—where the dandelions are a little bit ahead of the dandelions at home…and bees were visiting most of the low, yellow flowers there.

So, Reader, if you’re still into plucking each pretty dandelion from your yard, let’s revisit that idea, okay? I feel sooo much better not fighting it…I love my yard so much more now that what I think of as “beautiful” has shifted.

The lawn company visited my neighbors’ rather dull yards this past week in a misguided effort to eradicate everything but green grass—no dandelions, no clover, no pretty blue or white or purple weeds. Sad, sad, sad. Their sickly yards are so boring when compared to mine.

To me, a yard is beautiful only if it welcomes sweet honeybees and butterflies and frogs and snakes and bats. And all the other wildlife that makes our lives so textured.

One place that has remained wonderfully and mindfully wild is California Woods Nature Preserve, future home to four or five honeybee hives.

And this is Justin Dunham whose Eagle Scout project reintroduces honeybees to the California Woods bee yard (Justin has grown about a foot taller since I first met him).

Last week, Justin oversaw the clearing of the path to the bee yard so it will accommodate my bee truck. He and his troop and their leaders also cleared the overgrown space around the hive site. And yesterday they placed the hive bodies. Next week, BEES return to California Woods Nature Preserve. So when you’re hiking through the woods there, Reader, hike over to the bee yard in the meadow and applaud Justin’s work.

Justin Dunham at the entrance to the beeyard


Justin Dunham in the Meadow at California Woods Nature Preserve

You Gotta Love a Future Eagle Scout

Justin Dunham in the Meadow at California Woods Nature Preserve

Reader, it’s time for you to meet Justin Dunham. Justin is a young man determined to reintroduce honeybees to California Woods Nature Preserve. But to get started, he’s had to sort of corral me…in a season that’s made me almost uncorralable (yes, I may be inventing words here, but it works). And Justin has very politely and diplomatically and doggedly pursued me, pinned me down, won me over.

Justin is a boy scout who is plotting to reintroduce honeybees to the nature preserve as a part of his Eagle-Scout project. I mean seriously, I love Eagle Scouts. I know a few, and I like each of them a whole lot.

Apparently, California Woods Nature Preserve once had a small beeyard, but because of budget cuts, the staff could no longer afford to manage the bees there, and the beeyard fell away with the money. When Justin visited with the nature-preserve staff and explained his idea to them, they explained back that although he was welcome to put bees in the old beeyard, there would be no one available to manage them…the staff probably thought this would be a real obstacle for Justin, but, as I told you earlier, he’s a determined young man. I think Justin spells “obstacle” C-H-A-L-L-E-N-G-E.

Justin discovered this TwoHoneys website, where he learned that I manage honeybees placed in various properties around Cincinnati and Kentucky. A little light bulb lit in him. Justin figured this was part of his solution…he would orchestrate the various players—the bees, the staff at the nature preserve, and me. So he contacted me. I hate to say that I didn’t respond to his first email. I wanted to, but things were flying apart around me at the time, and I put it off. Justin was not deterred. He contacted me again. He got my phone number and he called me. He called me again. Justin has a steady and even voice. He knows what he wants to say when he says it. You can hear him thinking before he speaks. And I like that a lot in a young man. He very respectfully and yet persistently contacted me until I responded to him. Then, he then kept me on track with our conversations and with setting dates for our meeting at the nature preserve.

We met for the first time amid a fury of mosquitos yesterday. Justin wore one of his scout uniforms, and I like that. A lot. Justin’s dad, Jeff, drove him to the nature preserve and walked the trail to the beeyard with us, where we all discussed the promises and the challenges of Justin’s project. Justin carried a notebook with him. He took notes.

Reader, this is your introduction-to-Justin post. I have a feeling you’ll be getting to know Justin pretty well over the next years. He has four years to complete this project…which, I’ll have you know, involves more than simply putting a few beehives in an open field and turning them over to my care. But I’ll let you wonder more about it…I’m not gonna spill all the beans right here.


The Over-the-Rhine Fire-Escape Bees


Catherine was NOT to be discouraged from keeping bees. The fact that she lives downtown in Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine neighborhood and lacks anything resembling a yard didn’t discourage her. The fact that she made her decision late in the season and then had to cobble together her hive and her bees from Nicola and me didn’t discourage her. She pursued us and would not be deterred.

That she had to drive her car with this box full of bees and then haul the hive and the bees up the stairs and out the window and then anchor it to the fire escape to keep the wind from toppling it didn’t seem to faze her.

And I like that about a person. A lot.

Nice work, Catherine. Your bees got a good keeper.

The beehives at Brazee Street Studios

Brazee Bees…and All the Wonderful Artists

The beehives at Brazee Street Studios

Did you know, Reader, that we’ve placed a couple of top-bar hives at Brazee Street Studios? Yes. We placed them in a nice spot, took this picture, and then when our backs were turned, the wind toppled them. Thank goodness there were no bees in them yet (the bees arrive in a couple of days).

So, I went out there yesterday and strapped the hives to the ground using stakes and a network of bright red bungee cords. It’s a temporary solution that works just fine, though the sight of bungee cords is never a sight I’m crazy about…and, let me tell you, artists are way pickier about aesthetics than I. I mean, I like a thing to look good, but I think my idea of looking good may not be up to snuff for some.

For instance, as we contemplated hive location, Sandy Gross, the wonderful owner and energy of Brazee Street Studios, had an idea of how the hives would sit. She simply began moving the hives to fit her mind’s eye. I didn’t see it, but she sees it, you know. When you see that someone sees it, you go with it. And there you go.

As a final touch, Sandy placed a heavy white stone on a hive to keep the lid from blowing off. But when she headed off to find even more heavy stones, I called out that I thought one stone would do the trick. To which she matter-of-factly replied that she prefers things in threes. :)

So, you see, Reader, it’s not only a matter of what will do the trick…it’s also a matter of how a thing feels to the eye. If it’s not right to the eye, it’s simply not right. So now there are three large white rocks atop each hive.

I totally get all of that, and I’m happy that these hives are assuming the character of Brazee Street Studios. And, let me tell you, it doesn’t take a Vincent Van Gogh to know that red bungee cords are not a good fit out there.

(I’ll have an update on the Brazee beehive solution in tomorrow’s post.)



Next Week: Welding!

We’ve placed an order for ten feet of 1″ steel tubing. From the steel place. Awesome. Why, you ask? So I can weld a chair creation. Yes, that’s what I said: So I can weld a chair creation.

My man Chris is not really a welder, although he certainly welds. I found him through a friend who said Chris can do anything I need. He builds custom motorcycles. In other words, Reader, he fiddles outside the box. He doesn’t follow the rules (You need to go there and SEE the motorcycles in that shop!). That’s why his business has the word “Chopper” in it.

Cinn City Choppers

So, he looked over the rusted-beyond-description chairs I hauled over there, and when I asked if we could weld them back together, he shook his head. But when he realized that I thought his shake of the head meant we had to send the chairs to the recycling place, he shook his head again. He said we’re gonna use the rusted chairs for practice and for parts.

We? Practice? Yes…Chris is gonna teach me to weld, and I’m gonna practice on these chairs.

Parts? Yes…we’re gonna put these chairs back together however the hell we want to…we’re gonna make custom chairs. From steel. Steel that I personally weld and drill and bend.

I don’t know why Chris wants to do this. I keep asking him that. I ask him if he’ll be sorry he offered to get into this stuff with me, and he repeatedly says, No. He says it’s a nice distraction from his usual work. We like one another, you know. I mean, I always instinctively hug him as if he’s one of my dearest friends, and vice versa. We brighten up when we see one another. I liked him from the get-go. It’s just one of those things.

Chris is a perfectionist. He’s already critical of a nick I made in the steel when I got sloppy cutting a bolt loose (I get impatient). He says not in his shop. In his shop, we do it right.

He’s clearing out a corner of his shop for Liz’s Chairs. He’s gonna teach me to TIG weld. And bend steel. And think creatively about metal things.

My Trusty Welding Fella

I have now encountered my first completely and disintigratingly rusted steel tube. It’s a crucial tube on a chair that Deb likes a lot. That’s the killer part. I began disassembling it yesterday so she could soon sit in a metal chair of her own that she enjoys, and then this tube simply turned to dust in my hand.

The question: Can my trusty welding fella fix it?

The second question: Is it worth my paying my trusty welding fella to do it? Because this is not a simple fix.

So, this is my guy. He owns Cinn City Choppers—a very dark and cool back-alleyish motorcycle service and body shop. It’s a seriously dark and cool and hidden place. But Chris is very nice and personable, and we get along famously. (I don’t know if I should put his full name in this blog or not…I don’t know if he wants the publicity. I’ll ask him when I see him next…which should be tomorrow when I haul a couple of these steel-tube problems to him).

At Chris’s feet in this image is the chair I found in a wet and crumpled heap in a woman’s backyard. This chair is now beautifully welded back together (NO KIDDING…the welding work in spectacular. I was astonished by it) so that it stands on its own. I’ve sanded all the rust and flaky paint from it, and it’s sweet and clean and waiting for a nice day in which I can paint.


Metal lawn chairs

The Mushrooming Metal-Chair Collection

Reclaimed metal lawn chairs

With the bees all warmly and happily tucked away for the winter, I’ve been up to this, Reader.

Yes, I’m on a metal-chair buying binge (should I hyphenate all three words? “Metal-chair-buying binge?” I don’t know). I brought another six beauties home in a rented cargo van yesterday.

Eighteen (18!) metal lawn chairs now hang from hooks in our basement. I can’t stop myself. I remain simply delighted by each and every one of them.

Before the weather turned too cold to paint outside, I sanded and prepped and painted my first two chairs…I transformed them. They’re now shiny Ford Red. Their hardware is new and smooth. They’re gorgeous. I love them because they sit so comfortably, and you can still feel the patina in the seat and on the armrests when you settle into them.

I’ve prepped two more chairs for painting. And when I say “prepped,” I mean:

  1. Remove every single bolt and screw (excuse me, but this is a lot of work! It requires grinding rusted bolts to smithereens. You should see the sparks fly.)
  2. Completely dismantle each piece
  3. Send broken parts to my new welder. Who is awesome. I’ll introduce you to him in another post
  4. Sand the flaky paint off
  5. Using an angle grinder with a steel-brush attachment, remove the rust
  6. Wash with soap and water
  7. Set aside for a nice day in which to paint

But I soon realized that I would very quickly bore of spray painting each chair all glossy and clean. I’ve decided to sand my next chair to remove the rust and expose the layers of paint history…then, to protect the exposed metal from the elements, I’ll simply lacquer it. I know you’re dying to see the end results, Reader, but no. Not yet. Not until you can hardly stand it.

Everyone keeps asking me what I plan to do with my crazy collection. I don’t know yet…but if you want an awesome chair created by me, contact me. I’m now in the business.