Sam Comfort harvesting honey

Keeping it Simple Beekeeping

Friends, if you ordered a new queen from me in 2016, Sam Comfort from Anarchy Apiaries is the guy who raised her.  I couldn’t be more pleased his queens. And with Sam…who is a delight.

If you don’t raise your own queens from local surviving stock, and if your bees overwinter some long, cold months, I suggest you get your queens from Sam. Or, if you’re near Cincinnati, contact me. :) I probably have a few of Sam’s queens on hand for you.

But it’s not hard to rear your own queens. You might screw it up initially, but think of what all you’ll learn. And it’s not the end of the world if you don’t immediately succeed…then again, you just might. What fun that would be, yes? And eventually, you will. :)

Cupid the Honey Thief

There Is No Sweetness Without Pain: Happy Valentine’s Day

Albrect Durer's 1514 "Cupid the Honey Thief:" Pen, ink, and watercolor on paper

I love that, no matter what, Cupid WILL NOT let go of the honey here. :) And that’s Cupid’s unflappable mother, Venus, with him. As you can see, the calmer the person, the calmer the bees. It’s a good reminder not to run flailing around when things get tense in the bee yard. Be like Venus, friends. Though I have to say that I can certainly relate to Cupid. Something similar once happened to me. Years ago, I failed to use my smoker when I opened a hive…I thought I could quickly slip in there without notice. And in the midst of some angry bees on my unveiled face, I swatted my eyeglasses into the bushes near the beehives. I still haven’t found them.

I’ll also admit that after I slung my glasses into the woods, I ripped off my shirt and swatted it wildly around my head as I attempted to outrun the bees. It was an ugly event.

I do, however, love the reminder that if bees didn’t sting, it would be like keeping a box full of flies…and what on earth fun is that?!

Dear Reader, no doubt you know by now—now that you are where you are in your life—that there is no sweetness without pain. Happy Valentine’s Day.

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.

Mark Fisher at the Zoo farm

A Beekeeper, a Farmer, and a Man with Big Ideas Walk into a Farm. . .

List some of your favorite things. Go ahead. Here are mine:

  1. Honeybees
  2. Prairie flowers and prairie grasses
  3. Organic vegetable gardens
  4. Farming
  5. Tractors
  6. People who have grand ideas
  7. People who are not fearful of those grand ideas
  8. People who make things happen because they say “If not me, who? If not now, when?”
  9. The Cincinnati Zoo
  10. Grassroots movements
  11. Green Bean Delivery
  12. Etc.

There might possibly be a movement afoot, Reader. There might possibly be an exciting, easy partnership developing. Among people who are the kind of people who simply get along and trust one another and want to work together. For a greater good than if we worked alone.

This movement of like-minded and why-not-us people reminds me of what’s happening in the once-neglected space behind Eli’s BBQ. We’re all sort of squatting together in an urban lot…the gardener, the orchardist, and the beekeeper. And it’s so awesome we can hardly stand it.

This new movement will be organized yet flexible. We’ll think about it. But we’re moving forward as we think. And we’re not squatting. We belong here. It’s all arranged.

Mark Fisher at the Zoo farm

 

Ben, Casey, and Kevin of Green Bean Delivery

 

Prairie flowers

We Need Wild in our Lives

 

Prairie flowers

Reader, as you know by now, wild is better for bees. And when I say “wild,” I mean a wild habitat. Wildness. Wild flowers.

Manicured lawns have absolutely nothing to offer the bees.

Those bees that I keep in neighborhoods with manicured lawns—those lawns sprayed to remove all hint of dandelion and clover and gorgeous weeds—starve. The bees starve because after the trees lose their blooms and leaf out in the spring, nothing remains on which the bees can forage. Summer and autumn and winter become a prolonged dearth.

Those bees living in areas with wild prairie and meadows, those hives that have access to three-season forage, thrive.

I drive through my neighborhood and I see nothing but manicured lawns. I live in a beautiful, affluent neighborhood. One known for its stewardship of green spaces. But I’m coming to realize that my affluent neighbors and I have been neglectful. We’ve neglected the wild. We keep the wild too much at bay. Much to the detriment of our wildlife. And our wild lives. We need our wild lives.

So, this year, Reader, I’m on a bandwagon.

I plan to gather my affluent and influential clients…those who have lawn to spare. Those who hire landscapers to keep their expansive lawns nice and green. Those who can afford to do what I propose. I want us to meet together with representatives of Ohio Prairie Nursery and with our landscapers and with our city council representatives. I want us to begin devoting parts of our lawn to wildness.

Watch us, Reader. We’re gonna transform our lives. And it will be gorgeous.

 

 

Brazee Street Studios: Prairie Flowers and Honeybee Hives

Give Me the Wild Life

Brazee Street Studios: Prairie Flowers and Honeybee Hives

 

Reader, some of my bees are starving while other hives are packed with honey.

The difference is in the wildness. No…not in the wildness of the bees but in the wildness of where they forage.

The starving bees are located in suburbs and on big farms. Two locations which oddly enough actually have one big thing in common…they’re both boring. Boring to death. Sorry to say this.

If you and your neighbors love nice green grass, and if your grass is treated with herbicides and if the lawn-service truck routinely sprays and if you think clover and dandelions reflect that you’re a bad homeowner and if you keep all of your flower beds perfectly groomed and free of weeds, then the bees in your trees are probably starving. Because this is a sickly idea of beautiful. It’s not our fault. We bought into this idea that thin is beautiful. Not only when it comes to our bodies but also when it comes to our lawns and our lives.

I am getting off that stupid train. Hear me.

And those farms that grow one crop…say, soybeans or corn…and it hurts me to say this because I love corn so much…but that single crop is a bee killer. It’s not the crop that’s bad, it’s the singleness of it. Monoculture farming is unbelievably boring.

The bees in my care that are rolling in honey live in wild…and I mean WILD places. Some of these wild places were intentionally planted. Some of these wild places are intentionally managed to keep them natural. But some of these wild places are completely accidental.

Frankly, Reader, I think I’m about to go off the deep end into this wildness.

The bees doing best live near and forage in

  • Community gardens. These gardens are diverse and wonderfully wonderfully wonderful and there are weeds and wild flowers growing between bed and at the margins of the gardens. There is a thrilling energy in community gardens, and THIS IS WONDERFUL FOR BEES! Also, Reader, bees are wonderful for the gardens. This is the miracle of it.
  • County parks. These parks (such as California Woods Nature Preserve) have trails and managed meadows filled with wildflowers, and the bees revel in those meadows. REVEL! The meadows receive full sun and are unmown havens in which natural prairie flowers grow all season long. And the bees in these parks go like gangbusters. Thank God for spaces in which good park systems (such as the Hamilton County Parks) thoughtfully steward the land in their care.
  • Downtown. Because downtown is a wonderful mix…including some wild areas along the margins. People who live downtown don’t have grassy lawns and they don’t hire lawn services. People who live downtown have wild garden spaces. And vacant lots. In which community gardens sometimes pop up under the wonderful stewardship of people (such as Catherine Comello Stehlin) who care.
  • Urban neighborhoods. Take Oakley (near downtown Cincinnati), for example. Because some people such as Sandy Gross and John Hutton and their creative friends know that it’s best not to mow. So they plant wild prairie flowers and plan Monarch way stations. And they care how it looks, so it’s planned to be gorgeous and wild and save money and save the environment and save the bees and the butterflies. And it’s drop-dead gorgeous wherever these people are, so we should all do what they do. I plan to follow their examples.
  • Go to Brazee Street Studios…to the parking area behind the studios (on Enyart Street) and take a look. THAT, my friend, is beauty.

Reader, I am the steward of a one-acre yard. In a nice suburb. And it is almost all mown. And the bees that share this yard with me are begging me to change it. And I’ve learned to listen to both the bees and my gut…so I intend to allow some wildness into my yard and thus into my life. The bees in my care here are whispering to me that I’ve grown dull. And that it’s high time I strike out into something unpredictable.

 

 

 

 

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.

"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.