Liz Tilton, Melanie Evans, Carlier Smyth

It’s Fun to Be on WVXU

Liz Tilton, Melanie Evans, Carlier Smyth
Liz Tilton, Melanie Evans, Carlier Smyth in the studio at WVXU

 

Reader, on Monday, November 7th, two of my friends and I spoke about beekeeping on WVXU, Cincinnati’s NPR station. And I have to tell you that someone over at ‘VXU is really good at editing. :) I know a thing or two about editing, and it’s not easy to do smoothly, but someone over there is first rate at it. Because there was one instance when I stumbled around a bit and went on a bit too long, and it’s not in the tape. THANK YOU, editor.

(That’s me on the left in the blue shirt and the round glasses; Melanie Evans of the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden’s Pollen Nation is in the center; and Carlier Smyth of Queen City Bee Co is closest. I love those big headphones and fuzzy mics.)

 

 

 

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.

An Eagle Scout project in the making

Reintroducing Honeybees to California Woods Nature Preserve

Once you start a good thing in motion, it sort of takes off, doesn’t it? I’m thinking of Justin Dunham’s drive for Eagle Scout and his project to reintroduce honeybees to the California Woods Nature Preserve.

To my mind, Justin has shown a great deal of maturity as he’s corralled the resources and coordinated the various entities involved. You know, Reader, it’s not easy to work the red tape…particularly red tape involving state or county or city or other government systems. And especially particularly when coordinating government and private businesses…which is exactly what Justin’s doing in this Eagle Scout project.

Yesterday, Justin coordinated and chaired a meeting of Gia Giammarino, Manager of California Woods Nature Preserve (one of Cincinnati’s City Parks), Justin Dunham (future Eagle Scout and all-around successful person), Justin’s dad (the future beekeeper Jeff Dunham), and me (Queen Bee at TwoHoneys Bee Co). We all sat together at a picnic table in the shade of California Woods and planned the honeybee reintroduction. There’s a lot to consider…I won’t list all of the details of our discussions here…I’ll let Justin’s work simply unfold. But let me say that he’s getting it done. He’s keeping us on track.

Let me also simply say that soon Justin and his scout buddies will be clearing some trails and an overgrown bee yard. He will be making some room…you know these things don’t simply happen. Preparation is involved. And there are literal thorns to battle. And probably poison ivy. There are definitely mosquitos.

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Gia Giammarino and Justin Dunham discuss honeybees
The End

The Bee Tree Adventure: Conclusion (due to Boredom)

Aren’t you getting tired of this? I am. Let’s just cut to the chase. We got the bees home, and the next morning they were crazy busy…and busy loooong before my other bees. The air and the garden and the woods were full of them checking out their new surroundings.

When I went to feed them, they were already festooning like a new swarm. It was delightful to see.

Then we went on vacation.

When we came back, they were less vigorous, though they’d eaten all the sugar water I’d left them.

I fed them again, and though their activity has slowed, there are still new bees orienting out there this afternoon.

I’ll bet they die. Everyone tells me that this rescue was too late in the season for them to have much chance of survival. Which is a major bummer. But we’ll see. I’ll keep you updated.

The End

The End
The End

The Bee Tree Adventure: Part Three

Once we had all the comb out of the tree and banded into frames, though, the bees didn’t want to move into their new boxes with their comb. They clung to the tree trunk or flew around aimlessly. I started to look a little aimless myself. I mean, what the heck do you do now? How do you encourage thousands of bees to go into a box? Dave and Kyle sort of looked to me like, “What now?” And I remember saying to them, “I have no idea. I’ve never done this before, you know.” I like that we were all in this together.

We were looking for the queen, of course, but that’s hilarious. I mean, this was not a very stable environment for spotting the queen…and I’m not so great at spotting the queen, anyway…especially if I’m actually looking for her.  So, we started taking handfuls of bees from the tree and putting them into the box. That’s a very very very very cool feeling—to have that many bees vibrating in the palms of your hands. For some reason, I think of it as a very sweet thing that they trust you. Of course, they didn’t stay where I wanted them, though. They flew around instead. I just kept hoping to plop the queen down in the new hive boxes so I could watch the other bees happily following her in there. Didn’t happen.

Fortunately, Dave remembered that we had his neighbor’s home-rigged bee vacuum with us, and Dave had brought a generator with him so we could use the vac in the field. I was so relieved that we had a next-step plan.

Dave started vacuuming bees from the log…the vacuum gently sucks up the bees and then deposits them in a special box built by his neighbor. After only a couple of minutes, we began to see some different behavior from the bees.

It was almost unbelievable…I’m like, “Are those bees all trying to get in the box?”

Suddenly those bees we hadn’t yet vacuumed were going from the log to the box and trying to crawl into a little hole on the side. And, I swear, they started pointing to the hole and fanning their wings as if to say, “She’s in here! Go in here! This is our new home!”

We have no pictures of this. Deb had left us already, and I haven’t yet received a video from Dave including this part. But it happened.

Bee tree cut at the base of the bee nest

The Bee Tree Adventure: Part Two

Sorry to have left you hanging there, Reader. I went on a little vacation into the north woods. You can thank me for bringing all this nice weather home.

So, Dave and Kyle strung some rope to give tension and guide the tree as it fell; then Dave cut a notch from the tree trunk. As he did his opposite-side cut, the tree fell perfectly into the field.

David Shaw cuts the bee tree
David Shaw cuts the bee tree
Bee tree cut at the base of the bee nest
Bee tree cut at the base of the bee nest

Fortunately, we guessed correctly and cut the tree just at the base of the nest (funny…I say “we.” I don’t think I had a thing to do with this decision). Then, Dave and Kyle used their truck to pull the downed tree out into the open field where we could work. Before we got to the bees, though, the guys cut and hauled away the rest of the tree. That gave us plenty of clear room in which to work. Next, Dave and Kyle cut away at the tree trunk (and hauled away the pieces) until we exposed the top of the nest. So, all we were left with in the field was the section of trunk containing the bees.

At first, the bees were calm, but soon they began to pour from the tree…they weren’t flying so much as they were simply coating the interior and the exterior of the exposed log.

Bees leave the hive
Bees leave the hive
Bees leave the hive
Bees leave the hive

Deb was using my camera to snap these shots, but she didn’t have a bit of gear on other than my hat, so she didn’t feel comfortable getting too close at this point…which means we have no pictures of the comb as we cut it and placed it into frames. I think Dave is making a video (see the helmet cam he’s rigged up?), and I think that’ll show things up close. We’re just waiting for him to figure out how to use his new editing software.

We filled 15 medium frames with comb containing larvae and capped brood…there was absolutely zero honey…my theory is that when we first began cutting into the tree, the bees engorged themselves with whatever honey was stored in their comb. This is their behavior when they sense trouble or before they swarm—they immediately begin preparations for having to leave their hive behind, which means filling up with food enough to get them settled into a new home.

We used rubber bands to secure the comb into the frames. But once all the frames were in their new hive boxes, the bees didn’t want to follow them. Instead, the bees absolutely coated the inside and the outside of the open log. And once the comb had been removed from their home, they began to fill the air.

Here’s Dave’s first video:

David Shaw and Kyle

The Bee Tree Adventure: Part One

Where on earth to begin with this one? Seriously…I’m sitting here wondering how to tell you about the day yesterday.

We now have a new colony of bees in the TwoHoneys apiary: We call it August Boatwright, after the Queen Latifah character in the Secret Life of Bees. It is August, after all, right? And all these hives are named for strong women…Amazons, Tomboys, Girls of Summer, and now…August Boatwright.(We still haven’t officially named the split hive…I don’t know why I’ve hesitated at that one, but I have.)

Okay, I think I’ll tell you about the bee tree in stages…how would that work? That way, you won’t get bored and you’ll come back here for your update for a few days. Good idea. That’s what we’ll do.

So, Dave and Kyle met me at the tree at about 8:30 AM.

David Shaw and Kyle
David Shaw and Kyle

Then, just as we were beginning to trim the tree back in order to cut it down, the landowner roared up in his pick-up truck and threw a fit. Apparently there had been a bit of miscommunication between him and the folks who hired us to do this job…and I must say that being the neighbor of a big company with a big building would certainly come with big challenges. However, in the end, the guy was a pussycat. His anger soon subsided, and we worked out a little plan for proceeding. We even worked out the possibility of keeping some hives on his farm. See what a pussycat?

Pussycat
Pussycat

He enjoyed us so much that he came back later and brought his buddy, and they watched us work for a while.

Pussycat 1 and Pussycat 2
Pussycat 1 and Pussycat 2

Dotting the I's and Crossing the T's

We’re sort of waiting in limbo here about removing the bees from their tree.

Our wonderful arborist, David Shaw (whom I adore), is busy securing permission to access the tree via property owned by whoever owns the big field next to the tree. We’ll need to access the tree via this big field; and then, the tree needs to fall into the field, and then we’ll need to work on the tree in the field…we’re just not yet entirely sure who owns the all-important field, and we’re not sure we’ll get their permission to drive all that equipment in there. So, we’re on hold.

Dave-the-arborist emailed me yesterday to say that he’s already borrowed a bee suit from his beekeeping neighbor…and, to top it off, his neighbor also lent Dave a bee vac—it’s like a shop vac but with less power…so it’s more gentle…it vaccuums the bees out of tight spaces without killing them. Well, sure, some of them die, but it’s designed to be less traumatic on the bees, and it’s a real score for us.

However, I’m pretty sure the bee-tree adventure may not occur as we had hoped tomorrow. It all sort of depends on securing permission to run a few trucks through someone else’s property…we can’t just go in there as if we own the place.

Oh, but I ordered and finally received that awesome-looking bee suit from Golden Bee. It’s got that zippered-on veil and hood combo so bees can’t visit me inside my veil; and though it’s a still a little blindingly white…like new tennis shoes…I have to say I look pretty great in it.