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.

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You Can’t Squeeze Blood from a Turnip

 

Reader, I cannot tell you how often people want to know how many pounds of honey they’ll get from their hive.

Some folks seem to believe that the sheer fact that there are bees means there will be honey. And lots of it. Which is true only so long as there are flowers.

It’s unfair to expect bees to deliver honey for us if we insist on keeping our dull and boring yards weed free and closely mown. Let it go a little bit. Let our lives rewild.

Here’s the bottom line, my dear Reader: Bees can make honey only only only only if bees have access to flowers. The End. The more flowers, the more honey. And I’m talking about wild, native flowers. NOT KNOCKOUT ROSES. NOT DAYLILIES. Not those fancy flowers you pick up at the garden center. Bees need bonafide native wildflowers. And herbs. And vegetable gardens.

Bees need those wonderfully wild things that grow naturally in fence rows and in acres of fallow fields. And if you don’t have a fence row or a fallow field, then perhaps you can create a little pocket of crazy wildflowers wherever you are. See, bees need A LOT of flowers, and if we all plant a little, that equals A LOT. This is true of everything. Which is completely cool.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Swarm! copy

A swarm is a gift to the world

 

Honeybee swarm

Mother’s Day marks an exciting time for beekeeping in Ohio, Reader—it is now officially swarm season. So, if you’ve discovered a swarm of honeybees hanging in a tree or in a bush or on a lamppost or in some other unexpected place, please please please contact TwoHoneys. If your swarm is at all reachable, we’ll come right over and collect it (and if I can’t personally run right over, I know people who can).

We’ll then take your swarm to one of our bee yards where we’ll introduce it to a nice, dry, comfortable hive box where the bees will immediately begin to set up housekeeping and collecting nectar from our local flora.

In a time of unprecedented bee losses, Reader, the swarm you discover is the sign that something is right in the world. :) A swarm at this time of year indicates that a strong hive near you successfully overwintered in a snug location and has outgrown its space. The swarm you’ve discovered is the sign of a strong hive…I call it a “survivor hive.” And all smart beekeepers want local, survivor hives…these survivor genes are those we hope to propagate in order to develop hardy bees that can withstand Ohio winters and forage on Ohio flora.

A swarm is a gift to the world, Reader. And it has come to you. How wonderful is that?!

Bees with pollen at their hive entrance

Scenes from a Bee Removal

It was a beautiful day for a bee removal, Reader. And because it’s been an long and vicious winter since our last one, I thought it might perk you up to see our happy team at work together on a roof.

Two years ago, the homeowners who hired us watched as a swarm of honeybees moved into their roof through this gap. But because the hive is on the second floor, the bees weren’t a problem until the homeowners built a two-tiered deck. Now the family wants to utilize their second-story deck, and the bees make it difficult for them to relax there.

Bees enter their hive beneath the roof

Terry Evans—who works for Jerry Hof, our brilliant contractor—removed the shingles, the siding, and the chipboard in order to access the hive. Terry worked methodically and thoughtfully to expose the hive without destroying the existing structure. His careful work paid off once the bees were gone and it was time to replace all the parts…the reconstruction took much less time than the deconstruction, and now the space looks as if neither we nor the bees were ever there.

Good teamwork makes the day bright

We flipped the chipboard with much of the empty comb still attached. The comb heavy with honey and brood and bees, however, collapsed into the soft insulation.

You know, Reader, I have to tell you how much I love working with Nicola Mason. She will scamper onto a roof or shinny up the scaffolding. She will dig her arms deep into dark and mysterious bee- and honey-filled cavities. And she does it with such glee and energy that she fills me with glee and energy, too. She is a giver of enthusiasm.

Nicola Mason reveals the hive

Once we’ve exposed the hive and accessed the comb and bees, we begin removing one comb at a time. We determine where each comb should go in its new hive…and we also always always keep a sharp eye out for the queen.

Liz Tilton assess each comb to determine its place in the new hive box

It’s not easy to spot the queen in the chaos of a bee removal, Reader, but we’ve become rather adept at it. On this job, Nicola took responsibility for cutting and removing the bee-laden comb from its original location. After a while, she quietly and matter-of-factly said simply, “I see her.” Then she calmly removed her queen clip from the pocket of her shirt and collected the queen in it.

Capturing the queen guarantees the removal’s success because all the other bees will follow the queen’s pheromones…there is no more chaos or indecision. Wherever she goes, they go.

Shouts of joy were heard throughout the neighborhood

We catch the queen in this clip (which keeps her from flying away) and then attache the clip to a bar with rubber bands. This way, the worker bees will go into the hive where we place the queen.

The queen clip keeps the queen from flying away

You know, sometimes you simply have to stop and look around and wonder how you got to be so lucky—lucky to be high up on scaffolding on a beautiful day with nice people and a hive of honeybees. Especially after you’ve got the queen, and all is well.

Stopping to enjoy the moment

Some bees are reluctant to go into the box…once the queen’s in there, they’ll eventually find their way to her, but we can’t always just sit around and wait for that to happen. Which is why it’s good to have a bee vac on hand. We vacuumed the reluctant bees and reunited them with their sisters when they reached their permanent home.

We vacuumed the last of the bees

Once we vacuumed the stragglers and sprayed the area with bee repellant, we closed the hive and lowered it to the ground for transport to its permanent home.

Steady, boys. Steady.

And after a nice drive in the bed of a gorgeous pickup truck, the Alexandria hive reached her permanent home. The bees are now busy exploring their new neighborhood.

Bees happy at home

 

 

 

 

Poetry Sunday: The Lake Isle of Innisfree

The Lake Isle of Innisfree

BY WILLIAM BUTLER YEATS

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean rows will I have there, a hive for the honey bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements gray,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.

Poetry Sunday: Play in Which Darkness Falls

Play in Which Darkness Falls

BY FRANK STANFORD

Raymond Roussel

Two girls runaway from the Home. They have a revolver
in their possession. The Sisters Of Our Lady have given up
looking for them, returning in the night with soft candles.
The sleek clouds have thrown their riders, and the bees
are returning to the honey, the clover at the edge of the
cliff black as eyelids, damp as blue mussels flexing at the moon.
The girls look in the stolen mirror, then throw their shoes
in the sea. They take off one another’s dress, posing
on the rocks that jut out over the faded water of the last days.
The clover beat down from their splendid feet, the clover
quiet like a vault. Nearby in a ship named for early death,
I drink wine like a city. Anchored far off the continent of love.
Strange, but bees do not die in their own honey, and how the dead
are toted off, how the sweet moons are deposited in the catacombs.
The clover at the edge of the sea like a chemise, place
where animals have lain. They help one another with their hair,
their dresses blowing back to land. They look over the
cliff, spit on the beach. Birds I have never seen going by.

Poetry Sunday: Trust

Trust

BY SUSAN KINSOLVING

Trust that there is a tiger, muscular
Tasmanian, and sly, which has never been
seen and never will be seen by any human
eye. Trust that thirty thousand sword-
fish will never near a ship, that far
from cameras or cars elephant herds live
long elephant lives. Believe that bees
by the billions find unidentified flowers
on unmapped marshes and mountains. Safe
in caves of contentment, bears sleep.
Through vast canyons, horses run while slowly
snakes stretch beyond their skins in the sun.
I must trust all this to be true, though
the few birds at my feeder watch the window
with small flutters of fear, so like my own.

Morning sunlight glistens on the scaffolding

We Are Awesome at Removing and Relocating Honeybees

It’s not often, Reader, that I write about our bee-removal jobs. Why, you ask? Because the bee removals involve homeowners, and I’m not very comfortable writing about people who never intended to end up on a public blog.

But I spend a good deal of time in the company of some cool people as we remove honeybees and beehives from structures, and I am never ever ever bored by it. Often I am unnerved, but I’m never bored. Anyway, in the event you’d forgotten what I do with much of my time, I’m sharing a few photos of yesterday’s job with you.

Yesterday’s job was cool—not because of the size of the hive but because of the height of the nest.

Kudos to Jerry Hof and Co Inc (Jerry performs the contracting on all these bee removals with me) for constructing such a high and stable scaffold, for exposing the nest, and then for repairing the structure, and to Nicola Mason (a brilliant artist, writer, editor, beekeeper and all-around adventurous woman) for scampering effortlessly up and down and up and down and up and down the 40 ft. scaffolding all morning and for removing all the comb from the hive.

Reader, if you’ve discovered honeybees in your house or in some other structure, if you live in the Greater Cincinnati area, and if you want a team that’s not only great at this stuff but also delights in the work and is fun to spend time with, contact me. Not only can we safely remove the live bees and comb and honey and relocate them to one of our beeyards, but we can put your place back together so no one will ever know we were there.

Morning sunlight glistens on the scaffolding

 

Don't look down

 

Three bees flying home
Beautiful comb containing pollen, brood, larvae, and bees

 

Liz, Nicola, and Jerry at work removing honeybees
Good neighbors

Good Beekeepers as Good Neighbors

Good neighbors

Yesterday Nicola and I removed a newly hived swarm of bees from a suburban home (the fact that those removed bees found a new entry point into the same house and may have absconded the on-site hive box only to return to another part of the house is a story for another day. Let me just tell you that I’ll be on site addressing that again this morning).

Here’s what I want to think about today: A man in the neighborhood where I removed yesterday’s bees keeps bees in his backyard. For some reason, I think I heard someone say that he keeps 8 hives. And now all the neighbors are sort of considering this guy the source of the bees-in-the-house problem.

I may have contributed to this blame-the-beekeeper sentiment because when the homeowner told me that the guy right up the street keeps bees, I probably raised my eyebrows as if to say, “Ah-ha. That explains it.” And it may. I mean, bees swarm…and when they swarm in a suburban place with limited trees, I guess they’ll go into the next-best-available empty cavity.

I’m thinking this through because I keep my bees in populated areas, too. I keep about 8-10 hives in my backyard apiary, and though there are hundreds of acres of woods behind my home, there are also hundreds of homes within flying distance of my bee yard. And because my phone has been ringing off the wall with calls from all over the city and all over the state about bees in homes, it’s really on my mind lately.

According to movie “Vanishing of the Bees,” small-scale hobby beekeepers are one of the most hopeful connections in rebuilding the sharply declining honeybee population. So we can’t vilify beekeepers, whose bees pollenate our neighborhood gardens and trees, when bees find a home in a house.

I don’t know the answer to this, which is why I’m writing about it.

And those bees wouldn’t enter a home if there weren’t open, uninsulated cavities waiting there for them to live in. So, I guess it’s just as much the responsibility of homeowners to keep their homes caulked and sealed and insulated against pests.

This post is already way too long. But I leave you, Reader, thinking about neighbors and about the importance of good neighborly relations.

 

 

Bob's top-bar hive

My Team of Bee Experts

Sorry I’ve been so quiet here lately, Reader…it’s been anything but quiet off the blog.

I’ve been practicing my bee-removal skills all over Cincinnati…but these past few days, Nicola—my right-hand bee girl—has been sick as a dog. And the contractors with whom I work are busy with other jobs. Which means I’ve been forced to take a week off from bee removals…which is good for me. It gives me time to clean my car. And to update my books. And to clean my house and cook my dinners. And to visit my own bees.

When the people I work with are unavailable for jobs, it makes me think that I may need to expand my bee-removal team of experts…so if anyone knows a good Cincinnati contractor who’s willing to work among the bees, please let me know. And, though Nicola is my ace, she may not always be available. I mean, she’s got an actual big-time job over at the Cincinnati Review. And she’s a mom. We can’t overuse her for these removals. So, I’m looking for an alternative assistant bee remover. Someone who delights in the unknown (this will balance me…I’m petrified of the unknown, and I resist it. The surprises we find in the removals energize Nicola…and that energy carries us a long long way).

Perhaps I should use the down time this week to build more top-bar hives. Yes! That’s a great idea!

And speaking of top-bar hives…my friend Bob-the-architect has constructed the top-bar hives pictured below. Yesterday, he redesigned the roof on his hive, and I think it’s gorgeous in its elegance. There’s something in its quiet curviness that appeals to me. Bob is brilliant.

And, Reader, these hive boxes are available for purchase. Bob will build it for you…just give us about 3-weeks’ notice because Bob is also a big wig in his real life. Very big. But he’s agreed to build these top-bar hives for you. My top-bar hives are entry level. Bob’s are special…Bob’s have windows and curved roofs…he’ll paint yours for you. Whatever color you want. Or you can paint it.

Want a nice and sturdy and gorgeous and personalized top-bar hive with a window? A top-bar hive built by a very big-time architect with good karma? We’ve got it!

Bob's top-bar hive
Bob's top-bar hive (rear view)