Poetry Sunday: The River of Bees

The River of Bees

BY W.S. MERWIN

In a dream I returned to the river of bees
Five orange trees by the bridge and
Beside two mills my house
Into whose courtyard a blindman followed
The goats and stood singing
Of what was older

Soon it will be fifteen years

He was old he will have fallen into his eyes

I took my eyes

A long way to the calendars

Room after room asking how shall I live

One of the ends is made of streets
One man processions carry through it
Empty bottles their
Image of hope
It was offered to me by name

Once once and once
In the same city I was born
Asking what shall I say

He will have fallen into his mouth
Men think they are better than grass

I return to his voice rising like a forkful of hay

He was old he is not real nothing is real
Nor the noise of death drawing water

We are the echo of the future

On the door it says what to do to survive
But we were not born to survive
Only to live

 

 

To Do 11/10/2011

I do not have the knack for working ahead of the weather. I’m always already late.

You see, Reader, I’m the kind of person who reacts to my surroundings. Some people (like my mother) have already purchased and wrapped their Christmas gifts. Is it any wonder I’ve got a bit of a complex?! Bees, too, act in preparation for what lies 3 months ahead. I’m always so surprised that it’s already 3 months later.

Here’s a list of things I need to do pronto:

  1. add the shim atop all hives
  2. continue to feed but also add granulated sugar
  3. place Styrofoam on both the top and bottom of the hives
Things to do to prepare for spring:
  1. organize my disorganized basement
  2. order woodenware for the additional hives
  3. hammer and nail and staple all that the equipment together all alone in my basement until my hands fall off
  4. (really, the above is sort of therapeutic for me)
  5. find a couple of out yards that can handle 20 hives each

Preparing the Hives for Winter

Reader, I thought you might like to see how I plan to winterize my hives. I’m probably a week or two late with these preparations—it’s already getting chilly, and I want to give the bees time to propolize the shim so cold air doesn’t come blowing in, but there’s the plan:

This is the top hive box (it’s a medium-depth, 8-frame hive body):

Hive box

I built shims from scrap lumber to fit atop each hive. The shims are 2″ tall which allows me an extra 2″ on top of the hive in which I can place dry sugar. I’ll spread newspaper on top of the frames. Then, I’ll pour dry sugar (to which I’ll spray water so it lumps together…the bees don’t love the little granulations). If the bees eat through their stores and the sugar, I’ll add cakes of bee candy in the spring, and the 2″ gives me ample room for that. Also, the two extra inches on top of the hive isn’t difficult for the bees to heat.

Top hive body with 2" shim

Next goes the lid. On the bottom of this migratory cover (you can buy these 8-frame, reversible, migratory covers from Rossman Apiaries), I glued thin shims I find at the hardware store (I go through a LOT of these cedar shim slivers. I use them for everything!)…this lifts the lid ever so slightly and gives the bees their upper entrance. An upper entrance helps moisture escape from the hive in the winter…which reduces condensation on the lid…condensation that then drips drips drips on the cluster of bees and freezes them. Got it?

Top hive body with shim and upper entrance

I found packages of Styrofoam sheets in the insulation aisle of Home Depot, and I cut the sheets to fit the lids. Yes, I hate to contribute more Styrofoam to the world. But the bees want a bit of top insulation (so long as there’s also a way for them to release the moisture that results). These do the job and are weather resistant. I intend to use them for years and years. Forgive me.

Top hive body with shim, upper entrance, and Styrofoam

And, finally, the rock that keeps it all in place. You gotta love the rock: It resolutely stands there in every weather and does its quiet job.

Top hive body, shim, upper entrance, Styrofoam, rock

 

Honeybees as Housemates

I receive a lot of calls for bee removals at this time of year.

This is a lousy time of year to remove honeybees, and, believe me, it’s a tough challenge to encourage homeowners to live throughout the winter with their hive of bees as housemates.

Asking some people to live with their honeybees is sort of like asking them to live with their cancer for a little while longer (yes, I know this analogy falls short because cancer is serious business and honeybees are simply a nuisance, but go with me on this one).

Usually, the bees have been living undetected in the home for some time. So, it’s not as if this is something that needs to be addressed immediately. For some reason, however, simply KNOWING about the bees’ presence seems to instill a sense of urgency in their removal.

However, if we can keep our wits about us, we will make better decisions…decisions based on information and made with a cool head.

In just a few weeks, the honeybees in Ohio will cluster. They’ll be quiet. They’ll stop flying around the doorframe or the windowsill or from the attic where they’ve previously been so active. They will simply live out their winter in a quiet ball of sweet humming. Over the winter, the population of the hive will slowly decrease. And that great store of honey they’ve collected all summer will dwindle as the colony slowly consumes it.

If we were to remove the bees right now, the bees could not survive—removals are hard on the bees, and they need some nurturing from their beekeeper to recover from it…and this late in the season, they don’t have time to reestablish themselves before winter hits. So, even though we can rid the house of bees, we would lose the bees entirely. And my priority is to establish a viable hive from whatever bees I remove.

If I can convince the homeowner to wait until late March (or after) to part company with their bees, we would find three things beneficial to a successful removal:

  1. There are far fewer bees to remove because the hive population dwindles over the winter (this also translates into less expense for the homeowner).
  2. There is far less honey to deal with because the colony eats through the stored honey over the winter. Therefore, there’s far less mess to clean up from the space in which the colony overwintered (this also translates into less expense for the removal). It also means far less honey remains behind to draw ants, mice, and other pests which the homeowner surely wants to avoid.
  3. Most importantly, if we remove the bees and all their honeycomb in the spring, the hive stands every chance to recover and thrive and pollinate and produce local honey (a portion of which is usually gifted back to the homeowner). In the spring, we would expect a healthy, vibrant hive to carry on once it’s re-hived and re-established in a bee yard where it can forage and flourish. Doesn’t that make you happy, Reader?
I sort of like the thought of overwintering a hive of humming honeybees in the warm walls of my home—a dog, a cat, some mice, a few spiders, and a hive of honeybees. It all adds heart.

 

 

 

Smoke Bomb

Cardboard "Smoker Bombs"

I know, I know. I’d planned to visit with you about the “colony vs. hive” nomenclature challenge when it comes to writing about the bees.

But I’d rather tell you about smoke bombs instead.

Smoke Bomb

Keeping bees is challenging…which is probably why I’m so hooked. One constant challenge is keeping the dang smoker lit. Funny, this summer at the Zia Queenbee workshop, ten rather-experienced beekeepers all hauled our smokers and our veils to New Mexico to learn how to rear queen bees. It shocked me that each of us wrestled with our smokers. Of the ten smokers present, only one or two kept a good smoke going the one or two hours of our work in the hives.

Simon, my friend and one of my bee stewards, has convinced me that cardboard makes great smoker fuel. Then, I saw a video of a guy who uses rolled-up corrogated cardboard in his smoker…loading one of these bombs into the smoker feels good. It also provides for a slow, cool burn.

So, I began to roll what I call “smoke bombs” from cardboard boxes. I roll the cardboard tightly, making sure the corrugation runs up and down in the smoker so air can flow from the bottom to the top and out the smoker spout. I tie them off with string, or I wrap them with masking tape so they hold their shape, and I keep a collection of them in a bag with my bee stuff (some of them find their way under the seat of my car or other surprising places). So far, I can report that they burn better than anything else I’ve found. They’re lightweight, they keep forever, they’re completely portable, and it’s a good way to recycle.

UPDATE: If you wait until your bomb is smoking a bit, then pack some burlap around it, you’ll get a TERRIFIC smoke that lasts a very long time. Bingo.

P.S. I now use a propane torch I bought at Home Depot to light my bomb. These days, my smoke starts fast, lasts a long time, and doesn’t poop out.

 

 

 

Poetry Sunday: Everyone Is Afraid of Something

Everyone Is Afraid of Something

BY DANNYE ROMINE POWELL

Once I was afraid of ghosts, of the dark,
of climbing down from the highest
limb of the backyard oak. Now I’m afraid

my son will die alone in his apartment.
I’m afraid when I break down the door,
I’ll find him among the empties—bloated,
discolored, his face a stranger’s face.

My granddaughter is afraid of blood
and spider webs and of messing up.
Also bees. Especially bees. Everyone,
she says, is afraid of something.

Another fear of mine: that it will fall to me
to tell this child her father is dead.

Perhaps I should begin today stringing
her a necklace of bees. When they sting
and welts quilt her face, when her lips
whiten and swell, I’ll take her
by the shoulders. Child, listen to me.
One day, you’ll see. These stings
Are nothing. Nothing at all.

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.

Diagram of How to Remove Bees from a Tree or a Structure

Reasons to Let the Bee Tree Be

Good morning, Reader. Amazing that a week can fly by as this one has.

Today I go to look at the bees in the tree. However, I’ve decided not to attempt removing them…unless I can convince the guy who owns it to cut the tree down. He says it’s pretty much dead anyway, and without access to the comb and queen and eggs and larvae, there’s little reason for me to attempt to collect the bees. Why? Well, all I would have at the end of the process is a single generation of bees.

Without the queen I have no egg layer, so the hive can’t propagate. Even if I couldn’t get to the queen for some reason, I’d like to get my hands on the comb because the comb contains all the eggs and larvae with which the bees could raise a new queen. But without access to the eggs or larvae (which is all in the comb, which is all inaccessible in the tree), the other bees have nothing with which to make a new queen, and they will all die out in a couple of months.

I could use the single generation of bees if I needed workers to beef up one of my already-existing weak colonies (and I don’t have any weak colonies…small, yes…weak, no), but in this current dearth there’s nothing for worker bees to do…no foraging, no comb building, etc. They’re all washboarding on the hives right now, and they only washboard when there’s no work to do. Additional workers would simply suck up the nectar and the honey from the hive, and I need that for the bees already living there.

So, if my goal is to build up a weak colony of my own, then collecting the bees from the tree works fine. But I don’t want to do that at this time of year.

All this thinking is good exercise.

Here’s a picture from The ABC and XYZ of Bee Culture. If I wanted to collect only the bees and not the queen or the comb or the eggs or the larvae from either a tree or a structure, this is how I’d rig it up.

Diagram of How to Remove Bees from a Tree or a Structure