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.

 

 

 

 

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.

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Justin Dunham at the entrance to the beeyard

 

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
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.