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.

"Quantum physics: 'it is not possible to predict the outcome of any situation. god is the author of nature; nature can be changed.' Ambrose"

Honey-Tongued St. Ambrose and My Easter Ambrosia Salad

Quantum physics: “it is not possible to predict the outcome of any situation. god is the author of nature; nature can be changed.” Ambrose

 

I’ve received a very nice invitation to Easter dinner on Sunday. And I’ve been invited to contribute a fruit salad to the meal. So I’ve been thinking about fruit salads and what makes a good one. I mean, most of them are pretty run-of-the-mill, right, Reader? What on earth can make you excited about a fruit salad?! So you understand my dilemma.

Well, I’ll tell you what can make a special fruit salad…HONEY! And good coconut. And good pecans. And whipped cream. So, my dear Reader, I’ve decided to whip up a wonderfully exuberant Ambrosia. Because Spring is exuberant. And Easter is exuberant. And all the world is exuberant. And the image above is not only exuberant in its colorful Easter-egg-like bees, but embedded in it is a quote from St. Ambrose, the patron saint of bees.

Legend has it that a bee landed on the infant St. Ambrose’s lip; when she flew off, she left a drop of honey on his mouth. When St. Ambrose’s father discovered the honey on his son, he took it as a sign that little Ambrose would grow up to speak gently and smoothly and with a honeyed tongue.

Reader, in this present election season, one in which our attentions have become riveted to hateful speech and vitriol and the power of language to do harm and raise ire, it’s good for us to recall the healing power of speaking gently and with a honeyed tongue. So St. Ambrose is my man this Easter. Therefore, dear Reader, I shall be making Ambrosia, a fruit salad named after our sweet-talking saint—a fruit salad with just a touch of  honey…honey collected from my own bees.

Thanks to Francesca, the young artist who created this very exuberant pastel.

 

 

 

 

The Beauty of Pollination

If You Plant It and It Blooms, They Will Come

My Aunt Chris sent this video my way. She has one of the liveliest backyards ever…full of blooms and wonder. I’ve always loved thinking of her out puttering in her greenhouse and her gardens. It’s a trait shared by my mother, her sister—a trait inherited directly from their father. And although I consider myself late to the party, I can say that this dormant green-thumb obsession has now blossomed in me, too.

In the video, please note that the common denominator in all this wonder is flowers. If you plant it and it blooms, they will come.

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.

Sam Comfort and Anarchy Apiary queens

So far, so good from Anarchy Apiaries

Sam Comfort and Anarchy Apiary queens

 

The temperatures these past couple of weeks have given those of us in Ohio an opportunity to check on the bees and to feed sugar candy or honey to those colonies running low on stores. I’ve made a wonderful discovery, Reader: By my calculations (which might be off by a smidgen because my record keeping isn’t perfect), every single hive in which I introduced a queen from Anarchy Apiaries is still living. What a joy to open a hive in which a colony is quietly working toward spring.

Colonies with genetics from my own queens…queens that I started from local surviving stock…are still flying as well. Though I’m not ready to produce quantities of queens, Sam Comfort is. So, if your hive died this winter, I suggest you consider replacing your queens mid summer with those from Anarchy Apiaries.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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?!

Poetry Sunday: The Girl with Bees in Her Hair

The Girl with Bees in Her Hair

BY ELEANOR WILNER

came in an envelope with no return address;
she was small, wore wrinkled dress of figured
cotton, full from neck to ankles, with a button
of bone at the throat, a collar of torn lace.
She was standing before a monumental house—
on the scale you see in certain English films:
urns, curved drives, stone lions, and an entrance far
too vast for any home. She was not of that place,
for she had a foreign look, and tangled black hair,
and an ikon, heavy and strange, dangling from
an oversized chain around her neck, that looked
as if some tall adult had taken it from his,
and hung it there as a charm to keep her safe
from a world of infinite harm that soon
would take him far from her, and leave her
standing, as she stood now—barefoot, gazing
without expression into distance, away
from the grandeur of that house, its gravel
walk and sculpted gardens. She carried a basket
full of flames, but whether fire or flowers
with crimson petals shading toward a central gold,
was hard to say—though certainly, it burned,
and the light within it had nowhere else
to go, and so fed on itself, intensified its red
and burning glow, the only color in the scene.
The rest was done in grays, light and shadow
as they played along her dress, across her face,
and through her midnight hair, lively with bees.
At first they seemed just errant bits of shade,
until the humming grew too loud to be denied
as the bees flew in and out, as if choreographed
in a country dance between the fields of sun
and the black tangle of her hair.
Without warning
a window on one of the upper floors flew open—
wind had caught the casement, a silken length
of curtain filled like a billowing sail—the bees
began to stream out from her hair, straight
to the single opening in the high façade. Inside,
a moment later—the sound of screams.

The girl—who had through all of this seemed
unconcerned and blank—all at once looked up.
She shook her head, her mane of hair freed
of its burden of bees, and walked away,
out of the picture frame, far beyond
the confines of the envelope that brought her
image here—here, where the days grow longer
now, the air begins to warm, dread grows to
fear among us, and the bees swarm.

Long trap-out cone (I plan to shorten this today)

I Worried all Night about the Trap-Out Bees

Two days ago, a woman called me to say she had just witnessed a swarm moving into the roof of her porch. And lately there’s been a discussion among my Beemaster.com forum friends about how easy it is collect a swarm immediately foll0wing its move into a structure, so I decided to give it a try.

Now, let me say right up front, that it’s a LOT easier to capture a swarm BEFORE it moves into a structure. When my friends say it’s easy to trap a swarm, they mean it’s easier than cutting (which is a helluva lot of work and destructive to the home) or trapping an established hive (a process which usually takes 12-16 weeks). No matter what, setting up a trap out is sort of complicated.

So, yesterday I assembled and installed my first swarm trap out. But I think I got a few things wrong, and I need to return today to make it work better.

There are details I won’t add here because the process may bore you…but the theory is this: We want to encourage the bees to easily transition from their porch home and into a hive box. At this point, because they’ve lived in their porch cavity less than 48 hours, the colony has very little invested there…they’ve built very little comb, they have no brood, and they have very little stored honey—all of which means they will more willingly leave it.

So, before setting up the catch box, I spent some time closing off all their other entrance points by stuffing holes in the porch with insulation and calk…for a trap out, it’s important to control the bees’ point of exit and reentry. I designed a cone from #8 hardware cloth that will allow the bees to leave for foraging but will confuse them when they try to reenter. And near their old entry point, I’ve placed a very nice new home (one that some of my bees lived in over the winter…so it smells like bees), complete with open brood (from one of my other hives…the new bees will find the open brood very appealing and will want to take care of it, so they’ll choose to stay) and a few frames of honeycomb (from a recent cut out). I’ve added a few drops of lemongrass oil and swarm lure to make it smell like home.

I placed the lure box near the entrance to the bee’s new porch home, so when they return from foraging and find their old home inaccessible, they can simply wander right into their new digs.

Today I plan to move the lure box closer to their porch entrance (which I’ll have to do by suspending the hive box with ropes), and I plan to shorten the cone so the bees won’t have so far to travel out of it…we want their leaving and their choosing a new home upon their return to be easy.

It stormed all night long, and I could hardly sleep wondering how those bees were doing over there. This stuff is tough on the psyche, but it sure is good for keeping the brain exercised.

Long trap-out cone (I plan to shorten this today)
20120505-065150.jpg
Catch box and the trap-out cone