Catherine Comello Stehlin has died. Some people are simply forces of nature, and when they leave us, they leave gaping holes. That’s the way I feel about Catherine, and I didn’t even know her that well. I wish I had. I loved her from the moment I first spoke with her on the phone, and I grew to love her more through several conversations and by watching her spirit-filled life on Facebook. I won’t go on and on, but I am not usually this crazy about people.
They say that when someone important to us dies, we should tell the bees. Which I have done. They need to know about the shifts in our world.
Anyway, several years ago, photojournalist Emily Maxwell spent some time with a few local beekeepers documenting the plight of the bees and urban beekeepers. Emily recorded Catherine’s voice, and I like hearing it. To hear it for yourself, click on this link and then watch the slideshow titled “The Rise of CCD and Urban Beekeeping in Cincinnati.” There, at about the half-way point, you’ll find images of Catherine and her fire-escape bees. And you can hear her voice as she talks about them.
(photo by Emily Maxwell)
I simply love these hives because they’re made from indigenous material and without power tools. I plan to make a few using bamboo and thatch.
I use these top-bar hive tools a lot at this time of year. They’re terrific for reaching deep into the hive to gently detach brace comb the bees have attached to the side walls.
I’ve hammered the curve in the handles flat in order to pry apart those propolized bars.
I think they’re pretty! I like it when a tool is not only functional but is pretty and feels good in the hand.
I’m hand forging these myself, and I have a few for sale…no two alike. If you’d like one for yourself, contact me for images and pricing (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Soon we’ll have the Products section of the website working…which means you won’t need to contact me via email to place your order. It’s a process though, Reader, and right now I’m still deep in bees.
I’m still paying the price for a choice I made in preparation for spring…I thought I’d found a terrific and inexpensive material from which to build this year’s top-bar hives.
I built about 10 hive bodies from rough-cut cedar fencing…the cedar fencing isn’t too expensive, and I love the way it looks and feels. I thought it was perfect for the bees.
Immediately, however, once we all installed our bees in the newly-built hive boxes, we discovered the first problem with the cedar fencing: It’s very light…which makes it good when it comes to handling the hive boxes, but bad when the wind picks up. So, when the winds blew and before the bees had built enough comb to give the hive weight, the hives toppled over. Toppled hives all over town. Not good for bees. Not good for the beekeeper’s psyche, either.
Later in the season, when the bees increased in number and after they’d built comb and stored brood and honey, another problem raised its ugly head: The top board of cedar siding began to bow under the weight of bee life. This creates two unwanted situations:
- It created a gap between the bottom and the top side boards…and the bees quickly begin using this gap as an entrance. And, for reasons I’ll explain in another post, we want the bees to use an entrance at the end of the hive bodies…not in the middle (this relates to the location of honey when the bees cluster over winter…see why I’m not going into it now?!).
- When the sides of the hive bow outward, the bars that rest on the top board slip into the hive.
- Which means the honeycomb rests and melts on the bottom of the hive box.
- Bees never intentionally attach comb at the bottom…they use that space for travel (and other things).
- And when the comb melts to the bottom of the hive, the beekeeper has to rip it apart to remove and inspect it. Not good
Therefore, this situation must be rectified.
I’ve figured out a solution to the problem, but it requires visiting each of the affected hives and, hive by hive, replacing the flimsier cedar siding with more substantial cedar. I’ve learned to perform this operation on the spot (though it does require moving the bees temporarily into another hive body).
At first, I was kicking myself for having to go around and repair all those hive bodies when I thought I had other, more-pressing business to do. But now I simply see it as the price to pay for becoming more aware. It’s also a terrific opportunity to see the bees with my customers and my friends.
And it’s good to do whatever is required to make something right…so people know that if I make a mistake, I’ll fix it.
Reader, it’s harvest time. And let me simply introduce you to two first harvests. I’ll let the images speak for themselves. No more from me about how wonderful this is. No word from me about toasted medallions of french bread spread with butter and warm, fresh, local honey. I don’t want you writhing in envy.
Of course, if you want this experience for yourself, call me. I’ll get you set up.
No, there is absolutely NOTHING wrong with my truck, Reader. Well, one of the many eight fine cylinders isn’t firing. Which is Not a Big Deal, and a mechanic will soon fix it.
But my friend (and architect and fellow beekeeper) Bob LOVES old cars, and he has delighted in my truck. He could hardly hold himself back from digging into it.
We stopped at Bob and Kim’s house and somehow the talk turned to my misfiring 5th cylinder, at which point Bob grabbed a handful of tools and said, “Let’s check it out!”
Of course, once he got into my truck, he needed more than the few tools he brought with him. When this occurs (and it always occurs), my job is to run to the basement and then bring to Bob whatever tool he requires. I think he’s surprised that every time he asks, “Do you have a _______?,” my answer is always, “Yes.”
These sorts of jobs almost always engage whoever is around. Which means that Bob employed his wife, Kim, to Google and research the firing sequences of 1972 Chevy pickup cylinders. She was the one who told us which of the cylinders is the 5th cylinder. She was also the one to fire up the truck.
And, in case you’re wondering, Reader, yes, I also ended up flat on my back in my driveway under my truck and getting my hands quite filthy.
It’s very good to know and be comfortable in the guts of your own truck.
Bob is currently building four top-bar hives that will knock your socks off. If you want one, let me know. Worth every penny of whatever he decides to ask for them.
I’m sort of dreading today’s work. I’ve neglected the two top-bar hives I keep at the Veteran’s Memorial Community Garden in the East End. I let them go it alone for too long, and they’ve built a hive of cross comb. It’s bad.
So, today I’m determined to take my rubber bands and my zip ties and my serrated knife and get things straightened out over there.
To make matters worse, one of the colonies creating severe cross comb is also living in one of the hive bodies that succumbed to a TBH design flaw. Some of the cedar fencing I use for the hive bodies is simply too thin to hold the weight of a hive full of bars loaded with bees and comb and honey. Under tremendous weight, the cedar siding begins to bow. When the siding bows out, the top bars, which usually rest on the edge of the siding, slip down so that the comb squishes onto the bottom of the hive. And in this recent heat, the wax melts on the floor of the hive. None of this is good.
I’m gonna face the music today (because our high temperatures should only reach 80 degrees…which means I can work with the comb without it disintegrating in my hands). I intend to spend hours doing right by the bees that I previously neglected.
Comb by comb, I’ll cut the cross comb from the bars. Then I’ll reattach the straightened comb to its bar using either rubber bands or zip ties. Or both. Then I’ll place the newly reattached comb into a new, improved TBH.
I will reward myself with lunch at Eli’s. :)
I’ll take pictures of it for you. If I remember.
I visited Matt’s hives with him yesterday. He keeps two top-bar hives in his home garden—right there at the center of Columbia Tusculum, Matt tends a wonderful little garden (he’s also very very involved in tending the Columbia Tusculum community garden on Columbia Parkway…just above Starbucks). Fruit trees and vegetables and flowers and bees all live and work their magic there.
Notice that Matt’s hands are bare during this inspection. He usually wears gloves, but he also usually gets stung…and Matt experiences quite a significant local reaction to bee stings! But wearing gloves doesn’t seem to eliminate the stings. So, I encouraged Matt to go at it barehanded. Sometimes I laugh at myself for encouraging behaviors like that.
Many of us find that we’re more dexterous barehanded. Fewer clumsy movements translates into fewer riled-up bees which translates into fewer stings. So, Matt braved it with naked hands. And he got stung. Sorry, Matt. But he gets stung anyway, so I don’t feel too terrible about it. Sorry about that, too, Matt.
Next challenge for Matt: We’ve got to find a hat and veil that look good, that work well, and that fit his minimalist approach to beekeeping. I’m not crazy about his current version. He can save his current hat/veil combo for visitors to his hives…I think I’ve got a good idea for a new hat and veil set up for Matt. He’s gonna look great in it. Trust me.