It Isn’t the Polar Vortex that Kills the Bees

Reader, yesterday I received a call from a reporter at WCPO’s Channel 9, Cincinnati’s local news station. Cierra Johnson asked if she could visit with me about the terrible effect the winter-of-the-polar-vortices had on the local bee population.

I was on my way to check on some bees when she called, so I invited Cierra to join me, and she did. We had a very nice time among the bees, and Cierra put together quite a nice story…which ended up being more about the effects the lack of good foraging has on the bee population. Which was a terrific adjustment on Cierra’s part, because she got it. She understood that the lack of a rich food supply is much more devastating for the bees than the cold. If they have enough food, Reader, the frigid temperatures shouldn’t be an issue.

I liked that when the piece came together on TV, the Channel 9 anchors kept calling me “Tilton.”

 

WCPO visits the Brazee bees
WCPO visits the Brazee bees

 

Beehives in snow

The Bee Carol

THE BEE CAROL
by Carol Ann Duffy

Silently on Christmas Eve,
the turn of midnight’s key;
all the garden locked in ice –
a silver frieze –
except the winter cluster of the bees.

Flightless now and shivering,
around their Queen they cling;
every bee a gift of heat;
she will not freeze
within the winter cluster of the bees.

Bring me for my Christmas gift
a single golden jar;
let me taste the sweetness there,
but honey leave
to feed the winter cluster of the bees.

Come with me on Christmas Eve
to see the silent hive –
trembling stars cloistered above –
and then believe,
bless the winter cluster of the bees.

Beehives in snow

Poetry Sunday: Beyond the Red River

Beyond the Red River

BY THOMAS MCGRATH

The birds have flown their summer skies to the south,
And the flower-money is drying in the banks of bent grass
Which the bumble bee has abandoned. We wait for a winter lion,
Body of ice-crystals and sombrero of dead leaves.

A month ago, from the salt engines of the sea,
A machinery of early storms rolled toward the holiday houses
Where summer still dozed in the pool-side chairs, sipping
An aging whiskey of distances and departures.
Now the long freight of autumn goes smoking out of the land.
My possibles are all packed up, but still I do not leave.
I am happy enough here, where Dakota drifts wild in the universe,
Where the prairie is starting to shake in the surf of the winter dark.

Don’t Tell the Bees It’s Still February

The weather this week is unbelievably mild. I don’t know what to make of the non-winter we’ve had. It’s probably the end of the world, but it sure feels good.

I fed all the hives under my care yesterday, and they were all beautifully active. However, the colonies with the most enthusiasm live in the Foster’s yard. Interestingly, these hives limped along more than others last season…before winter, we beefed them up by combining a number of our weakest hives, and now they’re going gangbusters and hauling in pollen by the bucketful.

Both Simon and I were astounded to see them so active. When I first spotted them, I thought they were gonna swarm right away. Perhaps I should give them more room soon. I’m sure this weather is messing with our usual timing.

(I love the sound of all the leaves crunching. Odd that you never hear that stuff until the video is uploaded and then it’s deafening.)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LLZEsnbYIMI&list=UUeiIt_hbhDt0bO52Xl3a91w&index=1&feature=plcp

 

Poetry Sunday: What to Do the First Morning the Sun Comes Back

What to Do the First Morning the Sun Comes Back

BY ROSEANN LLOYD

Find a clean cloth for the kitchen table, the red and blue one
you made that cold winter in Montana. Spread out
your paper and books. Tune the radio to the jazz station.
Look at the bright orange safflowers you found last August—
how well they’ve held their color next to the black-spotted cat.

Make some egg coffee, in honor of all the people
above the Arctic Circle. Give thanks to the Sufis,
who figured out how to brew coffee
from the dark, bitter beans. Remark
on the joyfulness of your dishes: black and yellow stars.

Reminisce with your lover about the history of this kitchen
where, between bites of cashew stir fry,
you first kissed each other on the mouth. Now that you’re hungry,
toast some leftover cornbread, spread it with real butter,
honey from bees that fed on basswood blossoms.

The window is frosted over, but the sun’s casting an eye
over all the books. Open your Spanish book.
The season for sleeping is over.
The pots and pans: quiet now, let them be.

It will be a short day.
Sit in the kitchen as long as you can, reading and writing.
At sundown, rub a smidgen of butter
on the western windowsill
to ask the sun:
Come back again tomorrow.

The Metal-Chair Projects Keeping Me Sane

Reader, a team of experts stands behind every reclaimed and transformed metal lawn chair. I want to introduce you to them as I go along.

It has rained incessantly for over a week. During one dry period on Sunday, I painted all the parts of the previously sanded and prepped green metal lawn chairs I introduced you to last week. Of course, at the conclusion of the painting session, it began to sprinkle, and I had to move the entire operation into the garage where I hung parts of chairs from every reachable ceiling joist. The rain stopped the painting, and I decided not to add another coat to the thinly coated places. No, I decided…it’s finished.

Now, one of the two chairs is a gorgeous Ford Red. I painted it with Valspar’s Tractor and Implement Hi Gloss Spray Paint so it would withstand the elements as if it were a tough tractor at work on a farm. That stuff is 2 or 3 times the cost of Rust-Oleum, but I think it’s worth it. And it’s gorgeous.

Chair #1 is now all reassembled with sweet new hardware and sitting in a corner in my kitchen (I’m not yet ready to give it over to the rain). I sit in it. It fits me. I’m short, and I’m not comfortable in most chairs, and this one is perfect. I like the feel of it. I would show you a picture, Reader, but for some reason my iPhone transforms the gorgeous Ford Red into something that resembles Fluorescent Tomato, and I don’t want you to get the wrong impression. I want you to love it as much as I do when you see it. So, we’ll wait for a sunny day. 

I’ll take this opportunity to begin introducing you to the people who make these transformations possible.

First, someone has to agree to sell me her chair. I spotted this busted beauty in a crumpled heap in this woman’s backyard. She didn’t initially want to sell it to me, but she said she couldn’t fix the broken base where the metal had snapped at the bend, she doesn’t “have a man” to fix it for her. As she talked, she decided she could use the money. In this picture, she’s holding the chair upright. It can’t stand on its own until the two parts of its rocker are welded back together.

(What does all of this have to do with bees, you ask? These projects keep this beekeeper sane and productive when the bees aren’t flying.)

 

Belly up

Yes. But I Cannot Go Belly Up.

Belly up

Here’s my current dilemma: How can I get a bee business to steadily grow in a contained sort of way?

This is what happens: Along the way, some wonderful people learn that I keep bees and that I help other people begin beekeeping. And those wonderful people really really really want to keep bees, too. So they invite me to help them get started. Now, how do I say “Yes” to all these nice people while also keeping the business contained (which means keeping my costs down, my profits up, and my time well managed)?

Let me explain why this is a challenge: Not all of these wonderful future beekeepers live near me. Most of them live 30-40 miles away…and they don’t all live near one another either. I mean, if they all lived near one another, then most of my problem is solved. But some live 30 miles to the north; others live 25 miles to the east; another 20 miles south, in Kentucky. And next season, we hope to install 10-20 hives on the farm south of Lexington. And somehow I need to coordinate all these visits to all these hives once every 9-14 days.

Not only do I need to coordinate all of my visits to the hives placed in a certain region,  but I also need to coordinate my visits with the keeper of the bees…the bee stewards…and most people aren’t available during weekdays to inspect their hives. Which means I could be driving hundreds and hundreds of miles each week…and at inconvenient hours.

So, yes, of course I can do it. But I can’t do it for free. I cannot go belly up just because I love bees and all these wonderful people. Which gets us into a tough spot—I have to charge for this service. Yes, there are all sorts of financial models for this…I just have to figure out which models make the most sense for my purposes. No matter how I cut it, though, some people will not like the way I answer “Yes.”

I won’t bore you further with this, Reader. Just want to let you know what I’m wrestling with now that the bees have slowed their activity. The bees and I are all turning inward and preparing our big plans for spring.

Handygirl to the Rescue

I woke in the night worried about the bees in my three nucs (a “nuc” is a small hive—usually composed of 5 frames rather than 8 or 10—and is the abbreviated form for “nucleus” hive). It’s getting cold. Tonight’s temperatures will be in the 30s with highs today reaching only into the 40s. And the few bees in a nuc have trouble enough heating the hive. To make matters worse, I’ve kept an empty box on top of each nuc so I can fit a feeder jar…which translates into an entire box of dead space for the bees to heat. This is asking too much of them.

So, in the dark of the night, I decided to construct an inner cover for each nuc…one with a hole in the center through which I can still feed. In other words, I’ll construct a fitted plywood inner cover with a hole cut from the center; I’ll place that new cover directly over the 5 frames…which should keep the heat generated by the bees concentrated in the lower box; then I’ll place the feeder jar of syrup over the hole so that when the weather is warmer and the bees break cluster, they can eat from it; the empty box surrounding the feeder won’t need to be heated.

I have a rockin’ table saw and an ancient jig saw, so why on earth hadn’t I yet thought of constructing my own inner cover with a feeder hole for those nucs?! Sometimes, I am a dullard.

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