Saturday, July 31, 2010


I awoke this morning to temperatures in the 40's -- upper 40's yes, but still there was a hint of summer losing its grip.

Where once there were millions of bachelor buttons slowly unfurling in pinkish purple plumes, now the fresh blooms have dwindled and spent blooms bring a deepening brown shade to the meadow. So have most of the daisies given up their petals.

The black-eyed susans linger, their petals tinged in a tired white; the goldenrod is coming on strong and the Queen Anne's Lace is everywhere.

Summer has matured -- too soon for me but the bees are unfazed. I walked slowly through the meadow to see what they were up to. Bachelor Buttons were still the flower of choice. Good to the last drop, I guess.

I've never really paid so much attention to the plant life in the meadow. I have a lot to learn about what blooms when and what the bees like and what they don't. It seems they are no longer interested in the Queen Anne's Lace. Too bad -- we have plenty. I hear they really like goldenrod so we should be in good shape for the rest of the summer.

This morning I took a picture of a bee on a Bachelor Button -- nothing special and yet it seemed so special to me. The flower was tucked under the meadow canopy, hidden from everything but the honey bee and the dappled sunlight. It was in its final show of beauty as evidenced by its loosening petals. So too was the visiting bee an aging forager as evidenced by her tattered wings.

Two ordinary living things -- and a third -- unnoticed except by each other and the dappled sunlight -- a sacrifice to something sacred.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010


It's been a few weeks since my last post. I was out of commission for awhile but the bees haven't been.

On Saturday, I checked on Clare and the population was up, the 3rd story was close to fully drawn and things looked good. I added a 4th story and pulled the feeder.

In Galway things were that much better. The 4th story was fully drawn and loaded with uncapped honey.

I pulled one of the frames and used some homemade frame spacers to evenly space the remaining seven frames in the 8 frame hive body. Why? Nothing is ever simple but the reason in a nutshell is that it makes it easier to harvest the honey. It has to do with leveraging something called "bee space." Here's how it works.

Bee space is the space between comb and parts of the bee hive that allow a bee to pass through. It measures 1/4" to 3/8". If anything in the hive violates bee space, the bees will fill it with comb if it exceeds the 3/8 inch or glue it shut with propolis if it is less than 1/4 inch. Propolis is a resinous mixture that honey bees collect from tree buds, sap flows, or other botanical sources.

So by giving a little extra space beyond the standard 3/8-inch spacing between the frames, the bees will draw out the existing comb further and fill it with more honey, thus closing the space between frames back to within bee space. When they cap the honeycomb, the caps will protrude beyond the wooden edges of the frame. This will make it easier to remove the caps with a capping knife when it comes time to harvest the honey.

After rearranging the 7 frames of the 4th story, I took the frame I pulled and used it as one of the frames of the 5th story. This will encourage the bees to move up and begin drawing the comb in the new addition.

We finally got some rain over the last week. That should keep things blooming. The lack of rain in the weeks prior had kept me from having to mow the lawn. Maureen would take issue with that -- she's been "encouraging" me to mow. I look at the lawn full of clover and these little yellow flowers that the bees love and I am conflicted. It gets crazy, doesn't it? So now I mow at night when the bees aren't foraging. And I mow as infrequently as possible. And people keep commenting on how nice the lawn looks. Seems like I've struck a balance. I think Maureen would agree albeit reluctantly.

One last thing before I close regarding Queen Anne's Lace. We've all seen that beautiful weed blooming all over the roadsides and meadows. I wondered if the bees liked it so I went looking yesterday and found that they do. I brought up the topic with a fellow beekeeper and she asked if I was sure the bees were working the flowers or just curious about them. It seemed to me they were working them but I did some web research to see what I could find.

I was surprised to learn that Queen Anne's Lace is also known as wild carrot and that its taproot is indeed an edible carrot. My grandmother probably knew it but I never did. Oh, and yes, the bees like its nectar.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

So Why Bees?

The question I get asked most often about my new hobby is "Why?" Sometimes, they ask it as a two part question: "Are you crazy? Why would you ever get bees?" Then there's the approach that implies the question and suggests an answer: "Well, that's one good way to get out of hosting family parties!"

Well, we're still hosting plenty of family parties and the hives have become part of the attraction, creating a serene view from the back patio into the meadow. So that's not the answer.

When my daughter Kara heard the question posed she responded quickly and confidently "I know why!!" I couldn't wait to hear the answer.

"You watch out for my glasses and I'll watch out for your bees."

I knew immediately what she was referring to and smiled to think of it. Years ago I was out on the tractor mowing the yard. I had a new pair of prescription glasses in my shirt pocket. At some point the glasses bounced out and were somewhere in the 5.25 acres of yard. I figured I'd look out for the glasses as I continued to mow.

As I mowed and closely examined the yard I became very much aware of all the bees on the wildflowers that I was mowing down. I slowed the tractor and tried to let the bees get out of the way. And then I made the deal: "You watch out for my glasses and I'll watch out for your bees."

For the rest of the 4 hour job I focused on not mowing down any bees. It made the job longer but much more interesting. At the end of the job, I hit a bump that knocked something loose. I stopped the tractor and there on the ground were my glasses. The frames were a bit twisted but I straightened them and wore them for years. And to this day I brake for bees.

Over our 10 years here in the Meadowlands we have slowly allowed more and more yard to revert back to meadow. We've spread wildflower seed to help things along. And over those years, we've become more in tune with the life in the meadow: the bluebirds and tree swallows, goldfinch and robins, the red winged blackbirds and black capped chickadees; the hawks and the meadow mice, rabbits and woodchucks and the occasional visitors like fox and pheasant. I'd like to see more of them.

So why any of that?

It seems it comes down to an awareness of loss; an awareness of my own mortality and a need in me to embrace that mortality and to engage life; to rediscover the wonder I knew as a child.

It's funny. When I plant a tree now I wonder who will be enjoying its shade. It's not morbid -- it's simply true. I don't dwell on it nor does it discourage me from planting trees. On the contrary, I smile to think of it and probably plant more trees because of it.

I'm putting the brakes on this explanation. I'd end up writing a book. Suffice it to say that life has tenderized me -- worn me down and built me up again into something different. The new me likes feeling at one with his surroundings. Being a beekeeper makes sense to that new more tender me.

A tender -- there's a gentleness to it that I like. I am not so much a beekeeper as a bee tender. And come to think of it, that isn't a bad way to live. Bee tender.

Feel the hug.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Added My First Honey Super

Things were looking good in both the colonies today. Clare was showing strong signs of making a comeback and Galway was busting at the seams.

I may still need to give Clare some help but things are going well enough that I am comfortable giving it a few weeks longer before making that determination.

The new feeding method is working beautifully. There have been no drownings. It's easy to service and refill the feeders without smoking the hives and there is better ventilation in the hives because the upper entrance isn't blocked.

I added a third hive body to Clare today. The second story still wasn't quite as full as it should have been but things seem so busy now I wanted to make sure they had the room when they needed it. I did see capped brood, eggs and larvae in Clare and there seemed to be more bees in a more active state than in my last visit to the hive.

In Galway, all 8 frames of the third story were almost fully drawn. As I inspected the frames I was surprised and delighted by the weight of each one. They were laden with honey and it was much more difficult to separate the frames than when everything was new and clean just a couple of weeks before. There was a sticky, thick abundance to the hive that shouted "Life is good!"

I added a fourth story to Galway and pulled the feeder. The colony is strong enough and there is enough of a flow on for the bees to draw the frames of the fourth story without supplemental feeding. And the honey they store in these frames I can harvest!

I hope everyone has a wonderful holiday weekend. Mine is off to a great start!