Everyday Life

Oftentimes we have very little control over the twists and turns our lives take. We do have a good bit of influence, though, on the everyday we create.

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Choosing peace and beauty wherever possible in our day-to-day lives means that we are surrounded by peace and beauty when we need it most.

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Things are not the same here, in our house, in our family. But even in this most difficult of times there is sweetness in our everyday.

In With the New

Remember I posted that the bees were flying? Well, they were, and then they weren’t. On inspection I found a dead hive with lots of honey and no signs of disease. We had some very chilly nights in April, and that could be the cause of the problem, but I’ll never know for sure.

I’m an optimist in the garden, but a cautious optimist. Not all plants will grow, not all seeds will germinate, not all bee colonies will survive. Plant extra, expect some disappointment, order a three pound package of bees over the winter, just in case.

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Andrew was ready to try an install, so I talked him through it and did my best to stay out of his way.

We pulled a couple of frames out of the bottom hive box,

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pried the plywood off the top of the package,

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then pulled out the can of sugar water

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and the queen cage.

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We made sure the queen (marked with a blue dot) looked ok.

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And then it was time to shake the bees into their new home.

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The queen received gentler treatment. We removed the metal disc on the top of her cage, exposing the candy plug which blocked her exit. We poked at the candy a bit to get things started, then placed her cage between two of the frames in the box. The thinking here is that it’s best if the worker bees have some time to acclimate to the queen. By the time they get her out of the cage, there will be no doubt that she is in charge of the hive.

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Two days later I took a peek, and found that the bees had done a thorough job of opening the plug to release the queen into the hive. I removed the queen cage, made sure the frames were positioned properly, and left them to it, cautiously optimistic that they will thrive.

(All photos by Dagny Dream, Dream Photo.)

Nature and Nurture

All winter, I wonder about the bees. There’s no way to check on them. No way to know if they’re safe in their warm cluster or if they’ve fallen lifeless to the bottom of the hive.  When I feel the weather begin to change it becomes an exercise in patience. As much as I might want to, I will not risk opening the hive to take a peek, as that could cause them to break cluster early. So every day I glance in their direction, hoping to see activity, and finally, on a day like today, they fly.

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I did a lot of research when we got the hive. Most of what I learned I decided to ignore completely. For our hive there are no ‘treatments’, no chemicals, and minimal intervention. My job, as I see it, is to be sure I’m providing enough space and enough food for them to do what they need to do, not to attempt to manipulate their development. This is anathema in parts of the beekeeping world, but it’s my belief that our interference is likely to do more harm than good, and that bees can manage themselves to maintain a strong colony. My mantra when making decisions about entering or manipulating the hive is, when in doubt, don’t.

This particular hive is now emerging for its third Spring. They have had plenty of honey to see them through each winter, and we have brought 30-35 pounds a year into the house ourselves. Seems they know what they’re doing.

Fall in Place

I took a walk around the yard this afternoon, mostly just to enjoy the sunshine. It’s one of those days that’s so bright you could almost believe it was summer until you hear and smell and feel the leaves crunching beneath your feet.

I made sure nobody had dug up my freshly planted garlic, admired the asparagus ferns, and noted signs of frost on kiwi vines and strawberry plants.  I was excited to see bees flying, landing heavily at the entrance to their hive laden with bright yellow pollen. They’re moving too fast to capture with my point-and-shoot, so you’ll just have to take my word for it.

My oregano plants were more accommodating, sitting quite still to have their pictures taken.

I planted both Greek oregano and hot and spicy oregano this past spring. Their relation to mint has been evident in their growth. Both have dried nicely in the kitchen and provide a really great burst of flavor and aroma, which I’m particularly enjoying in lasagna. Our first frost last week seems to have had no affect on them whatsoever and I’m curious to see if they make it through the winter. Curious, but not anxious, as I am for the bees. They came through last winter strong, and they seem to be strong as we head into this one. They have plenty of honey. But I’ll have my fingers crossed nonetheless.

Kernel of Truth

I have never eaten so much corn in my life as I have over the past few weeks. One of our generous neighbors (we’re lucky to have quite a few) keeps appearing at our door with piles of the most delicious produce. I’m not sure she knows just how enthusiastically we receive it, but we’ve tried to show her by showering her with honey and warm brownies and fresh herbs in return.

My lunch of choice these days has been tomato mixed with the raw corn from one cob, a bit of dressing on top. Corn has made its way onto pizza, into sandwiches, and of course into pots of boiling water. What we don’t promptly eat makes its way to the freezer. I know the conventional wisdom is to blanch corn before freezing, but I never have. I cut the kernels off the cob, measure out 2 cup portions, and throw them into the freezer in something airtight. I’ve never been disappointed in its appearance, taste, or texture come February.

Make a Beeline

Our hive faces south and sits to the south of our house. For the most part the bees leaving it fly to the southeast, towards the farmland and riverbank, so while we have thousands of bees living in our yard, we don’t see much of them in the gardens near our house.

In the fall, though, the butterfly bush and the sedum provide enough of a draw to bring them in our direction. I hope and expect that more will head this way as our garden beds fill in over the years. Bees are good company in the garden, not only for the work they do but for the reminder they bring to pull what bit of sweetness you can from every blossom in its season.

The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come

Much of the work I do in summer feels like present-making for my winter self.

When I open my spice cabinet in December I’ll be greeted by jars of rosemary, basil, and oregano hung to dry in the heat of a summer kitchen. In my freezer I’ll find bag after bag of strawberries, corn, blueberries, peppers, and peaches, plucked in sun, shucked and peeled and chopped in shade.

A bucket of honey will pour forth sunshine with the flip of a switch.

Garlic and onions cured in warmth will shed the final bits of dirt from their roots on my counters. Shelves in my gloomy basement will hold bright jars of apricots, pickles, peaches, pears, and tomatoes, products of billowy steam and sticky pots.

I never question the value of this work. It feeds me body and soul.

Float Like a Butterfly

This is by far the thickest comb I have ever pulled from my hive.

Andrew, who was wearing our one veil, did most of the work today. I, who was not, was stung just above the eyebrow when I couldn’t resist getting in there to pull some frames.

Small price for me, ultimate price for the bee. There is no food we eat that does not cause a loss of life. I accept that, but I cannot do so casually.

This particular hive was installed in 2011. We didn’t take any honey from them last year, and they came through the winter in great strength. I plan to leave them quite a bit more honey than is commonly recommended this year as well. The practice of stealing great amounts of honey only to have a weak hive which needs to be fed sugar water in the Spring (assuming they make it to Spring at all) does not sit well with me.

Tread I must, but I will do so as softly as I can.

Hot and Bothered

The air around the hive is thick with the smell of honey. Andrew and I added a super yesterday after taking a peek inside. We didn’t have to look inside to see lots of bees, though.

Two days over 95 degrees have us all, bees and humans alike, looking for any bit of moving air we can find.