swarming season

IMGP3669This week, our normally quiet little homestead was all abuzz (literally!) with activity. The honeybees have declared that swarming season is officially now. Five swarms have issued from my two hives in five days. I was able to catch and hive three of them, and the other two were in easy reach but departed so quickly I barely had time to catch my breath after standing in the midst of the spiraling frenzy of thousands of stinging insects.

I have never minded having my beehives swarm as long as the remaining colony is strong and healthy. I may change my tune someday, but to me, swarming gives me hope that the dwindling honeybee populations have a chance to rebound. Even when I don’t catch the swarms, as I watch them take off through the canopy of the forest, I blow them a kiss and wish them strength and health and longevity. I also fantasize they will find a suitable home that is so wild and isolated that no GMO crops are to be found anywhere in their foraging range. (That is a pretty hard bill to fill these days, unfortunately) I have also never particularly tried to stop the swarms from happening in the first place, as I know many beekeepers do (I also don’t make my livelihood from beekeeping), so I guess it is a good thing I don’t really care when it happens. If I had invested time and energy in trying to suppress swarming I suppose I would feel differently!IMGP3674I’m not sure what the difference was this year, but each of the five swarms was accessible to my desiring hands. Last year, to the best of my knowledge and observation, I had four swarms come from the same two hives and every single one of them was at least forty feet up in the air. Two of those were probably upwards of seventy feet. My sweet husband even went so far as to put the extension ladder in the fully extended loader of the tractor, but to no avail… he still couldn’t reach. IMGP3676This year, the kiwi trellis attached to our outdoor kitchen seemed to be the hot spot for the honeybees to congeal after the mass exodus from the hive. Four of this year’s swarms landed there, a mere eight feet off of the ground. Kind of a dream come true!!! But because of the gangly nature of the kiwi vines, and the structure of the trellis, I had to slowly scoop or brush the bees into the hive boxes; I couldn’t just snip a branch and lower the whole mass into their new home. The one remaining swarm was slightly higher in a mulberry tree, and this did require some monkeying around to be able to reach. Oh, but sweet satisfaction in succeeding on that one! I can only guess that the two swarms that I missed left so quickly because it was threatening to rain or they had already scoped out a new home. But I am not a bee, so I will never really know for certain. IMGP3695What I do know is that I have THREE new beehives! And that I need to order or build some new equipment pretty darn quick because I had to piece together hives for the swarms in a hodgepodge fashion and I have no hive bodies remaining when it comes time for expansion! Or, heaven help us, if another swarm comes!!! 

The fact that I was able to witness all but one of these swarms actually happen (and Opal saw the one I didn’t) seems like a very generous gift from the cosmos. Especially since it is spring and there is quite a frenzy of farming and lambing happening right now as well. (More on those next time.) So I will say my thank-yous to the forces that may be, and declare myself even more intrigued by the mysterious honeybee than ever before.  IMGP3717

 

winter dreamtime

snow 2It snowed again. And then again. There’s more in the forecast.  Nothing as big as that last round, but still notable for us. Laugh all you want, Northerners, this February has been a heckuva wintery ride down here in the southland. We know it’s nothing to you, but down here, it’s really NOT nothing.

Watching the snow fall, we watch the plan for the day go down the drain, again. But then, what are plans for?levon snow

The snow makes a clean palette. The mud gets covered in a beautiful white powder. All the toy monster trucks that Levon left out in his favorite mud pit? Under the snow. The torn remay row covering and anything green left underneath it? Under the snow. All the projects, waiting for a sunnier day? Under the snow. It’s temporary. It’s a reminder. It’s a beautiful opportunity to remember what deep winter time is about.

It’s dream time.

After all, we have a house to build this year. We have a whole new piece of land to dream about, and we still want to tend our little garden here this year too. That’s lots of dreams already, and those are the grown – up ones. We might as well start clarifying the vision.fresh palette

Everyone has their two cents to put in, and as we draw pictures and hash things out, it becomes clear so quickly that if we didn’t have this messy indoor dreamtime, if we just dove straight into building and DO-ing, in the longer, warmer, busier days, we could easily make a lot of mistakes in our dream actualization.

Joni Mitchell was right – dreams do lose their grandeur coming true. And the details aren’t always what you think they might be.   Dreams change, even if the heart of them stays the same.  Sometimes they are better, or different, but changes of plan don’t mean that we aren’t still building the same dream.

Our family is dreaming with our eyes open right now. We are watching for blind spots, knowing we won’t catch them all, but doing our best to consider all the nooks and crannies, our past and our future, our realities and desires.  It is amazing to watch, in waking dreamtime, what we keep and what falls away.lulah's house plancoree's house planlevon's house plan

We don’t know how our lives will look this time next year.  We just know it will be different, and that we will be sure to have plenty of firewood.

while it lasted…

I’m not going to talk about the state of our road right now. Nor the yard. I’m not going to dwell on the oozing slush and the mud and the need for extreme caution with every single step. I’m also not going to discuss the state of our firewood pile. I’m just not going there.

Instead, I’m going to talk a little bit about this… IMGP2949 Wintertime in the mid-south is a roller coaster ride. There is really no consistent theme other than we will surely have a couple of really cold spells and maybe a few snows somewhere between November and April. The snowfall may not amount to much more than a dusting, but enough to turn these Kentucky hills sort of white. When we have a single snow event that accumulates to nearly a foot of the stuff, well, it is kind of a big deal.IMGP3021

I think I used to enjoy the winter months more than I do now. As I have grown older and my level of responsibility is so much more, the winter months can truly be a pain in the ass. With a house full of kiddos and a farm full of critters, there are many more mouths to feed and water now than there were when Eric and I were just getting started. I am grateful for all of those hungry mouths, don’t get me wrong, as it is proof of an abundant farm… but I have yet to find the “pause” button for all of those mouths when the weather takes a turn and the road is impassable and the water system freezes.  If you know what I mean.IMGP2941I know at some point or other all of us farmwives have mentioned that fact that our farms are not really set up for ease in dealing with extreme winter weather. We just don’t have enough of it to justify the effort in “winter-proofing” all of our farm systems. We have our ways of making things work just fine, but not without some effort. Seems we all have been caught with our pants down at some point, and curse ourselves for some stupid slip-up in preparedness. Or lack thereof.IMGP3010Typically, though, our winter weather leaves as quickly as it came, and we sigh and say “wasn’t that pretty?” and then grunt “now what a damn mess!” In the throes of the winter storm, when I could feel the beginnings of myself going buggy and my kids challenging my and each other’s patience, I decided to read Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “The Long Winter” aloud to the family… just as a reminder of how easy we’ve got it. And a gigantic reminder of why I don’t live in North Dakota. 

My dear husband’s solution to the cabin fever problem was to hitch the kayaks up to the tractor and take the kids for a redneck-style-white-water-rafting-tour-de-farm sled ride. They had a blast. (And Elowyn and I got the house to ourselves for a bit.) The morning the temperatures were going to rise enough to begin the thawing of all that snow, Eric swept into the house from doing his chores and demanded that I get my coat on. The big kids watched the baby and I got my own Bugtussle style sleigh ride…IMGP3029I will say the snow was fun while it lasted! Now I suppose I’m ready for spring!