hoping for honey

IMGP0965Bustling spring just wouldn’t be the same without saying some thanks to our very important pollinator, the honeybee. I’ve been keeping bees as long as we’ve lived here on the farm. In fact, I established my very first hive on the farm before Eric and I officially moved here. Some years were bustling with the bees, some years not so much. Some years the bees swarmed like crazy, some years they didn’t survive through the winter. I can’t tell you the number of time I’ve established new colonies, but last spring was another of those times. This time, though, I found a local beekeeper in the nearby Amish community that had some nucleus colonies for sale. Locally adapted bees seemed a much better option to me than the mail order bees I had typically purchased. (Don’t get me wrong, though, not everyone has access to a beekeeping neighbor with hives for sale… so if you are looking to get started keeping bees and a mail order swarm is your best option, then go for it! We need bees far more than we need to dwell in the notion of imperfection. This world isn’t perfect. We do our best and move on.)

So far, my little local bees seem to be thriving. They made it through our fairly harsh winter and are very busy with the important work that they do. They were so busy, in fact, that I was worried they might swarm. I also thought that the hives might be getting crowded and could use the extra space of a honey super. I don’t keep the bees just for the golden nectar that they produce, I keep them for many more reasons than that. But, but… my family sure wouldn’t mind to harvest just a little honey from the bees this year! IMGP0977Once I got into the hives, I realized that they were not yet over-crowded and I did not see any signs of swarming… no queen cells that I could find which is just fine with me. When I open the hives, I generally do not pull the frames out of the hive body itself. I always feel like a big awkward destructive bear. Instead, I look down into the frames from the top and will then tip the hive body on it’s side so that I can look up into the frames from the bottom. Most of my beekeeping over the years has followed a more instinctual path. I am not a pro beekeeper by any means, I just like having the little critters around.  IMGP0986 I keep my bees in the standard Langstroth hives. I am very interested in trying out top-bar beehives someday, but I just haven’t made that move yet. Last year I did try out a new type of frame, called a foundationless (“foundation” is the thin sheets of beeswax that you place in the hive to give the bees a guide where to build their cells) frames, that allow the bees to fully build all of their beeswax cells themselves and not necessarily be locked into the rectangular shape of the frame. The beekeeper does paint a small bead of beeswax across the top of the frame as a subtle guide, but otherwise you leave the beeswax construction up to the bees. I’ve never seen a wild hive that is rectangular! Plus, the production of fresh wax is very cleansing for the bees… kind of like us humans having a good old sweat. I could certainly see where these frames could prove problematic for the commercial beekeeper, but I’m more concerned about the health and well-being of the bees. IMGP0988 IMGP0992So after a good look in my hives, and putting on some honey supers just in case, I will leave the bees alone for a while. I will watch them from a distance, say hello to the hard-working little foragers when I see them in the gardens or orchard, and do my best to create health-giving farm environment in which they can thrive. I sure do appreciate having them as neighbors!IMGP0993

sweet aspirations

I walked through the spring garden in the middle of a busy day, looking for a few stray kale flower buds to put in a salad.  The buds have gone to bloom, and I found out whose turn it is to enjoy them now.honeybee5The honeybees.  I stood captivated by their beauty and industry.

Many years ago, these bees left the confines of the boxes tended by our neighbors.    They went native.  We don’t know where they live, but they frequent the yard and gardens throughout the season and we enjoy their company.  We’ve seen them feasting on tree sap in early spring, then coating their legs with bright pink pollen when the henbit blooms a little later.  Now, they’re into the brassica flowers.  Later they will enjoy squash, tulsi, and sourwood blossoms.honeybee3What got my wheels turning was their complete dedication.  They’re doing what they need to do.  They need to feed their family and care for their hive, much the same as us.  They work without distraction, but their diligent labors still look like a dance.

And their diligence shapes our world.  Their work creates fertility and food by way of their pollination.  And the product of their busy home life is sweetness itself in the form of HONEY.

They probably don’t know how much of a service they are doing for the rest of us.  Fact is, their lives and work are aligned so that this sort of goodness flows from them.honeybee2

We are so much larger than a bee, but what do we share with the world in the course of our lives?  I feel small next to the honeybees.  There’s so much to learn from them. I can only aspire as much…

I hope that the work we do here, to feed ourselves, our extended family and some friends somehow extends flavor, beauty, and appreciation into the world around us.  I hope that my tiny yoga practice and the little bit of instruction I can give, day after day, spills over into greater health, peace and equanimity for whoever needs it.  I hope that our little family, living, learning, and working together, can knit a strong fabric of love that expands to encompass generations to come.  I hope that our labors in our small lives can somehow contribute to the abundance, fertility, and sweetness of the world.

I want to work like a honeybee.  Small, quiet, and strong.honeybee1

As the nights grow warmer the night music increases in volume.  As I drift toward sleep with whip-poor-wills ringing around us, I think of the layers of life deep in the woods.  Somewhere out there, where none of the few inhabitants of this land has ventured, there is a bee hive, maybe even a few. The hive is loaded with wild rich honey, untasted by the human tongue.  The world is richer because it has never been found.



right now :: hand washing with a new spin

IMG_3585I am a firm believer in resourcefulness. During a little barn cleaning, I spied my old honey extractor, and my wheels set to spinning. I don’t currently have a hive of bees that live in the confines of a Langstroth hive, and the past few times I’ve had the privilege of harvesting a portion of the bees’ hard work, I didn’t bother to remove it from the beeswax anyways. That left a big hunk of metal just sitting in a messy barn without a real “purpose” and gathering quite a lot of dust and showing evidence of being a mouse’s home for a time. And my dripping piles of hand-washed laundry were sorely in need of a good spin…IMG_3584IMG_3583So, my laundry process just got a little more exciting. And intriguing to a willing helper who had so much fun with the new spinner. I must say, it worked quite well. And if the day comes that I again need the extractor for it’s intended purpose, well it should be good and clean and ready for action! IMG_3587IMG_3592And if it weren’t for all of the bouts of rain that sort of interrupted the drying process, I’m certain my laundry would have dried in record time!!!