Monday, August 25, 2008

Tranquility in the Bee Yard

Beekeeping has become so popular--it is a special way to be a part of nature's vital cycles of reproduction, food growing, and of course results in this incredible liquid gold called honey--that cannot be reproduced artificially by humans, no matter how hard we try. Beehives can be kept within city limits, in small back yards, so it is a simple, pleasing way to bring wildness, agriculture, and nature into almost any living space (roof gardens in NY have beehives, too). And, let's face it, it's incredibly cool to be able to tolerate large clusters of buzzing, flying, stinging insects with tranquility--or at least pretending to tolerate them with tranquility--as opposed to running, screaming, as far away as possible at the mere site of one on a close-by flower.

I have to say, up until this year (I guess this is my fourth season beekeeping), I got very tense out at the apiary. These stinging insects made me mighty nervous. As I would work deeper into the hive, their buzzing would increase in volume--obviously a bad sign, and the guard bees (yes, that's really their job, and yes, they are female too, like the workers), would start buzzing in front of my face (veiled), trying to find a way in. Every once in a while I would feel an intense vibration on my hand, through my gloves, and I would look down to see a bee curling its body tightly trying to sting me. I had to take frequent calm-down breaks, walking several yards away, farther if necessary, until the last guard bee took off. Then back in. Yikes, they made me nervous. The bars full of comb and bees were heavy, and if it was hot out (and it always was--you harvest in summer, of course), trying to get the bees off the combs (great fun--they love it too--you brush them with a special brush, causing them to swarm all around your head and buzz louder), and get the comb, clean, over a bowl to cut off the comb, BEFORE IT BROKE OFF, was mighty stressful. There's nothing so aggravating as having a comb full of honey and watching it suddenly break off the bar, and fall, oozing honey and covered with bees, to the ground. Damn. Then there's trying to progress through the hive, manipulating the bars, and discovering that some combs are formed all crazy--vertically across a couple of bars, or attached at the bottom, so that as you gently try to shift one bar, it suddenly rips off, and, again, an entire comb full of honey and/or brood, and covered in bees, collapses to the bottom of the hive--AND I HAVE TO SCOOP OUT HONEY AND SQUISHED BEES RIGHT FROM THE HIVE, WHERE ALL THE BEES ARE JUST GOING CRAZY. Whew.

Well the point of all this is to say that this year, I have been all business in the hive. Sure, they started buzzing around me, I had some clean up to do, I had to brush bees off to clean the combs, but I just ignored the bees--I just didn't even notice their buzzing, or their kamikaze missions around my head. Now it's not that I'm some kind of mean giant who just comes through and bullies her way through the hive. I just was able to stay focused and calm, and get the work done. I even got half a bee sting--and this did not phase me. Yay!

So what you see in this picture from early in the season, is myself and 13 year old Maya. Maya, who helps her grandmother Jackie in my booth, has become enamored of bees. In preparation for getting her own hive (at this writing, the bees have already been established at her home), I gave her a tour of mine. Such fun.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Honey Honey Honey

Is there anything more emblematic of the abundance and sensuality of summer, than a hive overflowing with honey?

This past week I went into the hive for the first time in a month. In June I was going in pretty much every week, and there was very little progress on the honey-making, although everyone seemed very busy and happy in the hive. But we have gotten so much rain in July, everything is just growing like crazy. I saw the bees buzzing at the top of my golden rain tree, among the yellow flowers there, on the sunflowers, in the clover--just everywhere. Sure enough when I went to open the hive, they had filled every bar with comb--the hive was bursting at the seams! I had some messes to clean up--combs formed slightly diagonally between two bars, or one comb that had a little hole in the top, and the neighboring comb had a little extension that fit right into that hole, like an architectural puzzle. Very pleasing. I cut off enough honey-filled comb to fill three large bowls on the counter of my kitchen--luscious, light-colored and warm, straight from the hive. Hopefully I've given the bees some more space to make more comb and honey, and this time, I'll check in on them sooner!