Tales of a Terrible Bee Keeper

I’m more of a cat person, really.  But as a farmer, I love pollinators.  Birds, butterflies, especially bees help to ensure that we will have crops.  I wanted to help them out in any way I could (and perhaps have a bit of honey for my tea) so I set up a hive.

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My friends were using top bar hives so I did too.  The problem is that one of those friends is now deceased and the other probably tired of my questions and problems.  No one else I know, bee keepers from all over, has any clue about top bar hives.  Books exclude them.  A general shh surrounds the subject.  This is a problem because as you know from reading my adventures I can surely make a mess of things if not shown properly how to do it in the first place.  Such was the occasion yesterday when a mini-size Revolutionary War occurred on the grasses of our new homestead where now lie dozens of dead bodies and a meager pot of beeswax.

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It started out with good intentions, Brett told us to go check the hive now that we had moved it.  Make sure the combs hadn’t fallen down, make sure the queen is alive, make sure…oh, I don’t remember what else.  They were busily working on their nineteenth frame.  Imagine that!  Such a good year for bees.  Originally we heard to save them ten frames to get through the winter but with the talk of an upcoming hard winter, fifteen became their larder.  Four for me.  Luckily, or not so luckily, one of the combs had indeed fallen down.  Doug went inside for a large pot and some tongs.  We realized how fragile the comb was as it continued to break into pieces which made it very difficult to get it into the pot, honey dripped everywhere, bees trapped in their own creation, the rest growing in increasing anger.  We moved the next frame and part of it broke off.  I panicked, sudden vision of all of the combs breaking under the force of our knife trying to see if everyone was alright and inevitably smothering the whole bunch.  We took out the frame we had just messed with, content to harvest two frames and leave the kingdom alone.  Not so easy.

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The entire outside of the frame was sticky and a hundred or so bees would not let go of the comb.  Meanwhile in the pot where the four pieces of comb and honey lay, another several dozen bees tried desperately to get the honey back out.  As we placed the other comb on top (or threw it, I can’t remember, the bees were really mad at us at this point) the bees on the bottom layer melted into the honey and buzzed to their death.  The bees would not leave the pot.  In the middle of the night we went out and tried to scoop them out, they fell here and there, died in their sticky grave, huddled together in a swarm.  They were not giving me one ounce of honey.  I had not read about any of this.  Books make things look so seamless.

What I ended up with.  I have the rest back to the bees.

What I ended up with. I gave the rest back to the bees.

I have bees because between the fight against genetically modified crops and mass use of chemical pesticides we have killed a vast amount of the bee population.  I care about their survival.  I care about my own Queen Victoria and her hive.  I care!  Yet for a few tablespoons of honey I inadvertently killed a hundred bees.  Was it worth it?  I think I must have done something wrong…

Moving Honey Bees- Take 2

The blue and red lights of a bored sheriff flew on as soon as we turned on the main road.  We had barely gotten started, our precious load in the back, and we knew we hadn’t broken any traffic laws.  The sheriff sidled up to the truck window, lifted an eye brow, and said calmly, “The reason I stopped you is because one of your license plate lights is out.  It’s pretty dim.”

With all seriousness he said this.

Instead of blurting out, “Are you freaking kidding me?”, I gritted my teeth and replied calmly, “We have a bee hive in the back of the truck.”

“I don’t want to get stung!” he said.  I have never seen law enforcement retreat that quickly.

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The bee hive was in the back of the truck so we were already further ahead of where we were last week when Doug and I attempted to move it ourselves.

Have you ever had friends that have done so much for you that you will never in this lifetime pay them back?  That would be my friend, Lisa, and her family.  They showed up in the dark, probably preferring to be getting into bed with a nice cup of tea, and were ready to move our hive.

Lisa and I were friends with Nancy, the three of us loving all things homestead and simple.  All of us wearing our aprons around town.  Karaoke on Saturday nights at the coffee shop.  Watching our children get married and have children.  Friends like these are blessings.  Her husband, Lance, has helped us fix plumbing and set up stoves, he has helped us move heavy items.  Their sons helped us paint.  Their son Bryan built our hive, their son Brandon is a photographer and has taken many special photos of various events in our life, their son Brett is our bee guru.  At nearly nineteen he is the epitome of calm and composure, which is invaluable since around the bees, Doug and I are not.

They did not even bring suits.  Lance, Brandon, Brett, and Doug worked together quickly to secure the hive.  A piece of screen went in front of the door with the minimizer in front of it.  Duct tape went around the hive to secure the roof.  While putting duct tape across the door to secure the screen the whole door fell off and bees started flitting about and walking on Brett.  Calmly the men walked away and we all sat chatting for about a half hour while the bees settled in again.

The hive was heavy enough that four men used all their strength to get it on the back of the truck.  We placed it horizontally so that the combs wouldn’t swing when stopping and starting the truck.  Straw bales surrounded it.

When we got it to the new farmstead the four men took it deftly off the truck and placed it in its new location facing the garden.  Brett meticulously checked the outside of the hive, took off the tape, and then our friends left, travelling the long drive home late at night.  Oh boy, do we owe them!

This morning the bees are cleaning house, taking dead bees out and looking for flowers.  Tomorrow we will don our armor to get into the hive (as they will surely be irritated with us again; they ran us off the driveway last week after we tried to move them), and check to make sure that the combs are in place and that they are not any worse for wear.  Hopefully Queen Victoria has made the long journey well.  It certainly feels like we have a hive full of honey.  I can hardly wait to sample our own Wild Herb Honey!

Decorating a Farmstead Kitchen (and making a chalkboard wall)

The kitchen is the heart of the home, where the fires are burning, where memories are made, where the cook stove will stay warm and where  at the breakfast nook near the warm stove we will play board games on snowy winter days.  Where sustaining food is prepared and the baby plays at my feet while I make a pot of tea.  The kitchen is my favorite room.

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In this kitchen I have a bit of space.  Usually my friends crowd around and chat while we all put finishing touches on drinks and food and inevitably a few are pushed out due to lack of space.  In this kitchen I have seating for four and places to mill around.

This is how I turned an ordinary kitchen added on in the early seventies with peeling linoleum into a culinary oasis.  I take inspirations from Amish, Italian, Pioneer, and Country kitchens.  Combined seamlessly together into what my extended family would call a “Katie kitchen”.

Before

Before

After

After

I do not like overhead lighting so twinkly lights are employed to add charm and light to the house.

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The horrid florescent lamp (those always give off a light similar to horror movies in my mind) was covered with a quaint chicken valance.  Another valance was placed above the window in the kitchen.  Doug installed the curtain hardware eight inches over the window so that plenty of light could come through.

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A sunny place to play cards or have a cup of coffee and read.

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An old cabinet piece that I have had a long time is the base for a bookshelf to make a larger cabinet.  My friend, Nancy’s, chicken tea pot, pitcher, and cookie jar stand among pioneer cookbooks and wine glasses.

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Every nook and cranny, every drawer, every cupboard if filled.  I cannot bring one more thing into this kitchen!  Everything in its place is the mantra here now.  My aprons displayed on a vintage hanger along with Maryjane’s apron invite folks to put one on and start cooking!

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The top of the fridge is always a void of inspiration for me.  This whimsical wind catcher and a pretty enamel bowl fill the space with a little fun.

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The unique part of this room is the chalkboard wall.  Simply tape off a section that you would like to use.  Paint on four coats of chalkboard paint, letting dry in between coats.  Let set for two days.  Peel off tape the first day so that it doesn’t become a permanent frame!

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I added my favorite picture to the board by hanging it on a nail in the middle of the chalkboard.  If this little girl was a blonde, it would be Maryjane.  Maryjane loves her chickens!  Notes or menus can be written on the board.

It is easy to add small touches to any kitchen without spending a lot of money.  Any kitchen can benefit from vintage furniture, whimsical touches that bring a smile, and flowers….and a chalkboard wall.

 

Moving Honey Bees-Take 1

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We headed down the country roads at dusk, watching the colors change across the horizon, mountains and trees becoming shadows.  We still have a bit of work at the old house to do.  We still have the basement and the garage to clean out and some spiffing up around the property before we send back the keys.  One thing we still needed to move was the bees.  I suppose we have been procrastinating.  We went at night certain that they would all be enveloped around their queen, their gentle rumble keeping the hive warm.  We would simply staple a bit of screen on the door and be out of there before they became wise.  Imagine our surprise when ten or so guard bees still walked the front of porch of the top bar hive.  Not sleepy in the least.

We didn’t come prepared with a ready to go smoker since we thought the kingdom was going to be asleep.  We took the empty smoker sheepishly over to our neighbor’s house and asked for a lighter and something to burn in it.  In her backyard she gave us some old woodchips and held out a handful of leaves and we went back over to the hive.  We had our suits on and a flashlight, which just seemed to wake the bees up more.  We started the smoker and a strange smell came out of it.

I said, “It smells like pot.  What did she give us?”  Doug leaned in to see.

“I burnt my sinuses!” he exclaimed, jumping back.

“Why did you put your face so close to the smoker?!”

We were manic.  Apparently moving thousands of bees isn’t a common activity for us.  We don’t smoke pot, but if there were a good time to start, last night would have been it.

The smoke was hot.  Too hot and I rather fear that I burnt the first layer of bees through the hive door.  We were just panicked.  Doug quickly stapled some screen onto the door and as we looked up we saw that around the roof of the hive there were several open areas.  We both took a good, deep breath and planned our next move.  We each got on one side and tried to lift it.  We made it six inches up when Doug said to put it down.  Who would have thought that several thousand wee bitty bees and their honey would weigh so much!  We agreed that we have no idea what we are doing and disappointedly went home, now certain that no one would be stealing our bees.

We need to call in reinforcements.

Our Farmstead (a new chapter)

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The house smells faintly of wood smoke.  It is beautiful here.  Serene.  Earlier when taking my greyhound for a walk through the acres of tall grass, he startled a large owl.  It fled from a massive willow and swept overhead across the pasture, it’s long grey wings soaring.  The skyline is seemingly painted.  Such a sense of surreality to it all.  The sun rising over the prairie, those luminous mountain peaks, the glorious rose fire of sunset, the glittering city lights in the distance.   The night sky is dark and mysteriously layered.  There is space here for finding peace.  Space for finding self.

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Such an odd thing to move without one’s children.  Granted they are adults and don’t live at home anymore and I am a mere forty-two minutes away if one were counting (further from my son and daughter-in-law in Denver) but still quite accessible and a new era begins.  It has never been just Doug and I.

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As I walk up the long ramp of the deck to enter the house I feel as though I am walking up a dock, a sense of vacation permeates this place.  Entering through the door and into the warm kitchen, quaintly decorated, I feel as if I have rented a cabin for the weekend.  I may have to return home Monday.  But in fact, this is home.  What a wondrous thing.

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I don’t feel like this is a farm.  In fact, the idea of having a farm exhausts me.  This past year I attempted to grow enough vegetables for market, to start a CSA for milk and vegetables.  To sell dozens of eggs.  I could only grow enough food for us.  I only had enough milk for our use and for making cheese.  The chickens went on strike.  Interns are no longer in my future.  I like my space too much.  I will continue to teach classes.  I will have friends over for tea.  I will grow enough for us, have another milker to sell fresh goat’s milk next year, and now that the chickens are penned up in an eight food high large coop and yard, I should be able to locate their eggs!  No, I do not want a farm.  This is a farmstead.  A homestead with farm animals and a large garden.  It is a place to sustain ourselves and to teach others how to do the same.  A place to find inspiration and joy.  New memories to come.  Our farmstead, our homestead, our new place is here.  I can hardly believe I am not dreaming.

Transition, Exhaustion, and God’s Great Canvas

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We are moving to our dream house.  This is the scene looking across the goat pens and chicken coop.  It is breathtaking and inspiring.

We are so very tired, I’m afraid.  We have been taking loads out to the new house every day along with our regular farmer’s markets, farm chores, and household chores, and fixing up the new house.  I have great muscles I haven’t seen in some time and even though we are fatigued, we can see the end of the our current transition.

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The end of this transition has been a long year full of more friend’s passings and animal losses (another friend and my favorite cat this week) and this year has been ever so arduous.  It has been full of fantastic joys though as well.  Like being able to watch Maryjane so much and having such a close little bond with her.  Like finding the exact homestead we prayed for.  Our son getting married, and our daughter graduating.  Watching them all work and grow up and find their passions, healthy and beautiful children.  The homestead angels that have come to our rescue out of the blue.  Friends that have taken time to come help us paint.  To help us move a load or two to the new house.  To help us finish tasks that have us exhausted.  To come teach us how to use our stove.  Our friends are many and we are so blessed.

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I am looking forward to being able to sit on this bench, perhaps with a cup of coffee and a writing book, or maybe a sketch book, and exhale.  To look out upon this amazing canvas and breath in the beauty and rest quietly and whisper words of thanks.

Baby Farmgirl

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We raised our pre-teens and teens in the country and I wish that I had moved them out here a bit earlier.  My daughters still want trucks and found boys that love outdoor activities.  They are pretty country.  Our son promptly moved back to the city!  I like it here though.  Folks are polite around here and will help each other out in a pinch.  I like how even the teenagers friend me on social media and wave as they drive by.  The people here are good people.  My granddaughter, Maryjane, is being raised in the country, in fresh air, and clean pastures.  When she comes to visit Grammie and Papa’s house she delights in the animals and wants to be outside a good part of the time that we babysit.  What a blessing to raise children in the country.

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May we all find that childlike wonder in the country.