Monday, February 28, 2011

Day #139 Didn't Work

My son, Eli, had told me he’d stop by Sunday afternoon with a propane torch so we could brand the bee hives (see my blog for February 22nd), but then he ended up doing something else much more fun—building sixteen pairs of stilts.

This is what my branding iron looks like.
(Ignore the sample brand above it)
I didn’t want to wait, though, so on the warmest day of Spring so far, I built a fire in the fireplace and waited for a nice bed of coals. While the wood was burning down, I hauled the hive boxes out onto the deck and lined them up so I’d be sure and get the brand right-side up instead of upside down.

Once the fire was settled in, I stuck the brand in the coals and let it sit there long enough to get really hot. Brand in hand, feeling very cowboyish, I strode to the deck and planted the branding iron on the first box.

It didn’t work. It wasn't the fault of They told me to use a propane torch. They are not responsible for my impatience.

I put the branding iron back in the coals and tried again. And again. And again. Then I gave up. I’ll wait for my son and the propane torch. Four weeks to go till the bees will be ready, so there’s plenty of time. Meanwhile, I've opened all the windows to let out the heat from the fireplace.

BEEattitude for Day # 139:
       Blessed are those who try, for (sometimes) they shall succeed

One thing Fran is grateful for right now:
       The squirrels who’ve cleaned up the suet that melted onto the rocks beneath the feeder.
                 I tried to make my own suet. 
                 It, like the branding, didn’t work.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Day #138 Hurry Up and Grow

Well, my Kentucky Wonder beans have not only sprouted, but they’re threatening to take over my office. The tomato plants are huge, the potatoes are growing faster than I can mound the dirt up around them, and the sweet pea vines are beginning to twine around each other. Help! Spring needs to get here faster so I can get these babies outside!

I just hope I have things blooming by the time the bees are installed (four weeks to go...). I’d hate to have to feed them too much sugar water. Maybe I should start the bees out inside my house—I have plenty of plants in here so far.

Wouldn’t the cats love having all those flying buddies?

Q: What do you do when you cross a cat with a bee?
            A:  One very cross cat

BEEattitude for Day # 138:
       Blessed are those who plant flowers, for we shall pollinate their gardens with gusto.

One thing Fran is grateful for right now:
       The customers at Cowan’s Book Nook in Blue Ridge yesterday when I was there signing my books    

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Day #137 Nightmares and Common Sense

I dreamed last night that a bear wandered up from the creek and ripped open my bee hives to steal the honey. Yikes! I don’t even have the bees yet. What’ll I do when they’re actually installed on my back deck?

Of course, I’ve never yet seen a bear paw print (much less a bear) on the creek bank, just some raccoons and possums, so I probably won’t ever have to worry about Winnie-the-Pooh’s cousins.

Worry is the interest you pay on a loan you’ve never taken out, so I guess I should just forget the bad dreams and sleep easier. Good idea.

BEEattitude for Day # 137:
       Blessed are the calm of mind, for they shall take their rest with ease.

One thing Fran is grateful for right now:
        Cowans Book Nook in Blue Ridge GA, where I’ll be signing books today (Saturday) from noon to three.   

Friday, February 25, 2011

Day #136 Bees Don't Have to Apologize

People who make lists and schedules are optimists, because they have the underlying belief that they’ll be able to check off each one of those items and make each one of those appointments.

That usually works around this house, except when the computer acts up. Writing used to be done with a pencil or a clickety old typewriter, and while I still do a lot of drafts longhand, ultimately the ‘puter must be warmed up.

I write each of these blog entries the day before, so I can post them just after midnight, EDT. Guess what happened last night? Penelope Puter wouldn’t cooperate. That maddening little blue circle kept twining its way around the screen, no matter what I tried to click on.

At least the power button still worked, so I finally shut the whole thing down. Of course, this morning, Penelope informed me, rather sternly, that this was all my fault, since I had not powered her off properly and she was going to have to spin her wheels for quite some time trying to make sure that my stupid actions hadn’t caused egregious errors in my documents.

Okay, so maybe she didn’t use exactly those words, but the whiney tone was definitely present. Whatever happened to the concept of an apology?

I’m terribly sorry, Miss Frannie, that my internal workings screwed up royally yesterday, causing you to miss a deadline or two. It was all my fault, and I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me. I’ll try to do a better job in the future.
            Your friend,
            Penelope Puter

Bees never have these kinds of problems.

BEEattitude for Day # 136:
       Blessed are those who apologize nicely when they err, for they shall be appreciated.

One thing Fran is grateful for right now:
       The Gwinnett Choral Guild   

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Day #135 Writers Boot Camp

What fun! I spent time yesterday speaking the fifth-grade students at Woodward Mill Elementary School as part of their Writer’s Boot Camp program. The topic was “Draw Your Reader into Your Story: Pick the Right Verb.”

We talked about how changing the verbs can change the whole intent of the story. For instance, we started one story this way:
o   Mom pulled to a stop beside the road.
Then we wrote the same story, changing nothing but the verbs, and it started like this:
o   Mom screeched to a stop beside the road.
Two different verbs. Two different scenarios. See?

At the board, I wrote, “The lion __________ across the grassland.”
We quickly discarded tired words like ran or walked. Instead, they supplied fifteen or twenty vivid verbs, including:
Ø  limped
Ø  staggered
Ø  stalked
Ø  bounded
Ø  crept
Ø  roared

In “I _________ the picture from my grandfather,” they suggested verbs such as:
v  adored
v  burned
v  destroyed
v  inherited
v  detested
v  evaluated

Eventually I’d like to get an observation hive so I can haul it to the school and introduce them to the joys of raising bees—just as much fun and just as important as the joys of writing effectively.

BEEattitude for Day # 135:
       Blessed are the teachers, for they shall be illuminated by the light of knowledge.

Something Fran is grateful for right now:
       The students who jumped in joyfully with answers    

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Day #134

I keep saying in this blog that bees haven’t really changed since their beginnings. Well, guess what? I’m not too sure people have changed much either. We have increased our technology and our languages. But have we changed in any substantive way? Are human beings any different than they were a couple of million years ago?

I once was asked in a class to explain how people have changed over the course of history. My answer, I’m sorry to say, was that as people became more “civilized,” they simply increased the distance over which they could hurt each other.

Think about it. A bee butts a person to scare him away from the hive. As a last resort, the bee will sting, thereby killing herself. This has been true for more than 140 million years. Now think about people. We, like bees, used to be able to hurt people only if they were close by, within arm’s length of us. Then, with such tools as language and weapons, we gradually extended the range over which we could cause pain.

On the other hand, we’ve also increased the distance at which we can cause joy. A phone call from my sister or a dear friend can brighten my day considerably, no matter how far that person is from me geographically. A well-written book brings me joy even if the author is on the far side of the county—or the globe—or on the far side of the grave.

 Bees still have to “bee” right next to each other to communicate, but we can reach each other happily at any distance. What a relief. Maybe there’s hope for us humans after all.

BEEattitude for Day # 134:
       Blessed are the children, for they shall be the harvesters of tomorrow.

One thing Fran is grateful for right now:
       My dear friend Lyn, who knows about “Human Design”    

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Day #133 Branding

With a title like "Branding," you probably thought I was going to talk about marketing, right? Isn’t everyone into branding nowadays – making sure their public image is packaged tidily?

Forget it. I’m talking about real BRANDING. My branding iron arrived yesterday.

No! I’m not going to apply a hot branding iron to my bees!

But I am going to brand the hives. It all came about when I was reading one of those dire doom-and-gloom articles about people who steal hives. Lousy thought. Of course, the large commercial outfits are much more likely to see thieves lurking about than the teeny back-yard beekeepers, so I didn’t really have to mark my hives.

And I certainly didn’t want to use magic markers to write PROPERTY OF FRAN STEWART. IF FOUND PLEASE RETURN TO . . . Ugly, ugly.

So, I checked out I found them because their advertisement has shown up several times in the ad column to the left of this blog. I’m not allowed to click on those links, but I did note the URL and went to their website.

I sent them a rather stark design that showed what I wanted, bemoaning the fact that I didn’t know how to put a bee in the middle of it. Lo and behold, a very nice person emailed me back and said he could put a bee in there.

Within the next week or so, my son's going to drive out here with his propane torch (to heat the iron), and after he leaves, each one of my hive boxes will sport the following logo (but you'll have to imagine the cute little bee in between the two lines, since I can't figure out how to reproduce it):
Bees Knees

Now I get to join that illustrious list of BrandNew customers . . .
The White House
Ghiradelli Chocolate
Mayo Clinic
Disney World
BeesKnees . . . !

BEEattitude for Day # 133:
       Blessed are the businesses that give good value, for they shall receive accolades from their clients.

One thing Fran is grateful for right now:
       The possum who cleans up the excess birdseed that falls under my porch    

Monday, February 21, 2011

Day #132 When am I going to stain my deck?

I hadn’t thought about this particular wrinkle in my beekeeping to-do list.

I stain my deck every few years to protect the wood. The stain is supposed to be applied when the weather is relatively warm. The trouble is, when it gets warm enough to stain the deck, I’ll be picking up my bees and installing them—yep—on the deck.

The last thing I want is for them to get stuck in the wet stain. Of course, I don’t want my deck to rot away, either. Will you keep your fingers crossed for a spell of warm-enough weather the week before the bees are ready?

I need all the luck I can get on this one.

BEEattitude for Day # 132:
       Blessed are those who do preventive maintenance, for they shall have less to worry about.

One thing Fran is grateful for right now:
       Potting soil   

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Day #131 The Garden is Getting Ready

Remember those beet seeds I planted WAY too early almost a month ago? They’ve started to come up. Now I have to worry about the weather.

public domain photo
And the sweet peas, zinnia, portulaca, and dill my grandkids sowed in the seed-starter pots? They’re up, too, straining to overgrow the grow-light I have above them. Too early to put them outside. Running out of room in my office, where they’re perched on the top of a long filing cabinet.

Yikes! What do I do?

public domain photo
Bees are smart. They wait until the weather is exactly right. Of course, if these early plants make it, I’ll have beets and flowers and herbs ready to pick in no time at all.

I think I like the suspense! And the fact that I won't have to wonder if the dandelions will survive...

BEEattitude for Day # 131:
       Blessed are those who plant, for they shall reap the benefits.
       And blessed are those who let the weeds grow, for they shall reap benefits as well.

One thing Fran is grateful for right now:
       The full moon last night    

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Day #130 Wild Bees

Last week we had one of those gorgeous sunny afternoons that tempted me away from my writing. I threw on a jacket and headed out to the creek that runs through my back yard.

While I stood on the bank, I glanced up the hill on the opposite bank, through the tangle of discarded branches and stumps from the (former) trees my neighbor had cut down five years ago. Lo and behold, above one vine-entwined thicket I saw a cloud of bees, careening ecstatically around the stump, apparently on one of those cleansing flights that bees engage in as soon as a warmish day turns up after a winter of confinement in their hives.

If I’d been a Neanderthal, I would have seen that bee-cloud as a harbinger of sweets, and I would have gone after it with my bare hands.

I’m happy indeed that I’ll be able to gather honey from a civilized box on my back deck, having first puffed smoke into the hive to calm the bees, instead of trying to fight my way through the brambles to tear open a fallen log.

I would have made a lousy Neanderthal.

BEEattitude for Day # 130:
       Blessed are they who keep our hives intact, for we shall remain in one place instead of swarming away.

One thing Fran is grateful for right now:
       The daffodils beginning to poke their way up through the leaves 

Friday, February 18, 2011

Day #129 I did it!

You may recall that I’ve had some trepidation about lighting my smoker.  In fact, I’ve tried several times (times I didn’t admit to in this blog) and failed miserably.

But Thursday afternoon I dug the slightly-charred remains of my last attempts from the guts of the smoker and started anew out on the back deck.

1.       Tear off some strips of newspaper. Stuff them in the smoker.
2.      Gather your fuel (in my case, pine needles) and stow them nearby.
3.      Tear another strip of newspaper (seven or eight sheets thick) and light one end.
4.      Try not to incinerate your hand as you stuff the burning paper into the smoker.
5.      Give it a few gallant wheezes with the attached bellows, enough to send clouds of smoke into the air.
6.      Finish coughing and move upwind from the contraption.
7.      Now stuff your fuel in on top of the burning paper.
8.   Close the lid.
9.     Pump the bellows like crazy and watch the smoke billow forth.

This time I got it to stay smoking for twenty minutes! That should be long enough to check my hives, right? I hope my bees turn out to be patient with me.

BEEattitude for Day # 129:
       Blessed are those who practice their skills before they need them, for they shall be prepared when the time comes.

One thing Fran is grateful for right now:
       The Maté-dor Chai tea I bought at Aristeacrats in Lawrenceville. It’s so tasty, I decided to mention it in my next book.    

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Day #128 Captain Jack Sparrow

I’m not sure what bees think of cats, or what cats think of bees, but you can’t have read this blog or any of my writings for very long without knowing that I’m one of those cat people. Crazy lady with cats, some might say. I have two grand-dogs I love, but for sheer day-to-day companionship, I prefer the feline variety.

When I look out my office window, I can see the resting places of a number of my dear old furry friends.  Some of them were relatively young when they died of various ailments; some of them had gotten on in cat years. There comes a time when they have to go, and while I firmly believe that there is a reason, a soul-based reason, for every death, it still isn’t any easier when that time comes, particularly since our animal companions don’t always let us know it’s their time to go.

Sparrow in the Sink (c) 2010 by  Petie Ogg
Yesterday, Petie Ogg emailed me from Texas to say that the final time had come unexpectedly for their dear sweet Captain Jack Sparrow. I’m so sorry for your loss, Petie. We’ve become friends through this blog, and even though I never met Jack, I know his love must have enriched the lives of your family.

When animals die, they cross the Rainbow Bridge to a beautiful land where they live happily together. Often, though, one of them will perk up its ears and trot happily back to the end of the Rainbow Bridge to greet a long-loved person who is finally making the same trip. I feel sure that my dear old friends will be there to greet me when it’s my turn to cross that bridge, and I’m equally sure that Jack will wait for you, Petie.

BEEattitude for Day # 128:
       Blessed are they who love animals, for we animals shall, each in our own way, love them in return.

One thing Fran is grateful for right now:
       The irises that grow above the graves of Waldo and Jazzminka

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Day #127 Bee Burglars

We’ve talked about the way killer bees infiltrate a hive, but what I’d like to mention today is hive robbing by regular little worker honey bees.

If a hive is weak—because of an inefficient queen, perhaps, or because the hive simply isn’t well-enough populated—then bees from other hives will do their best to sneak in and rob the honey and pollen stores. If the beekeeper is feeding with sugar water, the intruders will take that as well, leaving the original hive inhabitants to starve. I hope this is something I never have to deal with.

How to avoid a problem? I’m glad you asked.
1.       Monitor the hive to catch problems before they get serious. That’s what the books say, as if I’m supposed to know what to look for.
2.      Feed the bees at the rear of the hive rather than right at the front door, so that robbers would have to negotiate the length of the hive and would probably be stopped before they got to their goal. Langstroth hives are traditionally built to accommodate an entrance feeder. This makes it harder for the guard bees to keep out a mass of intruders. The bee hives I’m buying (and the ones I’ll build) all feed at the rear, however, so I should be okay.
3.      Reduce the size of the entrance. You can buy fancy entrance reducers, but my hives have a small hole as the entrance to begin with. That’s the usual design of top bar hives as well, so when I build mine, I’ll put in three entrance holes and cork the ones that aren’t ready to be used yet. (I’ll explain this in a later blog.)
4.      As a last resort, break up a weak hive by eliminating the queen and placing that hive’s brood comb in a stronger hive. I’ve said it before: I DON’T want to squish a queen, so this last resort will probably never be used at BeesKnees Beekeeping.

And now, while we’re talking about burglars, here’s a fun story from a National Public Radio blog:

BEEattitude for Day # 127:
       Blessed are those who keep their feet to themselves, for we shall not resort to stinging them.

One thing Fran is grateful for right now:
       Steve Reiman, founder of Therapy Dogs of Vermont, who sent me that blog link    

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Day #126 Giraffe/Bee Cross Answers

A few days ago, I asked What do you get when you cross a bee with a giraffe?

Here are the answers so far:
           GA: A four-legged bee
           NY: A six-legged giraffe
           TX: A gibeeffe
           GA: A bee-raffe
           MD: A gee
           FL: A winged dude wearing camouflage
           ??: I don’t know, but it has a very loud buzz.
           SD: If the giraffe has the dominant gene for size, you’d better stay away from the tail.
           NC: A black-tongued wonder
           GA: Was that bee a drone or a queen? You'd get two different critters...
           MS: LOTS of honey!

BEEattitude for Day # 126:
       Blessed are those who let well enough alone, for they shall not end up with a mess on their hands.  

One thing Fran is grateful for right now:
       Excel spreadsheets    

Monday, February 14, 2011

Day #125 Valentine's Day

I Love Bees!

I’m working on my book most of the day today, and tomorrow, and the next day...

When I’m on a roll, I like to take advantage of the time.

Bee joke answers coming up tomorrow.
If you haven't yet sent in your answer to:
What do you get when you cross a bee with a giraffe?
get it in before about 10:00 tonight.

BEEattitude for Day # 125:
       Blessed are those who know how to love, for they shall be loved in return.

One thing Fran is grateful for right now:
       Hot chocolate, and all the people I truly love    

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Day #124 Starting Seeds

Don't start your seeds until Valentine's Day. That's what Brennan Washington of Phoenix Gardens told me when I took his seed-starting class.

But my grandkids were here last Monday, and the little seed-starting pellets were all lined up waiting, and the pictures on the seed packets looked so inviting. We filled 72 "pockets" in the seed tray and turned on the light above them. I should have paid attention to Brennan's instructions to group like-minded seeds together. 

Public Domain Photo of Bee on Zinnia

Some of them germinate in 3 days and some of them in 10. Once the seedlings have sprouted, I'm supposed to take the plastic cover off so they can get air circulation. But here I am with a dozen infant zinnias climbing to the light (and probably suffocating in the humidity), while the other 60 seeds lie around waiting for Valentine's Day.

I'm doing this for the bees, so they'll have plenty of nectar-bearing plants to choose from. I'm doing it wrong, though. Is it too late to start over again?

BEEattitude for Day # 124:
       Blessed are those who send answers to the bee jokes, for we shall get to laugh at the replies. 

One thing Fran is grateful for right now:
       Lunching with my daughter.    

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Day #123 Liquid Wax, Great Big Mess

Friday I melted beeswax that I had ordered from one of the supply companies. To minimize the danger of fire, I did it over a pan of boiling water. Once it was liquid, I poured a thin bead along the top bars to give the bees a line to follow when they’re building their comb.

Or, that was the idea. Do you know how messy it is trying to dribble hot wax in a thin line? I have no idea what the bees will make of the mess I created. I hope it doesn’t confuse them too much, or the honeycomb will end up being ohembycno.

BEEattitude for Day # 123:
       Blessed are those who try new skills, for they shall eventually succeed.

One thing Fran is grateful for right now:
       The recorded book I listened to while I struggled with the wax. It’s called Captive Queen, the story of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II. I’m glad I didn’t live in the 12th century.   

All my mysteries are available as e-books now on Amazon and Smashwords.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Day #122 Bee Whiskers

Eight or ten years ago, I attended an elaborate Sewing Expo. Why I did it remains a mystery, since I’ve never been particularly interested in sewing, unlike my sister who is an amazing fabric artist. You can check out her website at to see pictures of her art pieces that show what depression feels like. She REALLY knows how to sew.

While I was at the Expo, though, bewildered by all the sewing machines and patterns, I spotted a vendor with a long table filled with implements—more kinds of scissors than I could imagine. And tweezers.

I waited for two customers to step away before I motioned to the vendor to come help me. “I’m looking for a really good pair of tweezers,” I whispered across the display case. “I have this ...” I looked around to be sure I wouldn’t be overheard, “... this whisker on my chin.”

“You have a whisker?” he boomed out in a strident voice that carried far past the aisle I stood on. “I have some perfect tweezers for that!” He showed me a small plastic tube containing those perfect tweezers, then handed duplicates to the dozen or so women who had descended on us within seconds, drawn there by his exceedingly loud question.

“We all have them, honey,” the woman standing next to me said, as she shelled out the rather stiff purchase price to this brilliant salesman. I got in line behind six other customers.

So I was intrigued when I got to reading about the body hairs on bees. It seems that a sick bee will frequently lose all her fuzz. That’s when the other bees know it's time to toss her out of the hive. See? Whiskers on females serve a purpose.

Still – hand me those tweezers. I am not a bee.

BEEattitude for Day # 122:
       Blessed are the fuzzy, for they are soft and we like them.

One thing Fran is grateful for right now:
       Skype, so I can see my friends when I talk to them.