Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Day #231 Yard Bees!

Okay, folks, I’m really excited about this—

I went out to check the mail and found honey bees and bumble bees on the bright orange Aesclepias flowers (better known as Butterfly Weed). Here are some of the pics I snapped with my old Nokia phone.

This first picture shows a big old Bumble Bee near some little bitty Honey Bees, so you can see the relative sizes.

I'm amazed at how hard they all work to collect nectar. I watched them for quite a while, going from one teeny floret to another, covering them all. And I imagine tomorrow they'll be back again to pull out the newly-produced nectar.

And then there was a single honey bee on the biggest thistle flower. I suppose the flower looks huge in this photo, but it's really just under 3 inches across.

I know I didn’t plant the thistle. But I left it there beside my driveway hoping the bees would benefit. In this picture, you can see her struggling to plow her way through the thick flower. I hope the nectar she collected was worth all the effort.

BEEattitude for Day # 231:
       Blessed are those who plant flowers, for their lives shall be bright.

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Monday, May 30, 2011

Day #230 Marked Queens

First I have to let you know that my queen is NOT marked.

That said, this is the marvelous system that was devised years ago by people who needed to keep their queens straight.

Professional beekeepers and bee researchers need to keep track of which queen is which. As I’ve mentioned before, queens can live four or five years, laying anywhere from a thousand to 2,500 eggs every single day during the spring and summer. They may take the winter off, but still, that’s a LOT of eggs.

What happens, though, as a queen ages? Her egg-laying may taper off so much that the workers feel the health of the hive is endangered. If that happens, you can bet your last honey drop that they’re going to replace her by creating a few new queens. Either the newly-hatched queen kills off the old one, or the workers ball the old queen, suffocating her by enclosing her in a tight cluster of bee-bodies.

So, imagine you’re a commercial beekeeper opening a five-year-old hive in the spring. The queen you see may be at the end of her life-cycle. On the other hand, she may be a brand-new queen. How are you going to tell?

You’ll have marked your old queen with a color that indicates which year she began her life. Here are the colors, followed by the ending number of the year in which the queen was hatched:

o   White/Gray – 1 or 6
o   Yellow – 2 or a 7
o   Red – 3 or 8.
o   Green – 4 or 9.
o   Blue – 5 or 0.

I don’t plan to mark my queens. I should think a spot of paint would be irritating to them. I’ve read that the bees don’t even notice. Well, for heaven’s sake, how on earth would anybody know what a queen bee is thinking? I’d like to trust the worker bees to know what’s best for their hive. They don’t need paint to know who’s who.

BEEattitude for Day # 230:
       Blessed are those who leave us to our own devices, for we shall grow happily and healthily.

The teeny details:
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Sunday, May 29, 2011

Day #228 Six Weeks and the Splendid Table

I spent some time yesterday idly looking through my Daytimer. Yes, I keep my schedule on paper. It never runs out of batteries and never has to be plugged in. As I was browsing around, I did some counting. Sunday the 29th will mark the beginning of the seventh week of bees on my back deck.

That means ALL the little worker bees I installed a month and a half ago have reached the end of their 6-week life expectancy. What I’m looking at outside my bay window right now is a whole new crop of bees.

There’s not a one of them (except the queen) who remembers the long trip from the bee farm. They don’t recall the mistakes I made when I was installing them. They have no idea I was the one who forgot to take the cork out of the queen cage.

What a relief. This is like getting a chance to start over again. Clean slate. New file folder. Next assignment.

Saturday at noon I listened to one of my favorite shows on public radio – The Splendid Table – as they interviewed a beekeeper. We could all hear the bees buzzing in the background. I hope you had a chance to hear it. If not, go to www.splendidtable.org and check out the May 28th show.

As I listened, I felt a sense of accomplishment that matched or exceeded almost anything I’ve ever done in this lifetime. I’m a backyard beekeeper. A member of a select society of people who care enough about this world to do something about it. Eventually, my bees will contribute their honey to my very own splendid table.

Life is good.

BEEattitude for Day # 229:
       Blessed are those who tell others about us bees, for they shall be lauded for transferring wisdom.

The teeny details:
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Saturday, May 28, 2011

Day #228 Equipment Woes

I’m beginning to get an inkling of what I’ve gotten myself into.

Today I unpacked the Honey Filtering System I bought from Brushy Mountain Bee Farm. I now am the proud owner of:

·         A food-grade white plastic 5-gallon bucket
·         Another just like it, except that it has a hole in the side of it
·         A honey gate (fancy name for a valve) to screw into the hole
·         Three strainers—200, 400, and 600-grade (coarse, medium, and fine-mesh)
·         A pail holder, a heavy contraption to stick over the rim of one of the pails so I can balance the other pail at an angle to drain the honey out.
·         And a screw-on lid to make it easier to get the 5-gallon bucket open when it’s filled with 60 pounds of honey.

The trouble is, if I put the strainers over the bottom bucket, I can’t put the pail holder on the edge without piercing the mesh (not a recommended idea). Do I need another bucket?

And I started to wash out the buckets – but I don’t have a sink deep enough to hold them. Do I clean them in the bathtub?

No wonder beekeepers build honey houses to hold all their equipment.


BEEattitude for Day # 228:
       Blessed are those who ask questions when they need to, for they shall figure out how to deal with all the honey we will produce.

The teeny details:
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Friday, May 27, 2011

Day #227 Measuring Up

You probably know by now that I’m a voracious reader. And that I love libraries, because they give me a chance to try out all sorts of books that I might not read otherwise.

A week or so ago I picked up A Measure of Everything: an illustrated guide to the science of measurement, edited by Christopher Joseph. Don’t you wonder how often Christopher was called Joseph in grade school?

At any rate, the book is a compendium of short definitions (from about 3 to maybe 14 lines each) of everything you might ever need to measure. The subjects are grouped according to where they fit in:
o   Earth and Life Sciences
o   Physical Sciences
o   Technology and Leisure

Naturally, I looked up Bees. Nothing.  Just becquerel (a unit of radioactivity) and bel (a unit of sound intensity, equal to 10 decibels) on either side of where “bees” ought to have been. I found blood money, with its rather gruesome Anglos Saxon definition, and barn. Yes, barn. A barn a unit of area used in particle physics, equal to 100 square femtometers. Aren’t you glad I cleared that up?

Then I looked up Honey Bees. The H’s ranged from haab (the civil calendar used by the Mayans) to hysteresis, which the index said was on page 162, but which actually showed up on 163. I’m glad it wasn’t any farther away or I never would have found it and would, therefore, never have known that hysteresis is the degree to which a strain depends on the history of all previous stresses as well as the present stress.  Uh, right.

Quite by accident, I found Swarm, which was right below Hive. I should have looked through those H’s more carefully. The definition for hive was okay, but I beg to differ with what Mr. Joseph says about a swarm. He should have consulted with a beekeeper before saying that a swarm of bees is led by a queen. Not so. The queen is lured out of the hive by her workers, surrounded, and pretty much forced to go where they decide to go.

Now my trust has been shattered. If he’s made a mistake on swarm, how will I ever trust him for those essential definitions of apoapsis, kinematic viscosity, or rayleigh?


BEEattitude for Day # 227:
       Blessed are those who use words with precision, for they shall, hopefully, be understood.

The teeny details:
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Thursday, May 26, 2011

Day #226 Food Source / Weed Source

(c) 2011 Thistle #1 - Fran Stewart
There are some folk who would complain if a thistle appeared in their yards.

Not this daughter of Scotland!

I was pleased as could be when this beauty peeked out of (I must admit) a rather scroungy section of my front yard, right next to driveway. I think  it dresses up the area. After all, it's the symbol of my rather prickly ancestors -- and their sometimes prickly descendants.  

And sometimes not so prickly. Years ago I had a lovely discussion with a Scottish gardener on a hillside in the highlands as we stood beside a perfectly ornamental-looking specimen quite like this beauty.
(c) 2011 Thistle #2 - Fran Stewart
I have no idea whether or not the bees will see this tall garden addition as a source of nectar or simply food for thought as they fly over it to find something better to eat.

I think it’s beautiful.

I do plan, however, on cutting it down before it disperses seed! My neighbors put up with an awful lot from me, but there are limits to what I can ask of them.

BEEattitude for Day # 226:
       Blessed are those with patience and compassion, who live and let live, for they shall be abundantly entertained by the shenanigans of their neighbors.

The teeny details:
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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Day #225 Career Day

Last week I went to my grandchildren’s elementary school to take part in the 5th grade’s Career Day. I’d already spoken to each of the 5th grade classes about my life as a writer during the “Writer’s Boot Camp” they took part in last month.

This time I spoke to them about beekeeping. I had a set of 12 education cards I’d bought from Brushy Mountain Bee Farm. The bright pictures, each measuring 13” x 18”, helped me show
Ø  the differences between the three types of honey bees (worker, queen, and drone),
Ø  the progression of a developing bee from egg to larva to pupa,
Ø  the hexagonal structure of cells in the comb, and
Ø  the transfer of bee barf from forager bee to house bee.

Everyone got a big kick out of my description of honey as “bee barf,” but they agreed it made a lot of sense when I explained that nectar is ingested into a special honey stomach by the forager and then transferred to a house bee who then places the nectar (by barfing it up once again) into the cell. All this barfing has a purpose. It mixes the nectar with special enzymes in the bee stomach. Those enzymes help to make honey to super-pure food it is, capable of lasting for thousands of years without rotting.
"Bees Rock" by Jessica

Yesterday my granddaughter delivered thank-you notes from the children. I thoroughly enjoyed reading them and looking at the pictures they’d drawn as illustrations. Most of the children didn’t identify which class they were in, so I’m not sure which particular Jessica drew this picture, but I wanted to share it with you anyway – with thanks to the anonymous Jessica.

This fuzzy stuff is ridiculous, though.
I'm just about ready to give up and get a real camera. 
 I wish you could see that the bee on the lower right is saying "Bees Rock!"

BEEattitude for Day # 225:
       Blessed are the children, for they shall inherit the hive and shall, hopefully, help it to flourish.

The teeny details:
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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Day #224 Google Alerts and Online Obituaries

I signed up some time ago for Google Alerts, so I’d be notified whenever my name crops up online.  It’s kind of fun, although I must admit I was shocked the first time a Fran Stewart obituary showed up in my inbox.

Another one cropped up yesterday.  I take a look at each one of them, just to be sure I haven’t been “twained,” a word I just invented to refer to Samuel Clemmons’ remark about his reported death having been grossly exaggerated. So far, all the dead Frans have been somebody else.

The point of all this is that, glancing through those obits, I’ve noticed something:
Not one of them was a beekeeper.


I’ve read that backyard beekeepers as a whole tend to live longer than many other groups of people.
o   Maybe that’s because beekeepers have to learn to live in tune with nature.
o   Maybe it’s because people who keep bees are more likely to eat healthily (honey rather than sugar, anyone?)
o   Maybe it’s because such beekeepers have the music of the hives with them.

Maybe if all these Frans had kept bees, their obits wouldn’t have shown up quite so soon.

BEEattitude for Day # 224:
       Blessed are those who live in tune with nature, for they shall live longer and enjoy life more.

The teeny details:
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Monday, May 23, 2011

Day #223 Over the River

Yesterday my friend Millie and I went to see Over the River at the Aurora Theater in Lawrenceville. The play concerns a young man who’s lived all his life in Hoboken, eating every Sunday dinner with both sets of grandparents. When he decides to accept a promotion, which would require a move to Seattle, they try to set him up with a nice girl so he’ll get married and stay in Hoboken. The play kept me laughing; even the poignant parts were funny.

As I think about it, though, I’m remembering more poignancy than humor. The play brought up a lot of the reasons why I left home umpty years ago.

Bees don’t worry about stuff like that. The only time they “leave home” is when they swarm, and they take grandma (in this case, the mama queen bee) with them. They do it for the health of the hive, not for an impersonal employer. When the hive is too crowded, half of them leave, first making sure that the remaining bees have a couple of queens-in-the-making.

There's no hand-wringing where bees are concerned. Of course, bees don't have hands...

BEEattitude for Day # 2:
       Blessed are those who know why they do what they do, for they shall have less heartache.

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Sunday, May 22, 2011

Day #222 Of Two Minds

I grew up in an Air Force family. We moved so often, that my sister and I can remember what grade we were in when specific events happened, simply by recalling the place we were at. Fell down the long staircase – I must have been three because we were living in Tennessee; climbed trees with Phillip Van Stavern and he fell out of a pine and broke his arm – I was five, because we were at Shaw Field in South Carolina; Brownie Scouts with Diane Marie Hart and Ivy McKee – 3rd grade, Sembach Air Base in Germany; learned to hula hoop – must have been 5th grade because we were living on Holmes Drive in Colorado Springs.

People who grew up in one place (like my brother-in-law) often aren’t sure what grade they were in when specific events happened. It all runs together smoothly with a common background. They’ll remember elementary school times from high school times, of course, but those lazy summers in between school years have a timeless quality for them that military brats almost never had.

I think my bees are like that. They’re born, grow up, work, and die in one hive for the six weeks they live. In the winter, worker bees live longer because they’re not out wearing their wings off with all the foraging. But still – their entire life is bounded within a five-mile radius of the hive.

Bees that are born into a commercial hive, however, must have a military-brat existence, being hauled from one end of the country to another, following the crops as they blossom at different times in a wave from south to north or from east to west. One week they’ll be in the almond groves of California, and the next week in the Midwest for the alfalfa or clover. Avocados here, peach trees there. They cope, of course, but I wonder if they ever wonder what happened to some of their hive-mates that didn’t make it back to the hive before the forklift came to load them back on the truck.

I still wonder about Phillip and Ivy and Diane Marie.

BEEattitude for Day # 222:
       Blessed are those who keep in touch with friends from childhood, for they shall see the sweep of changes as the people they know mature.

The teeny details:
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Saturday, May 21, 2011

Day #221 Answers to the Latest Bee Jokes

Here are the answers that have come in. I hope you giggle as much as I did!

Chives – WY
A honey of a deal – TX
Honey Nut Cheerios – TX
Beans (bee-ns) and Beenanas - IL
Pollen-ta - GA
Green beens - WY
Nectar-ines - OH

BEEattitude for Day # 221:
       Blessed are those who eat fruits and vegetables that we have pollinated, for they shall be healthy indeed.

The teeny details:
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Friday, May 20, 2011

Day #220 Time for Another Bee Joke

What do you get when you send a honey bee to the grocery store?

 Send you answers to me or post them here in the comment section.

BEEattitude for Day # 220:
       Blessed are those who laugh hard, for they shall exercise their insides.

The teeny details:
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Thursday, May 19, 2011

Day #219 Done! and Settled!

Wednesday was a full day indeed for two big reasons. I’ll start with the second one first.

May 18, 2011 - two layers each
Both hives now have two layers for brood chambers. I opened the brown hive (formerly the white hive) and checked all the frames. Some of the comb they’d built was pretty fat, but it wasn’t large enough to attach to the frame next door, so I left it as is.

I saw plenty of eggs, so the queen appears to be well, although she’s very good at hiding. There was also a lot of capped brood (the brownish wax-topped cells where the baby bees are growing) and a fair amount of honey (white-capped cells) and pollen (yellowish-brown stuff). And the larvae were plentiful and cute.

I checked on the yellow hive just to be sure, and all seemed well. My smoker went out halfway through this whole operation. Thank goodness I have gentle bees.

Now to the second biggie:

Honey Creek Woodlands Trail

My friend Millie went with me Wednesday morning to Honey Creek Woodlands to meet with the director, Joe Whittaker. Honey Creek is a natural cemetery (also known as a green cemetery) situated on the lovely grounds of the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers GA, smack dab in the middle of the monastery's 2,200 acres. The cemetery is open for burials from all faiths. I selected a place where eventually (maybe 40 years from now???) I’d like to be buried. And it’s all paid for.

If you don’t know anything about green funerals or natural cemeteries, you might want to check out the Honey Creek website. Or read my 5th Biscuit McKee mystery, Indigo as an Iris, because I have a couple of green funerals in there. Writing about natural burial was my way of helping to educate people about a lovely way to keep pollutants (like embalming fluid / formaldehyde) out of the earth. One acre of a regular cemetery contains enough wood and concrete to build something like forty houses. In natural burial, everything returns to and nourishes the earth.

So – now my kids and grandkids won’t have to worry about arranging all that. I know right where I’m going to be planted. It’s pretty close to where Millie found a place for herself. You can come visit us both at the same time. But I'm not planning to die any time soon!

BEEattitude for Day # 219:
       Blessed are those who plan ahead without freaking out about it, for they shall carry a blessed calmness along with them.

The teeny details:
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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Day #218 Good Grief!

Good grief! I’ve spent hours trying to correct the mess I bought when I got that nuc from a company I will no longer name online. It’s not just my opinion. The experienced beekeeper who came to help me figure out what was going said that nuc of mine was the sorriest excuse of a nucleus hive he’d ever seen.

A nuc is supposed to have five almost full working frames. Mine had two and a half. And there was a container of roach bait in the bottom. For somebody who wants to do natural beekeeping, this was a setback.

I’m going to make this work, though. Tuesday afternoon I cut out the solid bottom of that nuc box. I’d already cleaned the box as thoroughly as I could, but I went ahead and sanded everything down, and then stapled a screen bottom on it. Whenever the weather’s good enough, I’m going to take whatever the bees have created out of the brown (short) box I’d transferred them into, and I’ll put them into this clean, screened-bottom box. Then I’ll have to pry the screening off the bottom of the brown box and add the brown box to the top of the white one, so I’ll finally have two layers, with the deeper one on the bottom.

This means that the white hive, which became the brown hive, will soon be the white and brown hive. I hope you can keep up with this, because I’m getting confused!

BEEattitude for Day # 218:
       Blessed are those who take things one step at a time (the way we bees do), for they shall ultimately succeed.

The teeny details:
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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Hot Chocolate Taste Test

I seem to be in a taste-testing mood. A few days ago, it was pollen. Today it’s hot chocolate.

Last week I was at the Gwinnett County Public Library’s “Book Bistro” as a visiting author. The library had arranged to have Andre and Latoya Bentley there to serve generous samples of their Organo Gold iced latté. I’m not usually a coffee drinker, but I do admit to guzzling more than my fair share. The day was hot, after all. The coffee is infused with something wonderful called “Ganoderma” that helps strengthen immunity. I’ll take all the help I can get.

I brought home a couple of sample packages of their hot chocolate. This is not just any hot chocolate. It has the Ganoderma in it, too. But I wasn’t willing just to say “must be good.” I did a taste test.

I have two mugs that, other than the color, are pretty much the same. Same weight, same shape. I took the generic hot chocolate mix I keep on hand for my grandchildren and dumped it in the green mug. The Ganoderma hot chocolate mix went into the brown mug. I poured an equal amount of hot water into each and stirred them both.

Then I closed me eyes, sang three of the songs I’ve memorized for our Gwinnett Choral Guild concerts – “Ashokan Farewell,” “Homeward Bound,” and the hauntingly beautiful “Prayer of the Children.” While I was singing, I moved the cups around. After the first 10 or 15 bars of music, I’d truly forgotten which mug was which.

Keeping my eyes closed, I tasted. Not even close! The Ganoderma chocolate was truly delicious – even more so when compared to that other stuff. It was rich and mellow; no yucky aftertaste, either.

I’ll be reporting on a honey taste test once my bees let me rob their hives. I’m no Julia Child, but I do know what tastes good. You can look this up at http://www.happybcoffee.com/. Tell ‘em the bees sent you!

BEEattitude for Day # 217:
       Blessed are those who share good news, for good shall bounce right back to them.

The teeny details:
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