Saturday was a very full and interesting day for me in the world of beekeeping. So far my experiences in beekeeping have been limited to reading books, attending workshops and beekeeping meetings, and watching our mentor, Jurgen, as he has worked the two hives he placed here at Seven Oaks in early April. He has generously offered me lots of explanation of what is doing and why and he consistently shares the experience by letting me feel the weight of a frame or points me to important things to observe in the hives. It is good that I’ve had some time to gradually learn what beekeeping is about since there is sooo much to learn. But the tide turned last week when Jurgen called and suggested that I accompany him on his hive inspection route over the weekend. (He supervises 19 hives!) The idea behind this is that I should now take the next step and advance to some hands on learning with his guidance.
So, as he advised, I equipped myself with my own hive tool and brush to go along with my smoker and veil jacket. I still need to get a couple more pieces of equipment but I was basically ready and willing on Saturday morning when I picked him up at 8:30am to start this day long adventure. We loaded Dave’s pickup truck with equipment and off we went to his first hive visit of the day. The skies were overcast and it was only 75 degrees so it was nice weather for working the bees. It was interesting to compare the states of other colonies to the ones at our place since I saw various stages of development. Some were more established than others and some were ones he “inherited” from another beekeeper and was trying to make do with both the hive condition and location. The first 3 stops were relatively easy to deal with – they had one, two, and three hives in each. I took notes in my log on the conditions of each hive which is a good practice but Jurgen also says that you are evaluating the hive each time you inspect it and so you don’t always have to rely on the history to figure out what to do next. Here are hives from one of the locations. Our fourth stop was one where he was caring for someone’s hives who had placed them poorly and had not maintained the equipment over the years so needless to say it was a challenge. These three hives were on a generous amount of land but were cramped together in a space that didn’t allow for a good approach and did not have the adequate space needed to work them properly. The bees were aggressive and difficult to handle so we made sure that we both had our smokers going at full strength. This was my least favorite stop. You want beekeeping to be fun and rewarding, not a pain in the A with miserable conditions that make the bees feisty! We were both happy when we finished up at those hives!
At one point in our day of inspections, Jurgen allowed me to act as the hive inspector and gave me the reins. This was a very kind gesture on his part, something that only a true mentor can generously offer. It is not unlike teaching someone to drive on your fancy, stick shift sports car and letting them grind all the gears and watching as they nearly dent the fenders. (Or perhaps letting a medical student learn to do surgery on a patient!!!) I’m afraid that I surprised myself at my clumsiness…what a novice I was as I tried out a new set of tools while wearing a space suit. I was so afraid of squashing the bees in the hive that I probably squashed a life time of bees that day! Arg! I really felt an abundance of patience from Jurgen as I used my smoker at times in such a fashion that spouted black soot into the honey combs (not good) or marred the honey comb with my hive tool as I tried to separate the frames. It was a great experience for me but he probably has a bunch of extra grey hairs after the day we spent. He continued to instruct with patience during a long, hot day. Thank you, Jurgen!
The outcome of our day of hive inspections came at the end of a long day when he suggested that I work the hives at Seven Oaks the next day by myself! I hope he wasn’t just so tired of me that he could not stand another day of hives with me, but I think he felt like there wasn’t too much I could do wrong on my own and he needed to get a little break too. So, I happily lit my smoker yesterday (it took me several tries to get it right – God, do I wish I had one of those lighters instead of matches!!!) and went out to do the routine inspection of our hives. Dave dutifully took pics from the terrace. Here I am inspecting the first hive using some smoke. This hive was ‘Queen Right’ since I saw evidence of new eggs at all stages, so the queen was actively working. The upper deep super was not drawn out too much so this one will probably continue for a week on feeding before adding honey supers, but I will defer to Jurgen on this. The next hive was doing well and was a bit further along in filling out the upper supper. I was able to close up the last hive after making notes on the progress and will share with Jurgen. Unlike the day before, I was not stung and did not kill nary a bee! So beekeeping was not the only thing happening this weekend. After a diligent search process, we finally located and planted the Crape Myrtles in the new bed against the back terrace. The difficult winter of 2013/2014 left many crape myrtle owners in distress and they all panicked and wanted to replace their old ones that basically just needed a bit more time to come back from the ground this year. But no one has any patience anymore and the nurseries told me that every other buyer this spring was looking for crapes. So, it was with much difficulty that we finally found the variety that we wanted to plant….and they arrived yesterday, full of blooms! We spent the day working on all kinds of plantings both in the fields and flower beds which was tiring to say the least. I worked on preparing and freezing the strawberries all afternoon and intended to pick the next round of strawberries all day, but didn’t go out to the field until 5pm (it is best to pick in the morning after the dew is dry when the sugar is rising into the plant) but found myself picking until after 7pm and brought in another batch that was exactly one ounce short of the previous picking…this time 23lbs, 9.75 oz. Strawberries YTD 53.719 pounds! Lots of strawberry hulling in my future!
We woke today to celebrate our 35th wedding anniversary. The celebration is a mild one since there was so much to do both indoors and out. We planted vegetables as well as flowers and watered profusely since we wisely didn’t want to depend on the forecast of showers. We entertained my mother with a bit of lunch, followed by some strawberry preparation and a new recipe for a chocolate babka or an egg rich bread that she cut out from a recent newspaper. It is in the oven now, but looks enticing. How can you lose with lots of butter, eggs, sugar and chocolate? It is with great fondness and reverence that we also salute one of our family friends, 1st. Lt. Roz Schulte, who was killed by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan and laid to rest on Memorial Day, five years ago today. Roz was a childhood and high school friend and team mate of our Kate and we all have such fond memories of her. She decided to enter the Air Force Academy after the 9/11 attacks her senior year of high school and after graduation from the academy, she served in the intelligence division before her untimely death. We honor her service to our nation today and every day.