Tennesseetransitions


“Life Skill”: How Sweet It Is!
April 3, 2012, 10:33 PM
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I went into my bee hives again this afternoon, right there between working in the garden and the big storm. There was no wind or rain and they were so docile I was able to handle them with just a little smoke and no gloves! It looks like they’ve come through the winter just fine, and there’s still some honey left, but this is also the time that many hives starve to death because there’s simply not enough nectar for them to make more. The warm weather is spurring the queens to lay, which means lots of little mouths to feed. About 60,000 little mouths in a strong hive actually. So, I’ve been feeding them a sugar syrup that they are taking by the gallon, with a homemade concoction of essential oils added to it to boost their health at this particularly fragile time of the year.

Beekeeping is a bit of a seasonal hobby, but because I procrastinated all winter in getting my equipment ready, the work has suddenly become very pressing. We caught our first swarm last year during the first week of April, and I kept hoping we’d get so lucky again this year, but I couldn’t put off any longer the things I needed to do to get them ready for a full season of pollinating our crops and making honey for them and me. I had tried splitting a strong hive 3 weeks ago, but the newbees (get it?) never produced a queen, so I had to buy one and install her in her new home today. Along with making needed repairs on the wooden ware, wiring new sheets of foundation into the frames, removing propolis (or bee glue as it’s called) that the bees use to caulk up every available open space, reversing hive bodies to allow more laying room for the old queens, and adding supers (the wooden box where the new honey is stored), it was quite a busy day in the bee yard! When I finished I was hot and tired and cranky and swore I was getting out of this beekeeping business altogether. But, my bee mentor was giving a presentation tonight at the monthly bee club meeting, and I’d promised her I’d come to support her efforts. Damn if I didn’t get sucked right back in to the fascination and challenge of being a better beekeeper!

Things are sure different since I joined the local beekeeper’s club in 2004. Back then, each monthly meeting was a litany of the medications we beekeepers were supposed to apply to our bees that month in order to ‘keep them healthy’. It was definitely a ‘good ole’ boys club’, with only a very few women attending the meetings, with secretary being the only elected position held by a woman. We’d be lucky to have 20 folks show up at each meeting. Now women are visible and vocal and holding responsible positions in the club. The message is no longer ‘medicate’, but instead, ‘wait and see’. As a matter of fact, the speaker at the upcoming June meeting is coming from South Carolina and will be giving a talk on ‘Natural Beekeeping’! We’ve come a long way baby and I’m happy to be a part of such a caring and dedicated group, bent on helping this little creature we all depend on. The numbers are now over  100 at each meeting, and women make up about 40% of the membership, with couples and even families coming to learn about the bees!

It is said that every third bite of food we Americans eat is the direct result of the pollination done by a  honeybee. They are an extremely important and vital part of our food system- the whole web of life in fact. If you garden or have fruit trees, if you enjoy a variety of foods in your diet, if you love that  golden honey in your tea, if you suffer from allergies, or if you simply want to live a more sustainable life that’s a bit more in tune with nature and the changing seasons, you just might consider becoming a beekeeper too. I like to tell my grandkids how important it is to learn ‘life skills’: riding a bike, managing their money, and making good cornbread for example. I’ve added beekeeping to that list.

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