over the fence, out of the norm

April 22, 2010

If you’re here via the kind link from heather at Beauty That Moves, welcome! This little blog has never seen such a full house, but there’s plenty of room, so come on in!

Since I left you dangling, or more precisely left myself dangling a few weeks back, on that chain-link fence, I figured that I’d better tell the whole story.

I'm stuck!

Have you ever immersed yourself in some sort of fringe activity, and met others who partake in the same activity, until over time it seems that what you’re doing is totally normal and mainstream–only to realize later that what your doing is actually still quite fringe-y? (I’m talking about clean and legal activities, mind you.)

I’ve had this experience with homeschooling. I’ve met so many homeschoolers over the course of fourteen years, and I spend so much time with them that I sometimes forget that what we’re doing is seen by many people as rather radical.

Same for beekeeping. I have several beekeeping friends: stefaneener, kristin, susan. I even have a blogging, beekeeping uncle. I sometimes forget that posting a photo of myself climbing as chain link fence in a beesuit to capture a swarm may be seen by others as a little, um, crazy.

But let’s go back to the beginning.

You may remember that in February, I posted about my hive. How I’d opened it up, found the queen, and was excited that as a first-year beekeeper, I’d helped them make it through their first winter. How I had high hopes for honey this year.

see queen bee-atrice?

Well. Two weeks later I checked again and they were gone. All but a couple of ladies who sat at the front entrance worrying together and wringing their tiny bee hands. Where had they all gone? And why?

I have no idea. This is just what bees do. Sometimes they take off and go. I knew that, but it was still a little heartbreaking to have it happen to me, especially because this was my first colony. I cried, I did. My mom said that maybe it was a way of preparing me for my oldest going off to college in the fall.

She was trying to be helpful, really.

So I left my hive out in the yard, somewhat full of honey, hoping that another colony might just happen by, before the ants snarfed down the honey. And hoping that one of my even crazier beekeeping friends might get a swarm call.

Both Stefaneener and Kristin are on swarm lists. That means that if someone finds a swarm of bees, or a wild hive on their property, they can call my friends. The caller gets free bee swarm removal; my friends get free bees.

Swarming is a natural part of bee life. Sometimes a colony decides that it doesn’t like its real estate and it looks for something better. It may be that the current living space is too small, or maybe it’s gotten a little too hot in there, or….who knows? Sometimes they just decide to move on, and it often happens in the spring.

They fly out together in a big–for lack of a better word–swarm. Eventually they gather in a cluster, often on a tree. They gather protectively around the queen and wait while a few scouts search out better digs.

Colonies are generally quite calm when they’ve swarmed. They have no honey or brood to protect. Which makes them fairly easy to collect.

Or at least this is what Stefaneener told me, when she phoned to tell me that she’d received a swarm call, and would I like to help gather it and keep it for my own?

Why, yes I would, so long as she was with me. Stefaneener knows her stuff.  Look at the nutty things she does for bees! This job would be much easier. The most challenging part–it would turn out–would be climbing that chain-link fence. Six times.

The swarm was behind some houses, alongside a creek. The houses ran up against that fence, which was the boundary of an adjoining golf course.

Stefaneener is a good climber. You only need to check out that link of her climbing up that very tall ladder for that swarm, or witness her children owning the monkey bars to understand this. I am not a good climber. I am not terribly athletic in any way. Always the last to get chosen for dodge ball. The only kid I knew who played soccer for eight years and never scored a goal.

I made it up the fence just fine. But once I got to the top, I couldn’t move. My hiking boots wouldn’t fit into the links; I had no toe hold. S., from the far side of the fence, tried to help. “Just swing your leg over.” Easy for you! I finally had her unlace and take off my boot, but then it hurt to put my merely socked foot into the links. I just sat there, forked in the rear by the top of the links, giggling at my ineptitude and feeling helpless.

It’s sort of a blur now, but I think that getting over involved stepping on S.’s back somehow.

I put my boot back on and we trudged through blackberry vines.

Found the swarm.

That’s when I realized that I’d left my gloves in the car.

You know what that meant. Two more trips over the fence.  (Sigh.)

Back again, we saw that the swarm was clustered over a mass of branches and vines. We couldn’t simply cut a branch and gently drop it into a box.

that's a swarm in there

(I wish I had a better photo of the cluster. You can sort of see it in the photo above.)

Instead, we shook the branch until some of the bees fell into the box.

shaking them down

We also used our gloved hands to brush them into the box. They didn’t seem to like that much and buzzed about, though not too angrily.

climb in here, ladies

After we’d collected a good part of the swarm into the box, S. decided it might be best to leave them alone until dusk. The rest of the colony would have followed the queen into the box by then.

got 'em (we thought)

So, back over the fence we went. (Trip #4, if you’re counting.) I became slightly less inept with each climb.

At 7:00 pm, (after Trip #5) we were back at the swarm. Only to find that every single bee had rejoined the original cluster back in the tree. We must not have moved the queen into the box earlier in the afternoon.

On to Plan B. We had to hack at all the branches and vines with my small pruners (at least I’d remembered them). One branch was quite thick, so S. held the box while I hacked. And hacked.

Finally they were all in. We enclosed the box in a sheet so no strays would nettle me as I drove home on the freeway.

Trip #6 was rather victorious. S. went first, I passed the box over to her and then climbed over myself. I’d like to say I was graceful; at least I can say I was successful.

I dumped the box into my empty hive that night: bees, branches, vines and all. I wanted the bees to have the night to settle in. In the morning, when it was still cold and before they got active, I shook the bees off the branches and that was that. I had a hive again.

new digs

I also had a very sore upper body.  The results of beekeeping boot camp. For a few days, that soreness reminded me that I’ve now joined the ranks of the slightly crazy.

The girls and their drones seem happy in their new place. There seem to be far more of them than I ever had with my original colony, which I’d bought as a package.

so many!

The purple Pride of Madeira is blooming just outside their front door and they’re all over it.

they love the pride of madeira

And they got here just in time, just as our ollalieberry bushes began to bloom.

olallieberries in bloom

It’s going to be a good year for berries, I think.

berry fertilizing

Fruits of living on the fringe.

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{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Unka Bee April 22, 2010 at 10:13 am

“I also had a very sore upper body. The results of beekeeping boot camp. For a few days, that soreness reminded me that I’ve now joined the ranks of the slightly crazy.”
Big congratulations Ms Beek.
According to The Guru Kirk, capturing a swarm means you are now a REAL beek, not just someone with a nice bee house in your yard.
And the better part is I did not have to attempt to deliver the swarm I captured down here. Too bad, they are very nice and you would have loved them but it would have been hard on them.

I love hearing all the bee stories and will have to feature it on my blog.
Check them fairly soon, with that many bees they can fill the comb rather quickly. The original nuc I put my swarm in was full within about 10 days and they had to start their comb from scratch. This time of the year they expand must faster than you imagine.
In fact I need to make some starter strips right now so I can add a second super to their hive over the weekend when it is warmer.

If you fly down for the weekend you can make our monthly bee meeting on Sunday. LOL
Bee Happy…

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patricia April 22, 2010 at 10:03 pm

And silly me for not thinking I was crazy, when clearly craziness runs in the family. I have many beekeeping friends, but none of them have blogging, beekeeping uncles.

And your readers are coming to visit, now that you linked to my post. Welcome to the land of legal beekeeping, you buzzers in the Dale!

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Mom April 24, 2010 at 8:51 pm

Hi Tricia: It took me a long time to catch up – I haven’t made a visit to your site for a while. Mesmerized as usual. I especially enjoyed Henry’s visit to New York. Yes, you home schooled and yes, he’s quite the kid because you did. (So are the other two home schoolers.)

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patricia April 24, 2010 at 9:49 pm

But can you believe that your grandbaby is going to college in the fall?

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Kristin April 22, 2010 at 7:30 pm

I have to admit I giggled at the image of S. removing your boot on your first climb over.

See–it did become easier, so you are now a chain-link athelete.

It’s not that you’re on the fringe; it’s just that “People are Strange.” (Jim Morrison).

Life is richer for everyone when bold souls do daring things.

Thanks for the story amiga–so happy things are buzzin’ at Wonderfarm again.

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Kristin April 22, 2010 at 7:32 pm

And by the way, the photos of the bees on the flowers are awesome.

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patricia April 22, 2010 at 10:07 pm

Yeah, I kinda liked how sore I got after climbing that fence so many times and wondered if I should work fence-climbing into my runs.

‘Cause I’m not going to go entering any triathlons or anything. I’m leaving that to my braver, big-black-boot-wearing friends.

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stefaneener April 22, 2010 at 9:41 pm

No, you were really fine. Cheerful, funny, wiling to try new things until they were near-easy. I did watch your daughter fall off a log today in what was eerily reminiscent of fence-climbing. . . Anyhow, I’m so glad they’re doing well. You have serious chops now. But I promise I won’t make you climb a tall ladder ever.

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patricia April 22, 2010 at 10:12 pm

Hey, my daughter and husband are the athletic ones in the family! If she’s falling off logs, that doesn’t bode well for my abilities.

Please don’t ever make me climb a tall ladder. If I get stuck at the top, you know you’d be stuck getting me down.

Thanks for apprenticing me to *real* beekeeping status!

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Barrie April 22, 2010 at 10:45 pm

Thank you for another fascinating post! Eerily, I was just sitting here googling “creamed honey” after it was required in a recipe and finding out that making it yourself involves a 10% starter of already-creamed (finely crystallized) honey and a basement at 56F, both of which I am sorely lacking (and if I had the “starter”, I guess I’d just have what I needed for the recipe, since I don’t have a hive of my own or anything).

Anyway, the googling led to a YouTube video about making creamed honey, which led to videos of other beekeeping techniques, which got me thinking about your cryptic comment about hive troubles and that picture of you climbing the fence. I checked your blog, and voila! a ready-made answer to my question of “whatever happened with Tricia’s hive?” My evening is complete. Time to dream about someday adding beekeeping to my ever-growing list of fringe activities . . . I’m so glad your happy little bee casita is occupado once more.

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patricia April 23, 2010 at 8:13 am

Well, there’s some synchronicity for you!

I knew that making creamed honey was somewhat complicated, but I didn’t know it was that complicated! Still, I’m intrigued. Something to think about. But first I need to get regular ol’ honey.

Those baby belly warmers you’ve knit are pretty fringe, don’t you think?

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molly April 23, 2010 at 7:09 pm

i love your bee adventures! all the photos are wonderful, but that last one especially is divine. the lighting – oh my! so warm – it’s as if i’m receiving a guided tour in your backyard as the sun sets.

and i have to admit, i’m typing this with tears in my eyes because before i finished reading your post, the “streak” link on your sidebar completely sidetracked me. i was crying by the third paragraph i think. i hope to read to my children every night until they leave my home. we’re currently reading “the sweetness at the bottom of the pie”, not a junior novel to be sure, and it’s certainly challenging me in the read-a-loud department. it’s a far cry from our goodnight moon days, though aidan told me the other night that he remembers when i used to take him out on the front porch every night to say goodnight to the moon. he was two.

i think tonight i’ll read them the article before we settle in for a few more chapters of sweetness.

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patricia April 24, 2010 at 9:53 pm

Didn’t that story just kill you? It was especially poignant to me because it was a dad and a daughter. I got teary too.

I read to my oldest two for a long time–but I’m going to do all I can to keep it going with T. Maybe we’ll have to start a streak of our own.

You can have a real guided tour of my backyard as the sun sets. You just have to come back down here…

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melissa s. April 25, 2010 at 9:02 pm

I’m so impressed — the homeschooling, the bees, the fence-climbing — you truly are a fringe-y wonder woman!

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patricia April 25, 2010 at 9:59 pm

Well, I’m sure that all of us have our own crazy, quirky adventures. I’m just ridiculous enough to blog about them.

Maybe that’s a dare: I want to know what quirky things you’re up to…

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