if you’ve encountered either me or my Mama at a cocktail party in the last year you will have heard all of this and more: the first question anyone asks us when they hear we’ve started keeping bees is “when do you get the honey!?”. That is a good question. The answer is sort of complicated because the final answer is “Maybe never, or perhaps in October?”. A little explanation: bees make honey for themselves, to nom nom nom through the winter, and you have to be sure they have enough for themselves before you take any. When you first get a hive, the bees are all in one hive body, a single box. They build out comb and store honey and the queen lays eggs and they raise their brood, growing, building up their hive until they fill up that box. Just like any growing family in a Brooklyn apartment, there’s a lot of discussion on what to do next, how to renovate, whether to move upstate. Luckily for the bees it’s possible to just double the size of the available real estate just by adding a new hive body up top. If only it were that simple for the Brooklyn brownstone (just add another one on top!). With the addition of a 2nd box, the bees have room to grow, to begin filling that hive body up with honey, pollen, eggs, and brood. Then when/if they have that hive body filled up, then you can add another, smaller box to the hive called a “honey super” and that’s extra, that’s gravy, that’s honey. We might not get that this year, we might not get that ever, but as of now we’re about halfway there. Two weeks ago we added the second hive bodies, and last weekend, after my great uncle Tall Paul’s 94th birthday party, Mama and I came home and did a late afternoon hive-inspection to see how the hives, Shangri-la+Xanadu, were doing. Shangri-la is always busier, always has a scrum of bees outside in the late afternoon, while Xanadu is a little mellower, her bees coming zagging in backlit in the afternoon sun heavy with loads of pollen and nectar. It’s almost impossible to tell what they’re up to until you open up the hive, and we’ve been consistently surprised. They’ve both started building out comb in their new additions, but Xanadu (quiet thunder) has stepped it up, is already putting away honey and is growing fast. The glistening comb in this picture is full of almost-ready honey, and the white capped comb at the top is honey stored and ready to go.
Mama took the top picture, I took the middle two, and Daddy (getting very close in just his shirtsleeves!) took the last one. Love+Honey indeed.
This is the year of the rookie garden. Someday I will have my mother’s hands and my grandfather’s understanding of what plants need to go where (or at least maybe my other grandfather’s brilliant knack for just hiring someone to do it right), but in the meantime, I’m just playing fast and loose with seeds and starts and trials and errors and sun and shade and just trying to appreciate the loveliness of small successes as I make a (totally delicious) dinner involving 4 peas and 3 radishes. In all of this vegetable garden planning and hand wringing and dirt moving and cucumber roadtripping, I forgot about flowers. So, in some went. Two packets of impulse-purchase dollar-store wildflowers and the entirety of the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange’s Wild Garden Perennial Insectary Mix (for the bees) sown. Look at these seeds! Strange curlicues, barbed instruments of war, tiny drinking gourds, beach balls, tomatillos, snailshells, armaments, and toboggans. Go forth little seeds, go forth and bloom.
We’ve been spending our mornings drinking coffee and watching the bees zoom in and out of their hives. They leave the hive, shot out like a bullet, up and over the house making, yep you guessed it, bee-lines towards the ancient and gigantic blooming tulip poplar in the neighbor’s yard. On the way back, they weave woozily, back and forth in a zig zag, lady bees laden down with yellow bolls of pollen on either side of her back legs, under the wing, like saddlebags. And after much discussion (and minor confusion about which one was which “the one on the left is bringing in more pollen than the one on the right” which left? which right?) we have decided to name our hives: Shangri-La and Xanadu. Paradise.
Mama took the picture of the bee with the pollen. Isn’t she good?
Actually, TODAY was the day. Mama and I went out to the east side of town to pick up our two nucs from a very sweet beekeeper named Jacob who I immediately wanted to set up all of my friends with (laaaaaadies? he breeds his own queens!). You can see our two nuc boxes resting on top of the two hive bodies above. A “nuc”, or nucleus hive, is a short box containing a fully-functioning mini-hive, five frames (as opposed to the 10 in a standard hive) of bees who have already drawn out and built the wax comb every aspect of their lives is based on, who have already been storing honey and pollen in those combs, and a beautiful queen painted with a red dot who has already been diligently laying brood to make more bees to go off and harvest the sweet nectars that are flowing as we speak. Last night, we strapped down the two long, audibly buzzing, rectangular boxes to the back of our little pickup and began the hour long trek home. When we got back, not only was it dark (ok for bee move-in day) it was also raining (NOT ok for bee move-in day). So we had to put the bees under cover and wait for the morning to move them in. When we woke up, the pent-up bees were making so much heat trying to cool down their plugged up hive, it fogged up my camera lens, air hot to the touch being beaten out of any vent hole by the flapping of 40,000 wings.We puffed them with smoke to calm them down, then sprayed them with sugar water to zuzz them up and then moved them, slowly and surely, frame by frame, from their temporary cardboard hutches to their forever-homes. They immediately took up ancient established positions- some moved to the empty frames to start exploring, some situated themselves at the door of the hive, fanning their wings with a special perfume to let any sister-bees know that this was home, so come on in, and some of them alit on the dewey honeysuckle nearby to cool off after a hot night in cardboard city. Needless to say, after our very first time handling our very own bees, meeting our very own beauties, Mama and I are two very happy beekeepers.