Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Memorial Day with Family

For as long as I can remember, my mom's side of the family has gone out to our family property on Stuart Island for a work party on Memorial Day weekend. Of course, that means I've always missed the other fun events that happen that weekend, such as Sasquatch at the Gorge or Ski to Sea in Bellingham or the Folklife Festival in Seattle. But I'm okay with that. It's usually my first trip of the year to the island, and I like how the family works together to jump-start to the summer. We do whatever needs to be done for the maintenance of the land and buildings, from fixing the cattle fence to cleaning the well to digging new outhouses to painting barns to cleaning gutters to changing the truck oil.

My step-dad picked up my sisters and I in Anacortes, and we had a nice sunny evening ride through the San Juan islands, spotting seals and bald eagles and porpoises along the way. 

On Saturday morning my mom had several French presses of coffee going and cooked up a big egg scramble for fortify our crew for the day's work. This year there was a group that cleaned out under the barn, find all sorts of scrap wood and old metal farm equipment.
My sister, aunt, cousins, and I scraped, primed, and repainted the engine room, a small outbuilding next to the barn that houses the generator and horse tack.
In the evening we had a delicious dinner at my aunt's house, followed by an auction. Family members hand-make or buy items to donate, then we bid on them as a fundraiser.
As long as we get all the assigned work done on Saturday, then Sunday is a play day. I went for a run and checked out my uncle's garden. Some family members held Sunday school on the point overlooking Boundary Pass. Then we have a late lunch/early dinner on the beach, roasting hot dogs and bratwursts and eating fresh fruit and salad and drinking beer, and it felt like summer.
Kids play on the beach, family and friends chat, and no one wants to go home. It's a weekend of clean, hard-working fun that I'm really grateful we do.

Monday, May 14, 2012

First Weeks of Beekeeping

It was three weeks ago today that I picked up my first package of bees. I walked up to the guy's house and my jaw dropped at the low roar of buzzing of all the boxes of bees, and the haze of passing bees flying around the driveway. I drove home feeling surreally giddy with a mass of bees in my backseat right behind me. They had already been in transit from California for a couple days, and I wanted to get them into the hive as soon as possible in the remaining evening sun.

My photographer friend Matt Freedman was kind enough to come over to take pictures of the event. The next two photos are by him- in this one you can see what three pounds of bees look like.
I spritzed the bees down with a very lightly sugared water, to help them clump together and not fly as readily. Then I banged the box so they all fell toward the bottom and I could remove the feeder can to take out the queen who comes in a small separate wooden box. Here I am checking that the queen is alive.
Her wooden box is plugged with a cork stopper, which needs to be removed (without letting her out) and then replaced with a mini marshmallow. Yes, a marshmallow. When I first heard that that was standard procedure, I felt like I was living in a Harry Potter book or something. The marshmallow keeps her in her box, which I hung onto a frame. Then you literally dump all the worker bees into the hive and put the lid on. The idea is that the other bees will eat through the marshmallow, releasing the queen.

So I left them to do their thing undisturbed for about 4 days. It was really really hard because I thought about them everyday and was so curious how they were doing. But you want them to have a little time to get used to their new home and get some sort of rhythm after the stress of travel.

I was planning to open the hive for the first time in the evening after work. That morning, I went out just to observe the hive from the outside and saw that there were no bees flying around or crawling outside the entrance. My heart started pounding as I was sure they were all dead inside and my first beekeeping venture was over. It was a damp, cool morning which is probably why they weren't flying, but I still worried about them all day at work. Is this what being a parent is like? I'm inherently not a worrying type of person, but I just so desperately wanted them to be healthy and okay.

When I finally opened the hive, I was relieved to see a lot of activity. They were crawling all around the frames, and had even built a little circle of comb about 5 inches wide! I checked the queen box and found the marshmallow and queen gone. Success! That was about all I could handle that first check, so I put the lid on and breathed a sigh of relief.

I opened it again a little over a week later, and was absolutely floored at what I saw. They had built comb on every single frame already! Perfect, pale, fresh comb. There was a lot happening in the comb too- pollen stores in different colors (red! orange! yellow! brown! amazing!), clear nectar, capped honey cells, and brood cell, meaning I could see larva! I watched the activity on every frame in total wonder. I knew the queen was alive and well since the hive was functioning and she was laying eggs. But it's good to actually see her, which I finally did after watching every frame patiently.
Since there was already comb on every frame, I decided to go ahead and add a second hive body a few days later. Here you can see what the boxes look like painted. There are four total though I will only add the third and fourth as needed.
The other day I was talking to an acquaintance about joy. I said, "Can I tell you about the most recent joy in my life?"

She said, "Sure! Is it a boy?"

I said, "No... actually, it's 10,000 girls!"

I am totally loving keeping bees and figuring out things as I go. I don't know exactly what I'm doing, but I'm having a great time learning. I'll check things again in a day or two to see how they've taken to the second story addition.