I don't remember exactly when I decided to start keeping bees. It wasn't even until 3 years ago that I saw into a hive, and realized how weird modern Langstroth hives are. Did you know that the hive consists of boxes, with 10 frames hanging down so it looks like a big filing cabinet? It was not the round, cartoonish image I had in my head, but it's easy for the beekeeper to pull out each frame, and it creates the ideal spacing of 3/8 inch between frames which makes the bees happy. This is a picture from inside a friend's hive on Orcas Island in 2009.
I took a class on bees on Orcas, and that was when I first realized what complex and amazing creatures they are. Fast forward a few years, and now that I'm living in Seattle, it seemed realistic to think about having my own hive. I took another class in March through the Ballard Bee Company, and found out that if I wanted to consider keeping bees this year, I had to order everything now. Most new packages of bees are coming from breeders in California, and they usually get shipped out in mid-April. So I called the Ballard Bee guy and pre-ordered one 3-pound package of Italian bees, which consists of 7-10,000 worker bees and one queen. (The Italian variety are the most popular for backyard beekeepers, known to be extremely gentle, good foragers, and hearty in the damp, cool winters.)
I gave him my credit card information and he told me he'd email me a receipt. That's when it started to feel real. "I'm so excited, I can't believe I really just ordered them!" I said.
"Congratulations!" he replied. "You're pregnant!"
Now, no one has ever said that to me in my life, so I was a little taken aback. But he was right- I felt like I was going to be a mama to these little guys. When friends get cats and dogs, they call them their babies, and their parents call them their"granddogs", so why not for bees too? I felt what must be a slight fraction of how new parents feel when they discover they are expecting a (real) baby- ecstatic and also terrified, knowing you've never done this exact thing and wanting to be as ready as possible.
That left me with about 4 weeks to get the nursery ready, so to speak. I bought a set of new, basic beekeeping equipment- four "western" or shallow boxes, top and bottom to the hive, jacket with screened hood, gloves, smoker, and a few hive tools. Here are the boxes, though they are missing the bottom pieces.
There were a few other preparations to be done as well. I had to find the right hive location at my house- somewhere flat, not near a door or walkway or neighbor's house, and with plenty of sun, preferably as early in the day as possible. I picked the backyard corner behind a shed, which is south-facing and tucked away. I'd personally be fine with a slightly more accessible spot, but I think for now it's good to err on the side of caution and give them a wide berth for the comfort of my roomates. And it is a great spot in terms of sunlight, so that's the main thing. I had to clear the area though, dig out rocks and old plastic and level it.
You can feed the bees sugar water as a supplement to nectar and pollen. That way, if it's a cool day and they don't leave the hive to forage, they can still eat something inside the hive, and in the end make more babies and more honey. I made a couple gallons of 1:1 simple syrup to have on hand.
I took another class, an intermediate one specifically about the first months with a new hive. I left class at least knowing conceptually how to get the bees from the transport box to their new home, and how to put the queen in the hive. That's a start.
One thing that surprised me and warmed my little heart was how supportive friends and family have been. I've never talked to most people about bees, yet they seem interested and at least curious. I sort of considered this first hive my 30th birthday present to myself, so it was awesome when my aunt sent me this birthday card.
Monday, April 9, 2012
Let's not beat around the bush: it was a hard winter. It was endlessly grey, as is to be expected. I was underemployed. There were breakups and heartbreaks. I was pretty sure I wanted to stay in Seattle but I often second-guessed myself, dreaming of joining friends on sailing trips in Panama or going back to Italy.
But winter changed to spring; first slowly, then unequivocally. For awhile it was only hyacinth, daffodils, hellebores, and tight cherry blossoms, but now petals have exploded on the magnolias, forsythia, rhododendron, camellias, euphorbia, rosemary, and many others. We have had some amazingly beautiful sunny days. The air smells sweet. The other day I was running around Greenlake and saw a family at the water's edge, and a little boy said, "Look at the turtles on that log, Dad! Isn't that cool?" There is a sense of wonder and newness and vitality and moving forward.
You know what else happened amongst all this change? I turned 30. For some reason, it seemed more fitting than ever to me that my birthday is in the early spring. I spread birthday festivities out over a few days, trying to process what it meant to say goodbye to my 20's. I thought back to my 20th birthday, when my gift to myself was a decade of selfishness. That may sound strange, like I'm some self-centered, indulgent, greedy person. But I meant "selfishness" more in the sense of doing exactly what I needed to do for me, and for my growth as a young adult. I wanted to have a lot of experiences and not regret not having done something. I knew I could not have children in my 20's, because that requires waaaaay too much selflessness. Even in terms of romantic relationships, I don't think I was ready to be in a committed partnership until just a couple years ago- again because I needed the clarity of knowing I was making my own life decisions for me. What resulted was an amazing, rich, fun, educational, adventurous decade of exploring the world and really coming into myself as a happy, confident adult. I put myself through college; welcomed a nephew and three nieces into the world; lived outside in northern California for 2 months; ran a marathon; discovered I loved gardening; learned how to cook; lived in an off-grid yurt in the woods; traveled to 26 countries; visited 28 U.S. states; lived abroad for a year, among many other things.
There were incredibly trying times of course, trying to figure out what paths and directions to take, and how to get from point A to point B. I don't know what I would have done without such supportive, loving friends who listened to me and were willing to share that process. In my early 20's, I had this sense of a blank canvas and desperately wanting to get the painting right. All of the empty space of the future felt freeing but also stifling in its openness, and I feared making a wrong brushstroke. Now I look back and realize all the times when I was just doing what seemed interesting to me or working a random job were actually the building blocks to becoming an experienced, well-rounded adult, putting more tools in life's toolbox. It's a cool age to be at, to be able to look around at friends who just followed what they loved, developed casual hobbies, and kept studying something- and see that they are now really good at what they do, or have their own business, or are awesome parents, or are running innovative projects, or are getting a Master's or PhD in their field.
And this whole process of growing up and developing is not stopping or stagnating just because we've hit the big three-oh. Of course not. I think we just have a different perspective on it now. I for one feel far less self-judgement and urgency about "figuring things out". I feel less stress about knowing "what I should be doing" and more willing to just work hard, do the things I love, appreciate each day, follow a framework of ideals, be a good friend/sister/daughter/aunt/cousin... and trust that life has a way of working itself out.
My 20's were wonderful but I wouldn't want to do them over. I'm happy to put them behind me and look forward. So, on my 30th birthday, I gave myself a Decade of Connection. I'm not exactly sure what that will look like, but I'm keeping it in mind and ready to watch it unfold.