Wednesday, June 11, 2014

BEEn there, going to do that

Yesterday's trip to the UMN St. Paul campus for a beekeeping demo was a mitigated success. My Better Half and I discovered we could be surrounded by honeybees and not embarrass ourselves by immediately flailing our arms to keep the bees away and thereby aggravating both the bees and our fellow beekeepers. The protective veil she was wearing and the beekeeper's jacket I had on no doubt had a lot to do with our savoir faire. For reasons we haven't yet learned, the U has two enclosures with active hives. The one where the demonstration was held, and the one pictured below. (Although unreadable at this scale, I particularly like the signs that say "Danger-Keep Out-Hard Hat Area"—reminded me a little of the robot's warning from the old tv series Lost In Space: "danger, Will Robinson, danger." If the University weren't charging $2.75 an hour for on street parking, the trip would have been an unmitigated success and we would have stayed for the beekeepers' meeting after the demo.

UMN beehives
UMN beehives                           © harrington

Based on the comments and questions we heard during the demonstration, it's becoming clear to me that beekeeping is a more active engagement with the process of honey production that I had anticipated. Even if your bees are still consuming the sugar water they were fed, when there's plenty for them to forage on they should be cut off from the sugar water is one message I heard. The way to tell if there's food for them to forage on is to "pay attention" and check the hive and see what's going on. Or, if you're lazy, you could sneek a peek at this NASA provided List of Honey Bee Forage Species within Region 10 for the State of MN. (NASA? honey bee forage maps?) But, here's my thought, given the increased volatility of our weather and seasonal patterns, checking the hive, the forage plants within foraging distance of the hive, and paying attention, seems like a better strategy if you don't want to get stung, or worse, loose a colony to starvation.

bees at a hive
 bees at a hive        © harrington

And now, it's time to let you know that we've saved the best for last, or at least the high point of the trip for me. In the field near the hives, before the field became full of SUVs driven by Minnesota soccer moms (and dads), a group of killdeer were scurrying about. I've long had a thing for shorebirds so I was intrigued to watch for ten minutes or so and to help check part of the field to check for nests and eggs before they might get parked on. We didn't spot any nests so we're hoping for the best.

three killdeer in a field
three killdeer in a field                    © harrington

Mary Oliver describes an alternative to beekeeping in this poem.

Honey At The Table

It fills you with the soft
essence of vanished flowers, it becomes
a trickle sharp as a hair that you follow
from the honey pot over the table
and out the door and over the ground,
and all the while it thickens,
grows deeper and wilder, edged
with pine boughs and wet boulders,
pawprints of bobcat and bear, until
deep in the forest you
shuffle up some tree, you rip the bark,
you float into and swallow the dripping combs,
bits of the tree, crushed bees – - – a taste
composed of everything lost, in which everything lost is found.

- Mary Oliver

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Please be kind to each other while you can.