On Sundays, we do chores. And though the day dawned chilly and overcast, I put the laundry in anyway and trusted that the sky would clear up.
Although we are nearing the end of October, we’ve only had one night dip below freezing for an hour or so, but I remembered to slip out in the wee hours and bring in my potted plants from in front of the porch — my Norfolk Island Pine, my Meyer Lemon and my little pot of lemon grass.
Each Sunday, I feed my bees, and it has become one of my weekend joys. I make up about a half-gallon of bee nectar and put it in a freezer bag in the top of the hive.
First, I take out last week’s sugar ration, which has been sucked dry, the bag flattened. Then I carefully lay the new bag on top of the frames. I roll it slowly down, and the bees scoot over. With a razor blade, I cut two parallel lines in the bag as my bee mentor showed me and push with my finger down between the cuts to make a pool of the nectar.
If I make my cuts right, the magic of surface tension keeps it from spilling out into the hive. While I had the lid off the coop, Michael came out with the clever jacket he made of corrugated plastic to cover the coop when the bitter cold winds come out of the west this winter. He just needed to try it on and make some adjustments.
I met my bee mentor when I took a class last winter from the Central Eastern Illinois Beekeeping Association (CEIBA: You can find them easily on Facebook). I needed the class because when Michael gave me a beehive and some beekeeping tools about five years ago this Christmas, I didn’t know where to begin.
My husband was a bit disappointed in me, I think, that we didn’t start right away, but I knew there was so much to learn, and it seemed like every time a course in beekeeping came around, I was already booked up with prior engagements.
Finally, last February, I joined a four-week class. It was comprehensive, and I learned about a thriving community of beekeepers who would be happy to answer any questions I have.
It was a good thing, too, because even with all the notes I took, I still felt like I needed someone to hold my hand. My biggest lesson was just getting a sense of how much I didn’t know. I learn best by doing and having someone stand with me and explain as we go. I think my bee mentor visited three times before I had the courage to open the beehive on my own.
On Sundays now, I don my bee veil, a wide brimmed hat with netting that loops under my arms, and carry out my tools and my bag of the bee nectar I have already prepared. I loosen the straps that keep my hive boxes from blowing over in the high prairie winds and pry open the lid (the bees have propolized everything — glued everything shut with propolis) and look down into the deep honey super on top where bees quietly go about their business. I peel up the empty, flattened bag from the week before and switch out my new one.
I check my traps for small hive beetles and pull up some honey frames to check. Without my bee mentor, I don’t really know what I’m checking for, but I like to do it. I just like to look at my bees. My bees are used to me, since we often sit a few feet from the hive entry watching the comings and goings.
Even this late in the season, every once in a while, we’ll see a few bees laden with pollen on their legs. Pollen comes in different colors, and this week it’s been harder to see — a deep brown.
If you want to learn the ropes of beekeeping, I highly recommend the CEIBA Beginning Beekeeping course starting in mid-January and running for four weeks. You’ll gather a lot of information and make some new friends and even taste a little bit of honey. Find the details on their Facebook page.
Fly in beauty; work in peace; blessed be.