Increase

Every now and then I slide the top of the beehive open and breathe in the sweet smell of honeycomb. I like to keep an eye on their progress. The colony has increased from the handful of bees who survived winter. The queen is strong, and the sisterhood of workers grows. They have made their way from the main hive body into the deep super on top. I just ordered a medium super with frames, and when it arrives I’ll slip in a screen to exclude the queen and then the bees can make some honey for me. I’m more than happy to let them keep the bottom two boxes of honey for themselves. After all, they’re doing all the work.

It’s a mutually beneficial relationship. They don’t really need me, I suppose. If I didn’t provide the hive and garden, they would go somewhere else. I take them a quart of sugar water every few days, which I think they like more for the water than the sugar. Henry and I keep marauders away (mice!). In return they pollinate every flower in sight, add life and color to the garden, and provide some sweetness for my winter cooking.

These bees are so gentle. I go out there with no gloves or veil, no smoker. Henry lies on the ground by the hive, rubs on it. If I accidentally bump the boxes, an angry buzzing rises up from inside, and I prepare to back off. They settle back down. I’ve only been stung a couple times, and that was in the early spring when I was too rough picking up a frame to inspect. But mostly we live in peace.

It’s midsummer, the time of increase. This week I hear a demanding shrilling from the birdhouse, and watch the bluebird parents fly back and forth with  single-minded purpose. In with a beakful of bugs, out with a fecal sac of baby poop. Lettuce grows in small patches in the raised beds, strawberries ripen, and I see that I have garlic scapes. These are the curled tops of garlic plants that want to flower. But if the energy of the plant is to go into the bulb I need to cut the scapes while they are tender and find a way to turn them into something delectable.

In the meantime, it rains and rains here in the Pacific Northwest. A grumble of thunder penetrated my hearing while I was curled under two quilts early this morning. The sky is unsettled, with dramatic shifts of violet-gray darkness. The clouds open, rain batters down and rattles on the metal chimney. Soon the shower passes and the day lightens. It goes on like this. I feel cranky about it. Laundry tumbles in the dryer instead of hanging on the line. The bread doesn’t rise as well as on a sunny day. I look at my backpack which I am loading for this week’s work trip up the Waptus River trail. Am I going to want a few extra creature comforts for rainy days? I don’t want the weight–the goal is to always go as light as possible. But not so light as to be miserable.

Where are the lazy hazy crazy days of summer? A wise local says that summer doesn’t really start here until the 4th of July. I look out the window at the beehive. At the moment, watery sunlight shines on the garden. The bees are coming and going, to-ing and fro-ing. I don’t hear any whining from them. I reckon there’s a lesson from them, a metaphor for life. Complaining doesn’t help. Live in this moment. Fly and gather goodness while the days are long and the honeyflow is on. Hunker down when it rains, bask in the center of a flower when the sun shines. Go out and come back again and again.

I can do that, and I hope my work serves the world as much as the bees’ does.

Swarm!

Tinkering around in the garden early this afternoon and I heard the buzzing…I looked up to see hundreds of golden sparks swirling in the wind. They were seeking, questing, on the hunt. When they started to land on the ladder that holds up the grapevine, I ran in the house and got on the phone. Within half an hour, Katie and Chris showed up with bee stuff. They are experienced beekeepers and have caught many swarms. This one was challenging, because the insects were gobbed up on the ladder rather than a tree limb. Bees swarm when one hive has two queens and it is time for the colony to divide.

My neighbor Stephen has also kept bees, and was a big help in getting these bees inside the temporary box that Chris held. The box contains frames with beeswax foundation. The worker bees want to be where the queen is. We never did see her, but figured she had to have gone in with one of the blobs because the workers were staying around. When most of the swarm was inside the box, the lid was carefully placed on top. The box rests above the ground by the grapes and herbs.

Stephen brought me an old hive and super, which I am cleaning and repairing. Not sure the bees are in their final location, but they have found a home here. This evening they are settling in, and tomorrow we will move them out of the temporary box and into the hive. Katie said, “Now your garden is complete.”

I have always liked honeybees and bumblebees. The garden I have created here is always full of them in the spring and summer. They are especially fond of the catmint flowers. I can watch them for a long time. Bees are peaceful. No one was stung today, even though we all were in their midst. Bees are intent on their business, carrying out their biological imperative. They collect nectar, pollinate flowers, return to the colony, communicate by waggling and dancing, contribute to the good of the order. Their society is mostly female. Beekeepers are peaceful too. Chris and Stephen both spoke to the bees in even tones, made no sudden moves, and were knowledgeable while still fascinated.

The name Deborah means “queen bee” in Hebrew. The Deborah of the Old Testament led an army to victory. To be a Debra with bees feels right and proper. When I was little, my Grampa sometimes called me “Bee Bug”. I will tend to these bugs, share my garden gladly with them, and build them a fine hive. If they have extra honey, I will steal some for my own use. I will do my best to get them through the winter so that we can all enjoy another flowery summer and fruitful harvest.

My garden is complete (although still a work in progress). Today I became a beekeeper.