I have never seen one of my bees in our backyard. People often ask me how I can have two beehives on our porch and not worry about the kids being stung while they are at play in the yard. And I always repeat that I have never seen even one of my bees in our backyard. We have bumblebees and wasps and yellow jackets, but never do I see my honeybees buzzing about my garden.
This week, on one of the warmer days, Henry and I crouched to watch a couple of honeybees gathering nectar from the few tiny blue flowers at the back end of my garden. They were beautiful to watch, but they were not my honeybees. Before you think I have extraordinary bee-identifying skills, let me explain. I know they weren’t my sweet girls because all my honeybees died two weeks ago. It’s taken me this long to be ready to share that news with you. I could never farm something I would have to kill. I just don’t have it in me. The loss of these hives has just been so sad because I feel responsible. Last night I had the opportunity to share about my adventures in apiculture at the Paris Lectures here in town, but I really wasn't ready to share the sad parts with a room full of people curious to hear about the wonderful world of beekeeping. So I kept it positive and upbeat even though I am feeling a bit disheartened about it all. Let me tell you what I think happened....
The girls came out of their hives very early this spring. Those ridiculously warm days in February got them up and out. They were very, very busy with their spring cleaning. They dragged out their dead and cleaned up the hive. The queen got busy laying. Foragers went off in search of food. They were all very gung ho, because it seemed that spring had arrived. I was thrilled to see that they had survived the winter. With most beekeepers reporting winter losses of 35-38% of hives these days, having both hives survive was a major victory for this amateur apiculturist.
Then at the beekeepers’ meeting we attended recently, the one speaker casually reminded everyone to feed their bees because ‘this is the time of year when they starve to death’ due to early spring temperatures. My heart sank and I looked at my dad. I hadn’t seen the bees buzzing around the hive in several days. I knew we had left them plenty of honey to last the winter, hadn’t we?
The next morning Henry and I took a drive to Burgessville to pick up some pollen patties from the beekeepers supply store there. Once home again, I rushed upstairs, geared up, fired up the smoker, opened up the hives and – nothing. No movement at all. And no honey at all. Just two hives filled with dead bees who had eaten everything they had stored and couldn’t find any more food outside with which to replenish their stores and their stomachs. Spring temperatures came too early and spring flowers and nectar did not.
So, I did the sad work of cleaning out the hives with the shop vac. For once, I took the hood off my beekeeper’s suit and worked without gloves because I didn’t need protection. No one was going to sting me. The smoker slowly burned itself out. I sucked the bees from the hives while taking care to preserve the beautifully drawn comb so that the next tenants will be able to hit the ground running, able to fill honeycomb instead of having to build it. The next bees will also be spared the task of dragging out the dead and cleaning out the hive. I know they can do it, and would do it within a few days, but again, I’d like to spare them the task and let them get down to work doing what they do best – gathering the ingredients for their amazing honey. For now, everything is clean and tidy and a bit like a ghost-town up on the porch. Out of habit I keep looking out our bedroom window to see what my girls are up to, but there’s nothing going on.
We will have to wait until May to put new nucs into the old hives. A nucleus is a four-frame mini-hive that you purchase. It has a queen and a small entourage and someone else has taken the time to nurture them to that point. They cost between $150 and $200, so it’s no small thing to lose your hives and have to replace them with new colonies. I had already ordered twenty new hives for our grand expansion, so I added another two nucs to the order. Next year, we will have enough hives that we will be able to split our own colonies to replace any hives that don’t survive the winter. And next year, we will know to feed those girls when they first come out into the spring sunshine. Another lesson learned.
Oh my goodness! So much has been going on and I feel like it’s time to catch you all up!
First and most important: my dad’s health is fine. The biopsy was negative for cancer and while he has to deal with continued annoying pain, the scare is over. I am trying to talk him into acupuncture, but so far no luck. My parents came home from years in Hong Kong having picked up many Chinese customs, but I guess acupuncture is not one of them. We’ll keep looking for ways to solve his throat pain, but at least we don’t have to battle cancer, so we are grateful. At seventy, my parents are so grateful for their health and really do live wonderfully active and juicy lives while they can. They are ridiculously busy and so very fun!
And now, about that house that we looked at – the one that checked off all our boxes but didn’t really speak to us? It was a fantastic house and property but Russ did not like that it was situated on the edge of a corn field, insufficiently nestled. Well. Two weeks after we viewed that house, enormous billboards went up all around it. That house will soon be nestled within Paris’ newest subdivision. Being engulfed by a sea of new houses would be, for Russ, the only thing worse than a corn field! It can hardly be considered a home in the country when you are surrounded by suburbia. We definitely dodged that bullet. Whew! And so the search continues....
On the bee front, I was overwhelmed by the wonderful response from the community after I put the word out that I was in search of homes for beehives. I can’t believe the kind offers I received! So we poured over google earth images and traced water sources and looked for orchards and green space and landed on some choice spots. There are three properties, in three directions out of Paris, which will house a total of twenty hives for us later this spring. I’m told that beekeepers don’t like to let other beekeepers know where they place their bee yards. Beekeepers are a strange lot, indeed! Russ and Dad and I went to a beekeepers’ meeting a couple of weeks ago and laughed aloud several times during the evening. There were some real characters – an eccentric group for sure. I think you could have a reality show starring some of those folks and it would have a great following. It was pure entertainment! At one point, I turned to dad and whispered “Are we just like them? And I just never noticed?” Maybe not us. But Russ would fit in just fine!!! And he, a spectator up to this point, is going to join us in the apicultural activities this season, having received his very own XLT beesuit for Christmas. Bishop Family Bees is about to get very busy! I’ll share more in the coming weeks as we leap into action.
I’ve also been taking an online business course and it is amazing. I have had so many aha moments when I previously thought I had this online business thing figured out. It feels so good to learn new things and connect with a community of people who are also building a new business online. I am feeling so challenged and encouraged! Colette and I are working to revamp our website and business to include other fair trade gifts beyond just the awesome chocolate we have featured so far. So many gorgeous products are finding their way to me…. I can’t wait to introduce them to you!
On the Airbnb front, we have had many lovely guests stay with us in our home at William and Willow. I love hosting people in our home, and Russ makes an amazing breakfast. We are a pretty good team! We’ve hosted a few people who are here to scope out the town because they think, that out of all the towns in Ontario, they’d like to settle here. I guess the secret is out – it is a wonderful little town. Of course, it won’t be a little town for long if everyone keeps moving here, but I understand the draw. I didn’t intentionally choose to live here, but you’d have a hard time getting me to leave at this point. There is something very special about our little Paris. And the new cheese commercial proves it!!!
There’s much more to tell you, but since this is already reading like a Christmas letter, I’ll end here. We’ve got a house full of family and friends here this weekend. There will be plenty of time later in the week for us to finish catching up. Thanks for following along on the journey!
It’s March Break. In my past life, that generally involved sun, surf and sand. And a good book. And a piña colada. But this year, I am spending March Break in Paris. (The close one, not the fancy one). But really, if no one had told me, I wouldn’t even know that it’s March Break. And yet, now that I know, I feel like we are supposed to be making meaningful memories for our child. The pressure is on. We can’t settle for Paw Patrol and puddles. It’s March Break, after all.
There isn’t really a lot going on this week. The girls have orthodontist appointments. We have Airbnb guests staying with us. Russ is teaching because it's not March Break at the university. Yoga was cancelled, Nana is sick and any of our normal play structure haunts are over-run with big kids. And the weather, so magically delicious last week, has turned decidedly English on us. We have London’s weather, in Paris. On gray days such as these, one of my favourite escapes has always been to the greenhouse. They are wonderful places to run to when everything outside is dead and colourless. Any greenhouse will typically do, but today we went to our favourite - Walter’s.
I love Walter’s. Henry loves Walter’s. Who wouldn’t love Walter’s? Right now, the air there is fresh with the scent of hyacinths and dirt. There is colour everywhere and plenty of space to run. One of us welcomed everyone who came in with a loud “HELLO! I’M HAVING FUN!!!!” That very same little person also selected a bright yellow rake and marched it around the entire store, telling all passersby that it was a shovel. Only one very serious gentleman corrected him sternly, saying “It’s a rake, young man. NOT a shovel.” We pushed a cart all over the place, careening past succulents and topiaries. Henry made his first and last impulsive grab at a cactus (lesson learned). We oohed and ahhed over the teeny, tiny little tidbits that go into a miniature faerie garden. And then we got to do one of the garden crafts that they are featuring at Walter’s this week, in honour of March Break.
The flower pot person project was far too advanced for Henry, but the Mason jar terrarium was exactly up his alley. It was the perfect activity for a 2-year-old who loves to get dirty, methodically scooping stones and dirt into a jar. Of course, as a toddler, he was compelled to do it over and over again. Scoop, fill, empty, repeat. The young lady who was working the craft station was very patient and I was very appreciative. When he finally had enough stones and dirt in his jar, she popped in a little ivy plant, helped him scoop in some coloured sand, and let him select a little ceramic frog to go in on top. He now has his very own plant in his bedroom to talk to and nurture - a plant that he "made" all by himself.
Meaningful memories – CHECK.
I am ridiculously task-oriented. I like to make things happen. I love efficiency and logistics and the feeling of accomplishing things. So God gave me a toddler. And a dog. And a slow-moving husband, but that’s another story for another day. I spend my days with the toddler and the dog, and sometimes I swear they are slowing me down on purpose!
Today I had goals. I had an agenda for myself that involved accomplishing writing for several projects and catching up on coursework during the three-hour window that Henry’s afternoon nap typically affords me. He is a super-busy boy and there is no such thing, for me, as working at the computer while he quietly colours or does puzzles in the other room. If he’s quiet, there’s trouble. So the naptime is my only time to accomplish things.
Henry went down for his nap but did not stay down for his nap. My plans were shot. But it was a beautiful, warm, sunny day and I thought perhaps the boy and the dog and I could go for a quick walk to shake all the crazies out, and then maybe I could (gasp) settle him down with the ipad and a construction show for an hour or so.
Here’s the thing about little boys and little dogs. There is no quick walk. Ever. There are no straight lines and no short-cuts. And there is definitely no steady pace. The two of them, attached together by a leash, are a circus act – a comedy of errors. So I dragged them up the hill to the rail trail and set them free.
Here's the frustratingly beautiful thing about little boys and little dogs. There is no destination for them. The journey itself is always the destination. As Tolkien said, “not all who wander are lost”. Little boys and little dogs are not trying to get anywhere; they are wandering aimlessly. And therein lies the adventure. This afternoon, as the sun shone down on us, those boys engaged in all kinds of shenanigans. There was sniffing and rolling and sliding and splashing and chasing and way too much eating of dirt. I wish I could say that it was just Murphy who was partaking in those activities, but no - Henry went full-on dog this afternoon. But they played with such wild abandon that I envied them. I had already let go of my agenda, and any hopes of keeping either of them clean…. but I still couldn’t possibly let go enough to have as much fun as they were having.
Henry was so filled with delight at being able to run wild and free in the fresh air that he regularly ran at me, flinging his filthy self against me and yelling “I LOVE YOU!!!!” Murphy too, could not resist the urge to jump up on me, tail wagging and tongue flopping, ensuring that I was just as mud-covered as the two of them were. They were ridiculously happy and ridiculously muddy. As we trudged home, we made plans to go out shopping for some rubber boots for Henry and for me so we can return to the glorious rail trail and jump in more puddles.
Once home, Henry played in the back yard while I hosed Murphy down in the shower. Then Henry came in and I stripped him down in the kitchen sink. Our coats and pants and socks went straight into the washing machine and we settled down onto the couch for a cuddle and a story.
I didn’t accomplish much today, except all the most important things. These two always remind me of how blessed I am, to have the freedom to spend these days with them, in the puddles and the sunshine.
I am a backyard beekeeper. Sort of. Our bees actually live over our front yard, on the second floor porch, just outside our bedroom. I imagine the previous owner of our home would be shocked to see that her beautiful little reading porch has been turned into an apiary! I know for certain that many people, out for a walk in the neighbourhood, stop and stare when they realize that just perched up above them are two beehives, all a-buzz with activity a good chunk of the year. But right now, the hives are almost silent. You can’t see the activity, but if I brave the cold and put my ear in close.... I can hear them in there.
This winter has been pretty kind to my girls. Russ wrapped them up with some foam tiles my Dad dropped off – with hopes that this winter, they will survive. They have shelter from the wind, but good enough ventilation that they will hopefully keep themselves warm and dry until spring. So far, so good. In fact, last week, during those freakishly warm days, they were out and about! Those girls never stop working. They took advantage of the warm sunny days to do some spring cleaning, in February. I should have been doing the same thing, but I couldn’t stop watching them. That’s the problem with having bees. They are always so interesting; to sit and watch them is positively entrancing. Their spring cleaning rituals entail dragging the bodies of their fallen sisters out the tiny doorway, across the porch and then off the edge to the floor below. What looks like carnage on the floor right now is really just the natural loss that happens as time goes on. It was great to see them, hard at work, alive and well, even as they hauled out their dead.
Like the bees, I am eager to welcome warmer weather. This time of hibernation, of waiting, is difficult for me. Just as I am desperate to get into my garden, I am more than ready to get to work with my busy girls. But, this time in between is important. They are waiting, and so must I. In the meantime, I am busy making preparations for my bees to move to a new home. We are planning to radically expand Bishop Family Bees because our honey has become so popular in town, and because I have found something I really love to do.
It is so rewarding, the art of beekeeping. Most of the time, I have no idea what I am doing, but beekeepers are a wonderfully supportive and helpful lot. You-Tube is also a handy tool. And I have a growing library of books about bees, bee products and beekeeping. There’s still so much to learn. Most of my research right now involves searching for places to put hives. Our yard isn’t the best spot for bees, and the porch can’t hold any more hives. We live in a fantastic area for raising bees, with the Grand River snaking through town and so many fields and forests. My big concern, though, is the neonicotinoid use in the farmers’ fields. I am in search of land where we can situate hives without worrying that they are being poisoned by the very plants that surround them. Some thoughtful folks in town recommended that I talk to local organic farmers. It would certainly be a win-win scenario if our bees could do some pollinating for them while they provide a safe home for the bees. I’ll let you know if that works out! And if you have any suggestions, I’d love to hear them. While we still plan to be small-batch honey producers, my goal is to put thirty or so hives out in the countryside this spring. We'll see where it goes from there. I guarantee you that there will be all kinds of escapades and shenanigans as we figure out the logistics of expansion. Stay tuned to hear more about our adventures in apiculture!
Kari Raymer Bishop
Lover of Jesus, cheeses and tropical breezes... seeking balance in life, even as I embrace new challenges and chase new dreams. I am wife, mother, daughter and friend, as well as teacher, entrepreneur, activist, writer, beekeeper and hostess. Come along on the journey through my long-awaited midlife crisis!