Today has been circled on the calendar for a while. We, here at Bishop Family Bees, have been busy planning and arranging and constructing and we were finally ready to actually set up our hives so they will be ready to go when the bees arrive in a couple of weeks. It turned out to be a pretty chilly day to be working outside. But there was so much promise in the air and in the soil. The trees are budding and spring is upon us, slowly and tentatively, but upon us nonetheless. We are going away next week and I feel a bit sad that we will miss my favourite week of the year – the week when my garden bursts into bloom and colour is everywhere. That first week of May is always so wonderful, with the magnolias and tulips and redbuds and hyacinths all competing for my attention. I will be sure to take before and after photos just to show you what a difference a week can make when spring finally comes to town. In the meantime, my hives lent enough colour to the occasion today. They are something else.
Each hive has a bottom board which is the base of the hive and the main entrance for the bees. They often gather on the front step, so to speak, and use the space as a take-off and landing zone. The bottom board has a wire mesh on it which prevents any mites in the hive from crawling back up after they fall down through. And there is a white removable board which allows me to check and see just how many mites each hive is battling at any given time. It’s a simple, mechanical way to fight mites and allows me to avoid treating with chemicals if at all possible. We’re going with a five-box system with our new hives, so the bottom three boxes will be for brood and the bees’ honey stores, and the top two boxes will collect the extra honey they provide for us. Bees will fill whatever space you give them, so when late summer comes, we will begin to remove full frames of honeycomb from those top two boxes. They will already have stored plenty of honey for themselves for the winter. And then on top we have a hive-top that has been specially constructed with an extra layer of insulation. We are already talking about other insulation we will add this fall, to give our hives the best possible chance for surviving the cold winter. We aren’t worried that the hives will ever get too hot in the summer, but too cold in the winter is a definite concern. Summer will be here before we know it and I will forget that I was ever worried about them being too cold when I see lines of bees out on the front step, flapping their wings to provide ventilation in the hive!
So, today was moving day, part one. Dad brought his pickup truck and his trailer so we could lug all our hive boxes out to the countryside and avoid having to do that step when the bees arrive. Our first stop was out near Princeton, where Milt and Elaine have the most beautiful little country property. It is really quite magical. And tricky. A creek runs right across the property which will mean lovely cool water for our bees. But it also represents an obstacle when it comes to harvesting honey. For now, we were able to take the truck over the neighbour’s field to get to the lovely spot where the hives will be nestled under the apple trees. Once the crop is in, we will be relying on Milt’s ATV and a few boards to transport boxes of honey across the creek. That is going to make for some great stories, I’m quite sure! Milt is going to be a first-time beekeeper this season so we are going to enjoy working together and learning from each other as we raise our bees together.
After we had unloaded and set up at the Tulley property, we headed in a south-easterly direction to Devon Acres Organic Farm where we found Robin and his son, Aaron, clearing out some brush and erecting a fence for our bee yard. Our bees will join their bees in a spot on a hill between the cows and chickens and ducks. We had great fun arranging our bee boxes in a pattern, although I think I would prefer a random pattern after all. I have one more opportunity to change that all up, when we bring the bees over in a couple of weeks.
And then after the requisite lunch at Swiss Chalet, we headed over to St George where Ron and Nancy Book have graciously offered to host half of our bees, smack dab in the middle of their amazing property. Those hives look so lovely, all nestled in under the trees along a stony hill beside the barn. Nancy is already talking about photographing the bees and I can imagine that I will become obsessed with taking pictures of those particular hives, especially in the late afternoon sun. They were striking on a cold and cloudy day. I can only imagine how charming they will appear in the months to come. We took a few selfies and our day’s work was done!
And what was Henry up to all this time?!? Well, Henry occupied himself at all three places, by stomping around pretending he was a T-Rex. Nana kept a good watch on him while he explored. (Henry is always a full-time job for one of us on a work day.) Henry romped about, chasing cats and chickens, collecting stones (“dinosaur bones”) and rolling around in a pile of burnt debris for a while. He was filthy, tired, and happy when we finally called it a day. He wasn't the only one. I too am thoroughly enjoying getting my hands dirty and doing some lifting for a living. It felt great to be out in the fresh air with my rubber boots and work gloves on, engaged in yet another project with my dad. Filthy, tired, and happy is a good way to end any day, I would say.
This morning, Henry and I had a 9 am date with Robin Kirby at Devon Acres Organic Farm. The farm is located along the Grand River, just outside of Brantford. Friends had recommended that I contact the folks at Devon Acres when I put the call out for places to house my new beehives. An organic farm is a match made in heaven for us, as the bees help out with pollinating their crops while they provide a safe and delicious home for the bees. So very symbiotic. Everyone warned me that I would love Robin Kirby and his organic farm. I knew it would be a wonderful partnership before I ever set eyes on Devon Acres, but this afternoon I can't stop smiling because I am so smitten!
We had a wonderful morning on the farm. We weren't there for five minutes before Henry had put himself to work, helping to stack the boards that had been used to protect the carrot seeds while they germinated in shallow soil (see all the things I am learning?!). I told Robin, and his son Aaron, that they should have a daycare for people like me who would love to see their preschoolers outside, working on a farm, every day! While I chatted with Robin, Henry ran wild with his grandsons who also live on the farm. They chased the kitty, climbed wood piles, watched the workhorses ploughing the field and inspected the chickens. Those children are living the dream - a true "wildhood".
Robin is a delightful and interesting man, who knows a lot about a lot. He has had bees on his farm on and off over the years, and is happy to house some hives once again. We walked a bit of the property, discussing where might be the best place for the new hives. We landed on the area where he has an old hive still nestled in the long grass. It is a lovely spot, under a tree, on the hill, between the cattle and sheep and the chickens and ducks. Our bees will have a wonderful view. And there is an awesome old Mini sinking into the soil right beside our soon-to-be bee yard, just to make it extra cool. Dad and I will plan to bring the new hives out next week, to get them set up on their pallets in the sun. They will be all ready for the bees when we arrive to pop the nucs into the hives on May 12th.
Devon Acres Organic Farm is just a beautiful little family farm that has been doing things the right way for a long time. They are one of the oldest CSA (Community Shared Agriculture) farms in Ontario. This will be their 23rd year of providing CSA for the community! I, of course, came with chequebook in hand so that I could sign us up for the CSA this year. More and more, we are trying to know where our food comes from. We are also seeking to support local farmers in the same way that people choose to support us as local beekeepers. I can't wait to make the weekly trip out to the farm to check on my bees and to pick up our family's share of vegetables that have been pollinated by our bees and harvested by our friends.
You can find out more about Devon Acres Organic Farm here at their website. Or follow them on facebook, for a regular dose of fun farm photos!
Oh mercy, how did life get so busy?! I like to say that I am ‘well occupied’ rather than ‘busy’ because I really don’t want to be part of the cult of busyness, where people wear their frantic pace of life like a badge of honour. I relish slow times, even if my brain is always whirring away at a million miles an hour, but I also love a day that is filled with meaningful work.
This month, things are BUSY for me. Busy as a bee, that’s me. And it occurs to me that all the projects that I have on the go start with the letter ‘B’ which is just bizarre. Here is a list of the ongoing passions I am currently pursuing, some which are long-term projects and others which represent a season of busyness just right now.
There you have it! Eight B’s that consume my time these days. And now that the weather is warming up, I will soon be desperate to get into my garden. I am thankful for the sandbox and a child who loves to play on his own in the dirt. That means that I will get to have my fun in the dirt as well. The garden is still pretty dormant, but there are signs of life slowly popping up. And there are more bees back there this week than I have ever seen in our yard. I keep finding Henry squatting in amongst those early flowers, intrigued by the honey bees who are gathering whatever nectar and pollen they can find right now. By mid-May, our own bees will be hard at work doing the same things. But for now, we focus on all the other things that need to happen before then. It's go-time!!!
It’s maple syrup season in Ontario, which means that the sap is flowing and the festivals are flourishing. We’ve hit a few different maple syrup events this year, and I have to say that they didn’t really light my fire, so to speak. You see, I’m from Elmira. Maple Syrup is what we do. It’s in our blood. The Sapfest, as we affectionately call it, is part of my self-declared ethnic identity. Ours is the world’s largest maple syrup festival and it is a big deal. The first year it ran, in 1965, they planned for a thousand or so and some 10,000 people showed up. Since then, it’s been circled on the calendar for locals and for tourists, who come from near and far to partake in the festivities. There are usually around 70,000 people who descend upon our small town for that one-day event each spring. And the day typically features freezing cold temperatures and sideways precipitation. And still the people come. It’s hard to feel too cold in a crowd like that!
I love everything about Sapfest. When I was young, I used to “work” at the festival with my best friend, Kerri Selby. I say “work” because we helped out at her family’s booth, selling summer sausage and pepperettes, but every hour or so her dad would give us a few dollars and send us out to get some snacks and have some fun. When I think about Sapfest, I think about the Selbys and I can almost smell the summer sausage. And all the other amazing delicacies....
Later, when I was a teenager, my dad sat on the planning committee for the Elmira Maple Syrup Festival. And that meant that I had a new job. He and I would be up in the wee hours of the morning to get the barricades set up. We would drive around town and erect the barricades that closed off the many different roads so that the festival could indeed take over the town. That was our thing – that early morning setup. I smile when I see those barricades now, and I wonder if there is another girl getting up early to share that job with her dad, before grabbing some hot apple cider as the crowds start to trickle into town.
When I was a young teacher, working at my hometown high school for the first year of what would be many, many years, I rented an apartment above the wallpaper store in booming downtown Elmira. It proved to be the perfect venue for that first Saturday in April when my front door would now open up onto the greatness that is the Elmira Maple Syrup Festival. The noise started early, too early, as vendors began to set up around 4am in the morning. My people arrived fairly early too (to beat the traffic) and soon my apartment was filled with friends and friends of friends. We spent the day going up and down the stairs, picking up various types of meat on various types of bread (there are many options at Sapfest) and other delicacies like apple fritters, fudge and cinnamon buns. We also spent far too much time hanging out the windows as we heckled those we knew down on the street below. It was a fantastic way to do Sapfest.
The next year, I picked up and moved to Kenya. As April drew near, I lamented that I was going to miss my beloved “maple syrupal festival”. My wonderful roommates surprised me with pancakes and real maple syrup on that first Saturday in April, and the weather, for once, was glorious. You can, apparently, get real Ontario maple syrup at Nakumatt grocery store in Nairobi. I definitely can’t find my favourite Kenyan treats here in Ontario, so Kenya wins the prize for most cosmopolitan, that’s for sure! It certainly was a very different way to celebrate Sapfest that year, but it meant something to celebrate, no matter where I was. As I said before, it’s my ethnic identity. I am as whitebread Canadian as they come and I grab on to whatever sort of tradition I can find!
When Russ came into my life, so did his girls, and I brought them all to the Maple Syrup Festival. It was so fun to experience it from the kids’ perspectives. There were activities and attractions that I had not experienced before, like the dog show and the rides. And when Henry came along, I had new sympathy for the parents out there who had been ramming my ankles with their strollers for decades’ worth of Sapfests. I don’t get to linger over craft tables anymore, and I can’t manage the really long lines for the really good treats anymore, but I sure do love taking my family to Sapfest and carrying on the tradition. I love running into people that I haven’t seen in years and years, and we block the flow of traffic as we introduce our families and reconnect before moving on. And two decades’ worth of students still smile and say “Hi Miss Raymer” as they shuffle past, many with families of their own now. The Maple Syrup Festival is like homecoming for Elmira and for me.
This year, we had the privilege of taking in the syrup festival with our new friends from Colombia – refugees who have just recently settled in our community. My parents like to include me in their get-togethers because I am the only one around who speaks Spanish. David and Juliana and their kids are absolutely delightful and a joy to show around. I’m sure the Sapfest was a bit overwhelming for them. I can imagine how I would feel if you threw me into a similar chaotic scenario in another culture. But they were armed with maps showing the way home to my parents’ place, and they all practiced saying “Can you help me please? I am lost.” before we headed out. Moving through the festival as a large group was a bit like herding cats, but we still managed to hit all the big attractions and some ones I hadn’t done before. David and his son, Julian, did the log-sawing and were the proud makers of a disk of wood with a maple leaf branded into its surface. The significance of the maple leaf as representing both the festival and their new country was profound for them and they were thrilled to have such a souvenir of their bitterly cold day at the Sapfest.
So, I will continue to try out other maple syrup festivals, but you can see that they are never really going to compare to Elmira’s for me. I have too much invested in Sapfest to let go and let another take its place. But since you can never have too much maple syrup and too much festival, we will keep on including other festivals in our early spring outings. We can embrace the new even while cherishing the old. Rest assured though, that you will always find me in Elmira on the first Saturday in April, no matter how predictably terrible the weather is. You don’t let a little bit of weather keep you from coming home where you belong. This post was going to be a quick top ten list of things I love about the Elmira Maple Syrup Festival, but I then realized that it meant so much more to me. Greater than the sum of its many wonderful parts, the Sapfest is really just a celebration of home for me.
Ok. Once again I had a plan for today. Henry is at my mom’s and I was going to get caught up on my coursework. But then I got distracted. I got distracted BY THE BEST RASPBERRY WHITE CHOCOLATE SCONE I HAVE EVER TASTED IN MY LIFE.
So, here I am, all settled in with my laptop at Seven Shores Urban Market and Café on Regina Street in Uptown Waterloo. I should be all business, working away at my website and marketing plans, but instead, I am blogging about the little treat that just made my day. The sun is shining, I am toddler-free, and that scone was the crowning glory. (I am trying to ignore the ridiculous build-up of snow and the bitter temperatures that mock those of us who had hopes that April actually meant spring).
You need to come to Seven Shores and experience the gastronomic joy I am experiencing. I really want that for you! I often hear people raving about the treats here, so it didn’t come as any sort of surprise. But seriously. You can’t improve on this scone. Although, I’m pretty sure that I’m going to have another one, just to be sure.
Let me tell you a little bit about Seven Shores. Full disclosure: I have a small but lovely interest in this café. Last year I read an article about the café and its new owners – a group of regulars who wanted to keep it open and continue to nurture the sense of community it had inspired in the neighbourhood. In the interest of really becoming a communal project, they made shares available for purchase so that it could be a truly community-owned endeavor. Now you have to know by now how much I loved that whole concept. And so we bought a share. We don’t even live in the neighbourhood. We don’t even live in the city. But we wanted our kids to know what it was to be a part of something like this, and eventually we will figure out how to become more involved and really make it our go-to café. For now, it’s my little secret getaway when I am in the city on business and can spare some time to just sit and smile and savour the loveliness of this place.
Here are just a few things I love about Seven Shores Urban Market and Café (in no particular order):
According to their website, Seven Shores is a simple, ethical and relational business at the heart of the local food scene. They are intentional about enriching lives and making a difference. How could I not want to be a part of something this special? I hope you get a chance to check them out and see for yourself what it means to support a local business where people really do matter above profits. Sit back and watch for a while. Savour the difference. And try a scone or three. You won’t regret it.
You can check them out in person at the corner of Regina and Dupont in Uptown Waterloo, or you can find them online at www.sevenshores.ca, on facebook, twitter, and instagram. People are always posting pictures of their snacks, so you'd might as well participate. Join the community of people who call this their cafe!
This morning I put on an old Elton John record so Henry could hear Rocket Man, since he was stomping around in his spaceship boots and I thought he might appreciate it. He did not. In true toddler fashion, he had a bit of a fit and insisted that I change the record and put on “the best one”. He’s entitled to his opinion and I am happy to oblige him and put on music he will appreciate, but it is difficult when all he can say to identify his choice is that it is “the best one”. Since yesterday was a very bad day on the Mama And Henry Getting Along Scale, I took a deep breath and sat down with him to go through the records to find which one he really wanted to listen to today. It didn’t take long before he triumphantly shouted “the best one” and I had to smile. Bob Marley’s Legend. Of course. It is the best one. That boy has great taste. It is so sweet to hear him singing “One Wuv” to himself as he plays with his trucks or drags a stick around the backyard. We spend a good chunk of each day listening to records and marching the circle from kitchen to dining room to living room and around again – all while stomping our feet and playing our various percussion instruments. The second act occurs after Daddy gets home and Henry is ready to march and sing again with a new partner.
I bought this record player for Russ when he turned 45. Because 45’s – get it? He had milk crates full of records in the basement and nothing on which to play them. It’s the faux antique kind of record player that you can now pick up for a song at any department store. What’s old is new again, right? He thinks it’s the best gift I’ve ever given him. That record player brought the records out of the basement and brought us all together around the dining room table or on the front porch where we would sit and chat and listen to Louis Armstrong or the Beatles or Pink Floyd or Paul Simon. I mean, seriously, when was the last time you sat around as a family and listened to music on the record player?! When was the last time your teenager selected Oscar Peterson to play during dinner? It has been a lovely addition to our home and our life together.
Now, Russ and I have very different tastes in music. Very different. It’s all nostalgia albums for both of us, but I am more about 80s pop (INXS anyone?) or folk music (Cat Stevens) and he, since he’s quite old, prefers the rock albums of the 60s and 70s. Jimi Hendrix is not, in my opinion, dinner music, but I know he puts that on and blares it for Henry when I am not home. He has all the great rock albums, as well as a nice collection of classical and jazz records. And every Rush album imaginable. By my estimation, there are approximately 23 women in the world who like Rush, and I am not one of them. But every so often, the albums come out and it makes him happy so I go with it.
Rachel has a record player now and Russ delights in introducing her to the albums he loved when he was her age. They both love Led Zeppelin, so it’s wonderful that they can share that. I love that I can browse in an antique mall without worrying that Russ is bored, because there are always old records that he can peruse. We love discovering old albums at thrift stores and garage sales. It’s a very random collection that we continue to curate. It represents the soundtrack of both our separate past lives and our joined life in the here and now. Someday, I hope, Henry will collect albums because he remembers them as the soundtrack of his childhood. And he will introduce “the best one” to his child and they will sing and dance and march together as the record spins around again.
What about you? What are the albums that represent the soundtrack of your life? I'd love to hear about them!!! Leave a comment below and join the discussion!
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!