Saturday, October 29, 2016

Feed me!

My teeth hurt on Thursday afternoon as I stirred the cauldron, waiting for 40 CUPS of sugar to dissolve in 20 cups of water. Bubble, bubble, toil and... well, you know. Filling and hauling two big jugs of simple syrup out to the hives was more of a workout than one might expect, especially after a full day of teaching. (For those of you into math and/or weightlifting, it works out to about 3.75 gallons, roughly 40 pounds. Next time I'm getting the wheelbarrow.) This afternoon, when I lifted the lids of the three hives, I couldn't help but smile beneath my veil. Thank you, my busy little friends, for the bountiful honey you've given us to enjoy. It was the least I could do to help them build their stores for the winter, after my mentor and a few other community beekeepers and I harvested nearly 80 pounds earlier this season. (Don't worry, mom, I've got a jar set aside for you.)

Though I've been helping with the hives for about a year now, today was my first time feeding them solo. I'd done a feeding a few weeks ago with Kevin, and everything had gone smoothly, but you never know. (No, I am not allergic to bee stings, but my friend Suzanne was telling me the other week that she suddenly developed an allergy, of the throat-closing variety(!), after 60+ years of no bee sting reactions.) With my insurance card in my pants pocket, and my pants dorkily tucked into my socks, I gathered my tools -- two jugs of syrup, scissors, ziploc baggies, hive tool -- and attempted to light the smoker. After five minutes and three attempts, I threw up my (gloved) hands and gave up on the smoker. Bees don't like the smell of sweat, apparently, and the longer I sat in my beekeeping gear in the 80F sunshine, the more torrential the river of sweat that ran down my back. Sweat = a higher likelihood of getting stung. Forget it, no smoker....

I was glad to have a full belly and a few mimosas in me -- thanks for brunch, mom and dad! -- just in case things went awry and I ended up in the emergency room. Hospital food. [Shudder.] Nothing like champagne cocktails to steel the nerves. Moving efficiently but not knocking things around -- bees don't like abrupt movements or their home being bumped (rushed movements, loud noises, or banging of equipment = a higher likelihood of getting stung -- I opened each hive and deposited the solution that should last them about a week, then carefully replaced the inner and outer lids. Lots of bees were out foraging, and many more were crawling over the remnants of last week's near empty baggies. A number of them landed on me, and I cursed my failure to pick off the excess propolis still stuck to my gloves from last time. Stay calm....

Twenty minutes after I had arrived, I was locking up the beekeeping shed and peeling off my gear. A quick bike ride home and a nap later, I'm happy to report my first independent bee feeding was a success! Now to start working on my next project: a fun recipe to use my thank-you pound of West End Community Garden honey. Maybe a honey ale?

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