Sunday, May 25, 2008

Bill Bates

I had a shareholder way back in the beginning, she was a shareholder for a number of years and each year she would put in a special request.

Do not discuss certain subjects in the newsletter. And if you must, do not sent the newsletter to my address.

The subjects?


This is a bee newsletter.

But it is also a wedding present newsletter. and a honey newsletter (no its not about the time I spilt 600 gallons of honey on the sun room floor). And maybe a newsletter about growing older and wiser. I don't know for sure about the last one, though.

Regardless, since we’re thinking about honey and good things coming (the vegetable season starts in just over two weeks and things, despite all of this rain, including the vegetables, are really looking pretty good.

The rain didn’t seem to hurt the plants growing through the plastic mulch. If anything, they seem more healthy and robust than normal.

And while the downpour did manage to wash away a few thousand dollars worth of lettuce, mustard, chard and other seeds of our future spring greens, other seed miraculously took root and managed to survived the onslaught.

And while I was worried for a while there, it looks like our first share should be just fine, torrential downpour and all.

In the next week I will send shareholders an e-mail confirming which site they are getting their vegetables from along with instructions explaining how the pick up process works.

Yesterday, I went out and put supers on our beehives. A super is an extra box of frames, of honey comb, that the bees use to store honey in.

Right now the nectar flow in Virginia is on and the bees need extra room to store their nectar and pollen harvest.

The day started out to be much nicer than the predictors predicted. Sunny and fairly warm. and at first, around noon, the pleasant day must have effected the bees attitude on life because I didn’t even need a veil to work the hives, the bees were that gentle.

I would take the top off the hive, give them a little smoke, then take off the inner cover, give them a little more smoke,maybe take a frame out to see how life in that particular hive was progressing, put the frame back, then pick up the empty super and carefully place it on top of the hive body before putting the covers back on.

The bees were so gentle and calm there was hardly a bee that bothered to get up and fly in circles around my head.

It was a nice clear warm, sunny day in bee land and everyone seemed happy and content.

But the day dragged on.

We have just under 30 bee hives. That’s 30 hives in all sorts of conditions.

Think of a bee hive as a city-state. Some small, some large. Some peaceful. Others more industrious than usual. Hardworking. Focused.

And then some of the other sort.

The extremely warlike. The disorganized. The demoralized. the angry.

It was several hours later when I did something that all of the ‘how to keep bee’ books tell you not to do.

Don’t get careless.

Don’t drop a honey frame loaded with hundreds of bees down on top of a box full of bees.

I guess I was getting tired because I dropped something, and up until that time, it wouldn’t have mattered.

But something had changed.

The day had turned colder. There were clouds. It looked like it was getting ready to rain.

And the bees rather than seriously working, flying in and out, bringing in nectar and pollen were now upset.

Each time I opened a hive a number of bees would fly out and circle around my head, bouncing off my veil with an angry hum.

And then I did what I shouldn't have done. I dropped a frame full of bees and honey right on top of an open hive. A hive full to overflowing with honey, larva and of course, bees.

Which is about time to stop and jump back a few years to how I got into beekeeping.

Beekeeping isn’t something I’ve always done. In fact, up until I was in my mid 30’s, we’re talking about a couple decades ago, I had no interest in bees.

I didn't like bees.

In fact, I couldn’t tell a honey bee from a wasp. And a wasp from a yellow jacket.

I was one of those people that so irritate me now. A person that sees a wasp, or a yellow jacket, or even a peaceful bumblebee and goes into defense mode, as if they are about to be suddenly attacked by a marauding gang, and he yells out. ‘Look out, there’s a bee.”

First off, I want to say to them, 'It’s not a bee. It's a wasp.' or 'It's a yellow jacket.' or 'that sort of bumble bee doesn't even sting.' And then, and secondly, I want to say (if my chance it is actually a honey bee). 'Why do you think that bee would want to end its life and sting you of all people? What have you done to upset it?'

I remember what its like to be bee ignorant, so I don't.

Instead, I think back when I was a high school teacher. One afternoon several of us were meeting at another teacher's back yard.

He kept a couple bee hives in his back yard.

We were sitting there talking shop when a honey bee flew by, obviously checking out the scene, looking to see, possibly, if there was a flower around.

I saw it and went into panic mode. Picking up a newspaper and swatting.

I still remember the look on my friends face. And I hope that’s not the way I look at people today when they do something very similar.

Anyway, it was about then that Wenonah and I got married. We were living in a one time pre-civil war mansion outside of Charlottesville. A mansion that had fallen on hard times and was now a group house with several dozen down on their heels rooms, extensive flower gardens, now overtaken with poison ivy, a massive wisteria trellis with one end collapsing, and hundreds of boxwoods that hadn’t seen a clipper in at least thirty years there were now starting to look like misshapen trees rather than aristocratic hedges.

That’s when Wenonah’s father drove up.

Pulled his car on the grass.

Opened the trunk.

Pulled out several white boxes (remember, this man was wearing a coat and tie. No white beekeeper overalls, no veil, no gloves).

He took a couple white boxes out of his trunk. Set them down in the yard. made sure the top that fit over the boxes was firmly in place. And then turned around to me.

By this time I was just beginning to realize those things flying in circles around us were...


Bees with stingers.

Against my better judgment I didn’t take off and run, (though that was my first impulse).

Instead I stood quietly by and listened to my new father-in-law talk.

“I decided to give you something useful for a wedding present. Something that will produce a gift every year.

A beehive.”

I wasn't carefully listening to his words. Instead I was watching the insects. the bees. They sure looked like they were getting ready to attack.

But Wenonah's father, Bill, didn't seem to be all that worried. After he presented me with the gift he walked back in his car and was now rifling through the back seat.

“And here’s a book on beekeeping.

“And a bee veil.

“And here’s a hive tool, and a smoker.

“And these are a pair of gloves, They are made special so you can work the hive with them on.. Though, I expect, once you get used to it, to keeping bees, you won’t want to use them.

“And finally, when you've done it for a while. When you get the hang of keeping the bees, When you're ready, I have a hundred more hives up on the farm that you can have.

“That is if the two of you want want me to give you the farm.”

It took me about a year to convince Wenonah that moving to the farm was a good idea, and another half year to get our affairs in order.

I got a job teaching at a local high school during the winter. But during the summer I kept the bees, and Wenonah’s father helped. Which meant I did the work and he told me what he thought I should be doing.

I remember us taking off the honey together. The two of us. I would be fully decked out in my bee protection gear. White coveralls, a quality veil, tightly secured around my head. Long leather gloves with long sleeves attached that went up past my elbows where they were secured with elastic garters.

And I remember Bill wearing his work clothes, an old veil sort of draped over his head, and no gloves on his hands. Sometimes, even, he'd be wearing a short sleeve shirt.

I also remember every time I'd get stung. Every time some bee managed to sneak its way inside my protective armor and managed to give me a sting. I remember yelling and cussing, jumping up and down, cussing some more and then, when the pain died down, I'd finally get back to work.

And I remember the end of the day and looking at Bill’s ungloved hands and realizing that he had probably been stung twenty or thirty times during the day and not once had I heard him complain. I hadn’t even been aware that he'd been stung once, let alone several dozen times. He had just never let out a sound, Didn’t jump up and down. Didn't stop work. In fact had never even remarked that he'd been stung.

Every time some worker bee decided that she didn’t very much trust this human, that it looked like he was taking liberties with the very heart of her city state and she gave his naked hand a sting.

And Bill. He just kept on working.

So yesterday, when I was working the bees. I had started out not wearing gloves. It’s hard to do what you have to do if you are wearing thick gloves.

But about the time the sky had clouded over and I dropped that frame about a dozen of the working girls decided that they needed to sacrifice themselves for the good of the family and they gave my hands a dozen good stings.

I’d like to think that when I got those stings I just continued on my way. Carefully picking up the frame I’d dropped. Maybe giving the hive another puff of smoke, and without a comment going about my business .

But I didn’t.

Instead words came out of my mouth similar to what I might have used many years ago in the army. I jumped up and down and cussed a little more for good measure and then finally, finally when the real hurt from the sting had died down some. I went to my truck and there on the front seat were my pair of bee gloves. Just like the ones Bill had given me all those years ago.

My hands still hurt as I slipped the gloves on and I cussed one more time and thought back to when I asked him if the reason why he didn't wear gloves was because the stings didn't hurt him.

“No, ” he said. They still hurt. they hurt bad. But its something you just learn to live with.”

Leigh Hauter


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