Monday, July 23, 2012

trust buddha, but lock up your bees

Tom works like a fiend from May to November. We both do. We don’t entertain, go away or have dinner before 9 p.m.

Two days ago, it was a scorcher (almost 35C or about 100F) and Tom was taking boxes of honey off the hives. He came home for dinner, and headed to a yard an hour and a half away to move 15 colonies out and got home at 4 in the morning. He extracted the next day and repeated the night move again.

The hives need constant monitoring and nurturing. They get split in the spring and re-queened if necessary. Depending on the spring, they may need supplementary feeding. Thousands of new frames need to be made and old boxes scraped and cleaned. Electric fences have to be built in each yard to keep the bears out. Summer is lifting heavy boxes in hot weather, extracting honey and bottling. Selling it all is a whole different and time-consuming scenario.

Often throughout the season, the bee yards (15 – 30 colonies at a time) are moved – at night. We do this with buckwheat, apples, cranberries and this year, canola. When the season is over, every colony is medicated as organically as possible for mites. This involves several trips to the hives. If this isn’t done, there’s a good likelihood that the bees will die over winter. Then they’re all wrapped to help insulate and maintain a more constant temperature during the cold months and unpredictable spring weather. Then we start all over again. Did I say Tom loves his bees?

Just recently, some poor beekeeper in Saskatchewan lost 150 of his 3,000 hives. Well, he didn’t LOSE them; someone came along and TOOK them.

As a matter of fact, they didn’t just load up Bill Termeer’s colonies and run. They actually took out the production frames INSIDE the colonies, along with the queen, and all the brood that would have been future bees for gathering honey. THEN, they put in old, dirty, empty frames so Bill wouldn’t discover the theft right away. He’d keep seeing frames in the hives and then a week or so later, when he’d actually go inside the hive and pull out the frames to check the activity, he’d be stunned to find 150 empty, bereft hives.

They didn’t give him any money or even leave clues to where they might have gone. To me, that’s not quite the same as kidnapping, but it comes pretty close.

“Oh, I see you have some nice looking kids. They’re out of diapers, they look healthy and happy, and I want them. Don’t mind me.” . . . SWOOP. “Here, I’ll leave you a couple of dolls.”

Mr. Termeer didn’t have any insurance on his bees. I don’t know a beekeeper who does – I bet it wouldn’t be cheap. He’s left wondering why, if perhaps another beekeeper was in trouble financially, or had his/her bees die off, why there was no dialogue or request for help. Beekeepers are pretty close knit, forthright and sharing with their knowledge. They’ve all known the hot, heavy and sometimes disappointing seasons. The RCMP is going to analyse the pollen to help narrow the location where the replacement frames came from.

We have friends from out of town that sometimes visit us at the Farmers’ Markets and they get to listen to our ‘schpiel’ – our bee banter. Brian says that he loves to hear Tom talking about the bees. “It’s so interesting,” he muses, “and if you can’t trust a BEEKEEPER, who can you trust?”

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

counter productive

. . . a single black basalt mortar and pestle. That’s the only thing on my kitchen counter .  . . in my dreams.

I long for minimalism. Instead, I am drowning in stuff. Because of ‘renovation’, I have no closets. NO CLOSETS! Take a look around and imagine that you live with no closets. Bills? Shoes? Shopping bags? Spare hardware? They’re all at the front door alongside boxes of glass jars to be filled, pails of honey, a bronze bee door knocker, pail of sugar to mix for the hummingbirds, castor oil, vitamin E, and vanilla extract for products, plastic tomato clips, fish fertilizer . . . get the picture?

Oh, I have a few kitchen cupboards – heavy oak honey-coloured panel doors that were crafted by a former owner of our house. In fact, when Wally came to visit after we first moved in, he practically wept when he told us about how he made those doors. I didn’t dare tell him that I couldn’t wait to replace them.

My vision is wall to wall, floor to ceiling closets. European and sleek, seamless edges and a sliver of a stainless steel pull tab for opening and closing. Shelving and drawers are concealed inside to hold everything that is now spewing out and multiplying daily, as our busy season envelops us.

My present six-foot 60’s-style flowered arborite countertop’s inventory is (from south to north): wood bread box topped with assorted wax pieces for the salves, various product samples (honey ginger, cherry honey, grain mustard), an array of vitamin pill bottles, 4 quart basket of peaches, mixer, electronic scales, fresh mint in a bowl of water, fresh parsley in a glass of water, bowl of soap bits from shaping last batch of soap, Brita water pitcher, a honey glass from the Cayman Islands filled with jujubes that my brother’s friend brought, cooking utensil jar #1, cooking utensil jar #2 and #3 (tall, medium and short stuff), olive oil, Tom’s wine, my wine, bowl of new tomatoes, bowl of old onions, crock of assorted spices, bag of taco chips, . . . and a black basalt mortar and pestle.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

I wish I knew

Cecil Cartwright, our 85 year old neighbour across the street is a “Conky Joe” – a white Bahamian. His grandfather jumped a British naval ship in the Caribbean (how long ago would that be?) and keeps us laughing with stories about Long Island in the Bahamas where giant roosters haunted graveyards, kids’ pets were mules and pigs and living in caves during the hurricanes was standard. Big and gentle, he comes over for visits with a hoe as his cane, scraping off the weeds as he goes down his driveway. He lost his driver’s license a few years ago which is the kiss of death if you happen to live in the country.

Cecil’s 83 year old wife, Helen woke up blind as a bat two years ago and now has Alzheimer’s. She slips out of the house occasionally, and starts calling for TOM! until I realize she’s yelling, “MOM!”

"MOM!”, “MOM!”, “MOM – WHERE ARE YOU?” Oh dear. Last week, it was wildly windy and I was working out in the front garden. I heard, TOM! (MOM!) and looked up. Helen was in a pink furry bathrobe that was flapping open and shut in the breeze revealing a white slip. She was weaving towards the road with a long wooden staff assisting her journey, her long matted hair trailing out behind her, looking all the world like Gandalf the Gray. A guy who was cutting their grass rescued her and gently led her back to the house.

You can’t keep a good woman down. Even after she lost her site, Helen liked to CUT THE LAWN! Cecil would start the lawnmower and she would weave and bob in wild designs through the grass. Every now and then the mower would slam into a rock or stump and shriek to a halt. Cec would start it up again and away she’d go.

The other day when I was putting out the garbage by the road, Helen came wandering down her driveway with a handful of sticks. She didn’t know where she should put them. Then she started to cry. “There’s been a death in my family. I just found out my mother died.” I said I was sorry, but she kept going on and was so despondent that I told her that maybe she had just forgotten that her mother had died a long time ago. “No,” she said, “Why didn’t anyone tell me?”

Poor Cecil. He hears this ALL DAY. And dear Helen – she LIVES this all day.

Alzheimer’s is funny – meaning insidious. On one hand, many of us strive to live in the moment, but many people with this very sad condition keep living a moment that may be one of their worst.

My mother had Alzheimer’s. She always knew us (and never looked for her mother) but didn’t know that you’d just been in the room 2 minutes ago. She loved music and when she was in the later stages, I downloaded a ton of 40’s music that she could listen to on a little IPod machine that the nurses could turn on. When we first played it for her, I told her that I was going to play a song and ask her who sang it. I’d never before heard the first song I played for her, and asked her to Name That Tune. “I Wish I Knew”, she said. I thought she didn’t know the name, and looked on the IPod. The title was “I Wish I Knew”. I was amazed. 

I played the next one and I could see she was trying to remember it. She looked at me and gave a little smile and said, “I wish I knew!”

Monday, July 2, 2012

smashing pumpkins

Tom cut down the buckwheat today. (Also bushhogged my cantaloupes by mistake). Hot and windy. The bees are pretty well finished with it and the flowers are starting to form seed pods. I’ve been harping about it so I can plant our ‘giant pumpkin’ seedling for the market’s annual contest the end of October. I also want to put in some miserable little wilted squash plants that have been strangling in their green plastic containers since May. Good Luck.

One year we won the Pumpkin Contest. The prize was free stall fees for the next year. WOW. Now we get a plastic trophy if someone remembers to get them. Ken McCutcheon, another beekeeper won the previous year with a giant specimen that (rumour had it) he even peed on at night. He grew even bigger ones than the one he submitted, but when he went to lift them into the truck with the loader, they broke in half. These are Dills’ Atlantic Giant seeds – potential behemoths.

One of the farmers told me that when deer find pumpkins, they often trample on them and then eat the seeds. I told my organic farmer friend, Sharon McBride, who is my partner in grime at the market, that I was going to fashion a set of deer legs and hoofs and go and 'trample' on some pumpkins if I get wind that anyone's pumpkin is getting bigger than mine.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

fortune teller

Our friend, Geoff just returned from a business trip to China. We were going out for dinner with him and his wife (my good friend, Susan) somewhere, but he was so bagged from the 14 hour direct flight that he just wanted to go to bed.  He brought us a little china caddy of tea which was really thoughtful. Not sure what the directives are saying on the side of the box, though.

Speaking of China, Tom had an interesting fortune cookie the other day when we were out for Chinese food at Gung Ho. It read: “THERE ARE 10 DIGITS, 3 COLOURS AND 7 NOTES. IT’S HOW WE USE THEM THAT MAKE A DIFFERENCE”. He said it was the most cryptic message he had ever received from a cookie. I laughed and told him that maybe he should have gotten my cookie and handed him my message – “NEXT TIME, ORDER THE SHRIMP”.