Sunday, August 21, 2005

On the Pleasures of Second Place

As you may have read here, first year beekeepers (like me) are not supposed to expect or extract a honey harvest. Our worker bees have got their papillae full just rearing new co-workers, building a new colony, and setting aside adequate stores for the winter.

But a single exception is made, or at least it was made when our beekeeping club was encouraging entries into the local county fair: a new beekeeper may extract honey from two frames in order to offer up a sample for the special newbee category. I did this with MaryEllen's help, and got me 2 jars containing maybe 5 pounds of honey. Translating this back into sugar water – you know, the stuff I feed them in order to make their work easier and faster – my entry started life as 3.5 gallons of nectar of one kind or another. That's a lot of work for critters who are maybe 2/3 of an inch long.

The fact that there was a special category really wasn't reason enough, nor was the (apparently universal) desire of a new beekeeper to see the fruits of her girls' labors, but the club itself seemed to need a good showing of interest, and that is what locked it for me.

There is a profound debt of gratitude in my heart: for the free class and the many hours of preparation, demonstration, and counseling that came with it; for organizing the monthly meetings with the guest speakers; for the newsletter and the field trips; and on and on. The club is also in a funny transition time, because the founding generation has retired from leadership and the kind of person who becomes a beekeeper is moving to include both the traditional biology fans and farmers as well as the Birkenstock set (like me). This reminds me strongly of the period when the Internet changed from a technical to a public forum, and all the sturm and drang that came with it. We live in times when folks are at each others' throats for much less: I'd like to sign up for a club that did not implode as soon as I joined it.

More personally, I've participated in the inadvertent extinction of several startups, a major reason why I have given up working just now. It's hard to pour your heart and best efforts into an endless battle for life, over and over. I want to do what I can to contribute to something that might thrive.

So, in summary, I entered because:
  1. I had permission;
  2. I had encouragement;
  3. I had the means;
  4. I had self-important philosophical stylings; and
  5. County fairs are fun.

And I won second place, which in this category was also last place. However, my score was just two off the winner, a 92 at that, and I was never one to sniff at A minuses in school. Plus the winner, Jim, is a totally good guy who has helped me with advice and just being good company at the meetings. Don't get me wrong, his favorite topic is his wife and kids. Let's just put it this way: losing to a better, more experienced beekeeper who is also a sterling individual is never bad.

Here's how the judges scored our honey, which was classed as "light amber:"
Winner (Jim)
Containers: Cleanliness and Appearance (out of poss. 10)
Freedom from Crystals (out of poss. 10)
Accuracy of Filling (out of poss. 10)
Cleanliness and Freedom from Foam (out of poss. 30)
Flavor: Downgrade only if something is wrong (out of poss. 20)
Density: Disqualify for water content above 18.6% (out of poss. 20)
Percent moisture content
Total points (out of poss. 100)

Jim gave me pointers on how to slay the foam problem, and I can fix up the container question just by going with regulation honey jars (Ball jars, while picturesque, are not The Thing). I'd like to point out that my moisture content is already better than his, though...

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