Friday, April 21, 2006

Adventures in Bruising: Monastery Garden Bees

Just last month, I got a (welcome) phone call. As some of you may know, this blog has gone on endlessly about whether or not to split the Twain and Wilde colonies of rooftop bees ever since it was discovered that they were the opposite of dead: there was in fact a bit of a population boom. During this time of false starts and endless speculation on how exactly to go about splitting one's bees, our beekeeping club got a call from the volunteer garden guild of a nearby Franciscan monastery: they wanted to know if it was possible to place bees in the garden.

It's a lovely garden, dear friends, and it would make a wonderful home for bees. The site offered is actually at the edge of a grove of Tulip Poplar trees, the main sentinel of the honey flow in these parts! On April 10, my bees checked out as ready to split. MaryEllen got me two new Italian queens from Wilbanks on April 18, and therefore I spent the 19th setting up the site. Setting up mostly involved buying and hauling 8 cement blocks and two 8 foot, 4 by 4 landscaping timbers, as well as bunches of rocks to level out this construction. For you SUV aficionados, please note that our Toyota Matrix handled it all, and more. Me, I got covered in scrapes, slivers, and bruises. A normal day, really.

route from roof to car via spiral staircaseTo prepare the bees on the home front, I needed things like window screen material for blocking entrances, and ratcheting cinch straps to keep the boxes together in transit. Luckily, there is an awesome independent hardware store near my home, and a Home Depot for emergency items en route between home and monastery! So I should have been ready to spend the 20th moving in the bees. Or should I say we would spend the 20th moving the bees...

The picture above shows you the one complication in the scheme that kept me up at night. Access to my roof apiary is via a two-story wrought iron spiral staircase. Get down that, then take a few steps to get off of the back porch, and follow it with a simple trip across the yard containing the three energetic dogs and you're done! Did I mention that each colony weighed between 80 and 100 pounds? Oh yeah, and I hoped to do the whole thing by myself.

splits ready to goI started assembling splits at 8 AM. This is as far as I got as a soloist. Twice I picked up a split, got to the top of the stairs, and feared for my life. At 10 AM, I had to leave for an appointment (for which I was late, and during which I kept trying not to think about trapped bees baking in the rooftop sun.)

By 11:30, I was calling MaryEllen and begging for help (actually, in my head, I was screaming for it). Who else would be available on a weekday, with no notice and no terror, to haul 200 pounds of bee stuff down 20 feet of spiral staircase? No brainer, right? Joe, the president of the garden guild, had asked to be included in the installation, so I was also feeling a bit of time pressure and had slightly messed up my placement of the hive supports already. He was waiting, I did not know him so well, and I was truly desperate.

And so she came. By the way, even before this I had decided to name the monastery colonies "MaryEllen" and "Doug" (her husband) due to all their help and kindness. I'm a little stumped about what to name "the Queen of Doug," but I am taking suggestions.

new hives at monasteryWhen we arrived at the monastery, Joe was there, and so was Ann, a frequent volunteer, We lent them veils and everyone hung around while we moved the splits into place, removed the straps, opened the entrances, installed the new queens, placed and filled the hive top feeders, and closed them up. There were lots of good questions (the bees always seem to inspire exceptional mental acuity, if you ask me) and Joe even participated. Rock on, Joe! MaryEllen confirmed the excellence of this apiary location.

MaryEllen helped me pack up the empty sugar syrup containers, smoker, veil, tools, straps, and endless accoutrements of bee wrangling, and I took her to a late lunch, then to the subway (her car was parked at a station in the suburbs).

So there is a new home for bees in the world, and maybe some new friends of Apis mellifera. I am sore and covered with bumps, but this is a new level in beekeeping. I now have two apiaries, and 4 families of bees to look after. I hope that the expansion does not dilute the wonder, or undercut the caring for their challenges and world. This bee thing only serves to make my universe grow.

Note: This is yet another post that was published several days after the fact. At least I am catching up, OK?

1 comment:

Mary Z. Cox/A Secret Life of Banjo said...

Nice blog.
You may want to take a quick look at the little video I put up on my blog. I just put in my first hive on Wednesday and it is a little video with banjo soundtrack. :)
Best wishes,
Mary Z. Cox