Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Beeginning of a New Adventure: The Bees Arrived!

Our Bee T.A.R.D.I.S.
Last Wednesday found me busily preparing for some very special additions to our homestead — honey bees! I needed to make sure their new home was prepared: boxes painted and dried, frames assembled and placed in the bottom box, sugar syrup mixed and ready to go, the "bee yard" tidied up and ready. Of course I had all this done days ago, but in my excitement I had to check and recheck. (Or was that my OCD?)

Because of all the excitement (mine), the Boy and I didn't get many of our academic subjects in that day. But learning about bees counts as school, right? The day seemed to take forever. But, finally, it was time to head to bee class where the bees for the participating students, plus those of a few other folks, would arrive from Georgia. 

Here is an abbreviated photo essay of the process of emptying the packages into our hives.

Bee packages in the back of the van

Karen getting her bees from Ron, while a classmate looks on.

Girls and Bees

 Ok, so the bees arrived...Now what? Our teacher, Jeremy, very patiently (This man has infinite patience!) demonstrated how to get them from the package box into our hives.

Spray with sugar syrup
Remove top, then can of syrup

Check for the she alive?
Yes she is!
Remove the cork on the fondant side

Place the queen cage in between two frames, with the escape hole up.

Queen cage placed!
Replace frames

Shake it, Shake it, Shake it! (Shake your groove thing...)
See them waggle! No it wasn't the refrain to "Shake Your Groove Thing"
that made them waggle. It's what they do to signal to others, "Hey Ladies! This is our home!"

Any questions?
Just the experience of watching Jeremy empty those bees into the hive was amazing! There were bees flying everywhere—bumping into faces, arms, fingers. Yet they were so gentle. Apparently this is because they don't have anything to defend yet. Once they get some brood and honey in their frames, I'm sure they'll be more defensive. None of the humans panicked and most of us observed and then worked our own packages without protective gear. A fellow beekeeper brought some home made mead to sample, so maybe that helped bolster confidence!

Some of the folks in the class were nonchalant about handling their bees. For a few, it was a major triumph to do this without panicking; these are stinging insects and to have thousands of them flying around can be quite intimidating. Karen, a few other classmates, and I laughed and joked our way through it all. It was a festive atmosphere...our bee party.

Karen opens her box

Popping the cork

The bees enter the T.A.R.D.I.S.

Bee on a classmate. We were all covered in sugar syrup!

Monday, April 8, 2013

Ancient Civilizations: Greece Part I, Mythology

One of the things I love about homeschooling is the ability to tailor my son's education to his needs, and a close second is the ability to flex around the needs of the family.

While grade specific course objectives may state that your child needs to know x subject matter in a particular grade or age we, as educators, can determine if the child we teach is emotionally, physically, and spiritually ready to meet the subject matter. And, as parents, we sometimes have to bend a little in our expectations of running a perfect household (Ha!) whilst giving our child the most fabulous and thorough of educations.

Characters of the Iliad

Where am I going with this? An admission that we did not get to Greece in 5th grade, as is prescribed in almost all Waldorf curricula. Yes, we tried, but we were running out of school year and it was not a subject I wanted to rush. Plus, as we worked our way through India, Mesopotamia, and Egypt I could tell that the Boy was not quite ready to make the jump from 'story' to' history.'

Fifth grade is typically where Waldorf teachers make that all important leap with their classes—history told as a story to history told through fact. The children have reached that developmental milestone of being aware of the world around them. They thrive on physical challenges like the contests of the Greek Olympics. They are less dreamy and more of the world.

But my Boy was not completely there at the end of last school year. So we entered the world of Greek mythology this past fall. We told tales of the triumphs an tragedies of the Greek heroes and the meddlesome habits of the gods. We drew, painted, and modeled our way through the ancient myths.
12 Labors of Heracles

12 Labors of Heracles, Illustrated

Thursday, April 4, 2013

The Beeginning of a New Adventure

Flowers, but no bees.
Spring is here, so the calendar tells me. You wouldn't know it by the temperature, or by the signs of spring in the yard. If we're lucky we might get up to 55 degrees today. And maybe actually above freezing tonight. The weather reminds me of February's sugaring weather...freezing at night, in the 40s during the day.  February weather, not April!

Crocuses have opened and are now withering away, but still no sunny daffodils waving in the breezes. Or the bursting forth of the forsythia. To me the forsythia is always the true sign that spring is here to stay.By now it should be warm enough for the flowers and when the flowers bloom, in come the bees. And very soon, like next week, come MY bees!

Last summer, while chatting about chickens with my friends Karen and Leslie (We probably sounded much like the hens we were discussing "pick a little talk a little cheep cheep cheep.") we came around to talking about raw honey and then to bees. All three of us expressed a mild interest in beekeeping.

Mild interest, for I don't really like crawly things. I appreciate them, love how they help us, but don't really like them. Each summer I find myself putting on a brave face and chanting to some child, "Worms (spiders, bees, etc.) are our friends. We must let them go back to their homes." Meanwhile my inner wuss is screaming "squish it!" Especially when it comes to spiders.

But, after a year's worth of research: attending beekeepers meetings, reading, perusing catalogues, taking an intro to beekeeping workshop, and taking what the beekeepers call a "short course," we are actually picking up a package of bees next week.

Einstein is attributed with stating, “If the bee disappeared off the face of the earth, man would only have four years left to live.” No one is really sure if he said that, but the point is a valid one. We need our pollinators, or we'll starve to death.

Unfortunately, our pollinators are dying off, and no one wants to say why. Most seasoned  beekeepers seem to think its a combination of things: pesticide use, genetically modified crops, loss of nectar sources, climate change, lowered disease resistance (due to the above). Lots of reasons all combining to wipe out a species that just can't adapt fast enough.

And beekeepers seem to be losing huge numbers of bees; dying off in late winter. (Some of the keepers at the York County Beekeepers Association are saying to expect a 50% die off this year.) It's been too cold to get in the hives to get hard numbers. 

So, while it might seem an exercise in futility, we're going to give it a try on our little homestead. My teacher, Jeremy Barnes, is estimating his losses at 10-20%, so maybe I'll be lucky if I emulate his methods. 

While I spend these last few chilly days (weeks?) dreaming about this year's yield in the garden and freezers full of chickens, I will also be nailing together hive bodies and frames, painting boxes, mounting beeswax foundation, and chanting to myself "Bees are our friends...."

Putting a frame together