October 22, 2014

Wouldn’t Your Life Be Better with a Bee Buddy?

Part I by Louise Sullivan; Part II by Elinor Redmond

Part I: Louise Confessions of a Slap-Dash Beekeeper

Louise Sullivan and Elinor Redmond

Louise Sullivan and Elinor Redmond

I’ve had bees in my backyard since 2007. Motivated by the desire to be a friend to bees, I took Beginning Beekeeping from Rick Cooper, built a hive and installed a package of unsuspecting Italians from Georgia. It was a blissful first summer. The hive flourished and survived the winter in strength. Of course, as soon as the snow melted and blossoms set on the huge old apple tree in our yard, the bees swarmed to the highest branches. At that moment, I knew that I was in over my head. I needed experience, equipment and an extension ladder. I hived that swarm, but the swarming impulse left me shaken. I loved the bees, their industry, their fragrance, their organization and I wanted to do everything in my power to help them succeed in their mission, but I was also a little scared of their determination, vitality and inner direction.

So, when my friend Elinor began to keep bees, it was natural for us beginners to put our heads and fledgling skills together. Our partnership grew gradually, baby steps at first, each watching the other as we inspected our hives, lending a hand to hold a frame or move a box. I valued Elinor’s analytical eye and her more careful approach to hive management. We each had unique challenges. Although we live in the same town, our locations are very different. My hives sit at the edge of a pasture, fully exposed to the ocean breezes in summer and fierce winds in winter. They are shaded for the middle part of the day by a grove of spruce trees. Elinor’s hives are at home in a high sunny meadow near the Spurwink Marsh. The differences in the two biomes permits us to look into two very different bee worlds.

A few summers ago, having taken Larry Peiffer’s Intermediate Beekeeping class, we declared “The Summer of the Queen.” We each were having trouble finding our queens, so we decided to conduct hive inspections together, always with the intention of locating the queen, as well as addressing the issue that prompted the inspection. It was a great exercise and we are now much better at finding HRH. That same summer, we began to split hives that were about to swarm, support hives that were weak with brood from another hive and generally figure out the reason for hive behavior that was unusual. I have found Elinor’s strong arm, steady hand, and eye to be a great help. We bought and share an extractor and we occasionally help one another with frames of brood and nurse bees. In the summer of 2012, American Foul Brood reared its hideous head in our locale. We identified and alerted other beekeepers in our area to the threat. There were benefits to that scare, especially the formation of a loose organization of local beekeepers, most of whom do not belong to our Cumberland County Chapter of MSBA.

Our partnership continues to influence my practice. Today I bought beautiful little book and, modeled after Elinor’s practice, began keeping a hive journal. This following is the first entry:

1/9/14 

I undertake to keep this journal inspired by the practice of my bee buddy, Elinor. 

Weather, 23 degrees, sunny, no wind. Top off hives. Could hear but not see bees in both. Installed mite boards. Check in 2 weeks. Hive 2: turned sugar frame down to face frames. Feed Hive 1? Wait to check pattern of cappings on board. 

In short, as friends to one another and to our hives, we learn, enjoy and discuss. We try together to find the best practice for healthy hives. For me, having Elinor as my Bee Buddy is a great and unexpected benefit of being a beekeeper.

Part II: Elinor Won’t You Bee My Buddy?

I started keeping bees in 2009, two years after my friend, Louise, bought her first package. It happened because we have a mutual beekeeping friend who said she was ‘placing hives around Cape Elizabeth’ and would I have one at our place? I said yes — we have plenty of space — and thought I would enjoy watching her keep her bees at my place. Turned out I misunderstood, and soon I was keeping my bees at my place. Ann assured me that the bees would take care of themselves. I started reading, soon had a nuc from Swan’s, realized my ignorance, and started begging anyone with a veil to please inspect my hive. That hive did not make it, and I took myself off to beginning bee school with Erin Forbes and Larry Peiffer.

The next spring I bought 2 nucs from Tony Bachelder in Buckfield. I see in my bee journal that I picked them up on April 21st and had my first sting on the 22nd (my fault, of course). In early May, about every other journal entry mentions Louise. She’d help me inspect if I asked. Often I’d write about a situation with the bees and write “ask Louise.” I also tended to write things like, “all is well,” probably trying to reassure myself that things were going okay. Louise was and is definitely my go-to person (with a deep bow to Karen Thurlow who has been extremely patient and generous with both of us). That August I took my 4 frames of capped honey to her house for my first extracting experience. She had bought an extractor and let me buy a share in it. That must have been our first formal partnering.

We’ve always had different styles. I tend to be more analytical, while Louise is more intuitive. By 2011, we were becoming quite intentional about our buddy-ship, planning inspections together. She’s much better at spotting the queen than I am. That May, she helped me split a large, active hive. Those bees chased Louise to the trees and stung her 5 times! Good grief!

2012 was the “year of the queen.” We vowed to find our queens. We were moderately successful. We share frames of brood, equipment, mite control supplies. We share rides to meetings and classes (we’ve taken Intermediate Beekeeping together twice). Our talks during our car time cover many bee topics.

Throughout, Louise has been committed to making a bee community here in Cape Elizabeth. She started convening local beekeepers in the spring and in the fall. We meet at our town coffee shop, The Local Buzz. Everybody checks in about what’s going on with his/her hives.

Bee-lieve me, there is nothing quite like having a good Bee Buddy!

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