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Life on the farm, what's the buzz? Days 17-20 PART TWO!

Home for the night: STILL the same bed in the same room in the same house!

Distance: unknown wanderings about the yard and beehives

Weather: cool at times, slightly overcast, warming in the afternoon slightly.

B: eggs, black currant scones and coffee

L: wild foraged cream of mushroom and carrot soup with cilantro fava bean/tomato salad

D: steamed garden beans and carrots with rice and breaded, panfried sole

 

all of us journey

through books, landscapes and our minds

learning everyday

 

With the very, very, very late night and the intensity of moving angry bees we all slowly woke in the morning. I stayed in my room, writing while the faint murmurings of conversation drifted in from the kitchen. The hum of the coffee grinder, the kettle boiling and someone popping bread into the toaster filled my ears. It's so nice to feel at home. I eventually padded out to the kitchen, feeling quite foggy in between my ears to find a mug to fill. Rebekah and Johnathan had gone outside to check the bees and once again, I was transported back to my childhood. Plates with crumbs on the table and bee books scattered around with half drank cups of coffee reminded me of how the self-employed are never really off duty. I could see the two of them, just like my own parents problem solving and pouring over information that they didn't have in their minds yet. One day they would. One day they would be the resource that others would turn to! For now, they would face the constant research and humbling experience of the learning farmer.


My parents didn't keep bees, but I certainly remember and to this day understand the constant fervor to make sense of the continual challenges and best practices needed to do a good job. Learning is hard! It asks a lot of us, and as said before, witnessing the commitment of my friends to their vision was just unreal.


Rebekah had to go work her other job, off site for the day and despite the lack of sleep she got herself out the door with a smile on her face, destined to return in the evening after waiting tables all day in nearby Alma. This meant that I was Johnathan's helper for the day! Not a knowledgeable helper, but one who vowed to make up for their lack of skill with enthusiasm!


The bottom boards of several hives needed to be replaced and while Johnathan built them in the shop I wrote emails, tidied the accumulated disaster in the kitchen and made lunch for us. Life is work, whether it's inside or out and even the act of keeping working people fed is a monstrous job. We ate together, creating a work plan for the hives. Johnathan was very patient with my many questions and we referred to one of the beekeeping books laying about for my understanding of how a hive is built. I couldn't wait, despite the stings from last night.

Johnathan prepares the smoker

Down to the garden we went, with lots of supplies including the smoker and hive tools for lifting the frames to inspect the health and status of the colonies. My brain was soaking up information like a sponge. Did you know that the reason beekeepers use smoke on hives is that it mimics the signal of a forest fire in the wild. Wanting to be ready for a potential evacuation flight, the entire colony is triggered to feed on honey, gorging themselves. When they are this full, they physically are unable to sting and work can be done on the hive while the bees dine. There isn't a risk of them eating too much honey as they are constantly producing it. We lifted the lids off the hives and the sound and sight of so many bees in broad daylight who were magically mostly ok with us poking around really was something else. The beauty of the combs and the sheer number of insects just baffled me...incredible.

We moved methodically, learning as we went and confirming that the hives that were believed to have lost their queens in fact were queenless. Hives can lose their queens for many reasons, but from conversations with other beekeepers in the area think it was just a string of bad luck for Johnathan and Rebekah. Another person in the region who operates 400 hives had reported heavy queen loss as well and would be going into the winter with only 230 hives. One theory is that pesticide spraying in the vicinity could have harmed the queens when they went on a mating flight. There is a constant threat from larges scale spraying operations, mites and many other ways that hive vitality is reduced from human impact. Even the overworking of bee colonies to pollinate massive industrial food crops has resulted in hive fatigue which translates to disease that can easily be transmitted to other hives. It is a monstrous thing to wrap ones head around. Without the bees we have no food. It's quite simple, but other industries like forestry can have disastrous impact on the wellness and success of bees and their humans.


Regardless of why the queens were gone, it meant that the hives that still had queens would have to be convinced to absorb those who didn't...which is a process all to itself without any guarantee of outcome. It would involve stacking the queenless hive on top of the "queen right" colony with newspaper in between. In the time it takes the bees to chew through the newspaper the new bees (newbies?!? hehe) will have become permeated with the scent of their new queen and adopt the practices and rhythms of their new home. Crazy. It can go wrong and bees can die, but a hive without a queen is guaranteed to fail.


One particular hive had outdone itself. The bees had built an incredible mountain of comb in an empty space in their top box. It was so beautiful and surprising I had to take photos of it. The brilliance of these creatures is not lost on me...and I think it would be hard for anyone to not be impressed by what they're capable of. The perfection of all the little cells and how they can be engineered into wild designs rivaling the most famous artists in the world is beyond my grasp.

Unfortunately, the honey mountain would have to be removed as it would only make the hive harder and harder to maintain. The bees didn't need it, they had plenty of food in the rest of the hive. It took a long time to scrape off and gently pluck the bees out of the tunnels and folds of their design. Those who had gotten covered in honey would clean themselves with the assistance of their family members and go back to work. We filled two buckets with comb! Eventually, we realized that we weren't going to have enough time to complete all of the inspections AND combine the hives before the weather shifted. We tidied up and packed away all the gear, content with how much we had paved the way for hopefully simple and smooth colony combinations later in the week. Seven separate hives of bees all buzzing to and fro over the garden is an amazing thing to witness in close proximity. I know I, personally won't ever think of bees the same way, ever again...or the honey products we use all the time. Candles, honey, waxed fabric for storing food, skin products, etc. The bees work so hard and the amount of effort and study that their human counterparts put into the whole process is equally matched.


There was honey on everything! Our gloves, shoes, the doorknob into the house, everything was sticky despite our best efforts! I set the two buckets of honey comb on the counter and we celebrated our work with glorious mouthfuls of fresh comb. It is such an experience to eat honey like that. The honey is suspended in the wax cells and at first bite it feels solid. Then the delicate (but mega strong!!) wax collapses and it feels like candy/gum/toffee as you chew. The honey swirls around your mouth, the wax collecting into a small lump as you squeeze the honey out of it, chewing. Flavours of aster and goldenrod are present this time of year as they are the dominant blooms right now. Wow. Thank you bees!!

Eventually Rebekah came home from the restaurant and we were all still pretty sleepy from the night before. We had a very simple supper, chatted for awhile and all crawled into bed ready to reset and start anew in the morning. With so much learning, the brain needs a break!


The following day dawned cool and windy. Strong gusts were forecast and it would be a day to putter on indoor things. INDOORS!!! I actually spent the entire day inside, because I could! Knowing that I would be launching myself back onto the road and into the elements was great motivation to take a cue from the weather and just stay put. Cook, clean, eat. Repeat!


I wrote, sorted through my gear in preparation for my transition back to hiking in 36 hours and reveled in time with such dear people. Days in, we STILL had lots to talk about...and were suddenly feeling pinched on time! We did some brainstorming on next stages of the farm's development and conceptualizing how visitors would move through the space. The next decision that needs to be made is the exact location of the wood fired oven so construction can begin! I could happily stay for a few more days to help out and explore Albert County even more. It was so great to just stay very close to home as the final piece of my rest time with Rebekah and Johnathan. A whole day passes as easily if I'm on the road taking in the sights, or curled up on the sofa eating muffins and scones chatting about life, love and the future.

The harvesting and foraging goddess herself!! We dined beautifully on all of these delights brought in from the garden and forest

Johnathan was out in the yard inoculating logs for mushroom production and the hardware store showed up with all of the roofing shingles for the barn and farmstand building. Things came in from the garden to be processed. Tea was made. Heart to hearts were had. Donnie, another beekeeper stopped by to check in on how we had made out so far. The local green party candidate showed up to collect her sign from the recent election. More tea was made. For me, it was so easy to slip into the rhythm of life at Hearth and Hive...it felt just like home. Just like my childhood. Sometimes things are intense and there the stakes are high while other times the day is straightforward and fairly mellow. The work and learning continues and trust that it will all work out is the undercurrent.


I can't wait to return to this little patch of heaven to see what progress and discoveries will have been made in the coming months and years. Knowing that they are here and setting down roots in this part of the Bay of Fundy is wonderful. A little sanctuary of the heart to visit for anyone happening upon them. Next season, if you find yourself driving south along route 114 headed for Fundy National Park, take the time to detour onto Forestdale Road if the sign is out for Hearth and Hive. I can guarantee you'll be delighted by what you find tucked away on the hill.


Love and hugs to you all, thanks for being with me!



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