Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Bees Knees

I’m not sure where the phrase comes from (yes, I know there is a terrific tool called Google that could instantly find the answer, but dependency on instant gratification rather than giving into wonder is a topic for another day.).
So, about those knees.  

They are completely and utterly functional. Michael and I have watched them for hours this summer carry all sorts of pollen—meaning blue, orange, yellow and white—back to their new home. This past May, we added a two-story condo to our property: a bee hive. Michael had been wanting to do it for years, I was a bit nervous. You know, bees. And, bee stings. 

Turns out, my love of gardening and bees are quite compatible. Plus, doing your part to save the world feels pretty cool, too. Sure, a bit of hyperbole, but if you do any reading on the subjects of hive collapse, pesticides and our food supply you may just end up with a hive in your backyard.

We read books, looked online, watch a great MPT special from approximately the year I was born. Not much has changed with beekeeping though so other than the clothes and hair, the show was as relevant today as then. But, what really got us moving was a colleague of mine who has been keeping bees for 20-plus years.

We had a bee mentor. She shared her passion, her knowledge and great bee stories with us. She took it from somewhat of an alien thought to introducing us to her hives. Her calm nature and her stern warnings were just what I needed (remember, Michael was sold on it already) to commit.

We placed our order for four pounds of Russian bees, and one Italian queen. We heard the Russian bees were a bit more hardy and a bit more aggressive than Italians. Given we were going to take bees born in Georgia to overwinter in Maryland, we thought hardy made sense. Nature didn’t agree, however, we ended up with three pounds of Italian bees in the back of my car. Technically, we had six pounds of bees plus two queens in the back of my car. On a beautiful farm north of Baltimore, we picked up two “packages” of bees–one for us, one for our bee mentor to add to her collection of hives. 

We watched a live demo at the farm of how to move the bees from their travel cage to their new home. The demo guy would never be my mentor, and he had the scars to prove that shortcuts equal stings. Somehow I managed to watch him aggressively shake a three-pound screened in box of bees into a hive without hyperventilating or running away. I wasn’t the only newbie at the demo. I was pleased, however, that I wasn’t the newbie that swatted at the bees. That was the random guy next to me who hit me in the head when a bee landed on my hair. I heard it, oh god did I hear that buzz right next to my ear, but I didn’t want to overreact before I even left the premises. He didn’t share my sense of self-conscious I can handle this vibe, and hit me pretty hard. Tensions were high and bees were all about and a random man hit me in the head. His wife said, “I can’t take him anywhere.”

And that, my friends, is how you make two very nervous about-to-be beekeepers laugh. It then seemed totally manageable to put six pounds of bees in the trunk and head for home. 

Sunday, March 16, 2014

A New Love

It really was love at first sight. As soon as he was in my cart, I knew it was meant to be. Even the cashier could see that we would be happy together.

The miter saw? Yes, he’s still dependable, but I know what he’s all about. There are no more surprises there. The pneumatic nail gun? Frankly, he just makes me nervous. I know he’s great, but I never quite feel comfortable with him or in control. The tile saw? Actually, I still love him, but he is just so one-dimensional.
But this new guy? He is exactly what I had been missing without even knowing that I was missing anything. I find myself looking for new projects to start so that I can get him out of the box.
We started off slow and with a few missteps. But we eventually had a few successful adventures and I was ready to dive in with a big project.
That’s when I was introduced to Ana White and her fantastic building plans. There is no need to get into a detailed recount of the project, because Ana’s plans are just so helpful.
I had a few variations to her plans. I used cheap firring strips rather than nice wood because I’m going to leave it outside so much, but I stained and sealed it with outdoor products. I added lawnmower wheels to my cart because our yard can be pretty uneven and dipped the ends of the legs that will hit the ground in liquid plastic to protect them.
It’s still too cold to use the cart outside (did I mention the top lifts off as a serving tray?), but it really doesn’t matter because I’m already looking for my next adventure with my new obsession—the Kreg Jig.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Baby, it’s cold outside

Our local weather forecasters seem to forget this simple fact every year and act surprised when the temperature dips and snow falls.

Winter isn’t my favorite season, but there is a beauty in it. A softness, a quiet like no other season. I try to enjoy it and know that if I dress appropriately, I can even go out in it. There is no love, no hate, but an understanding and acceptance.

Well, there was. Then winter was just a jerk and took away our water.

First, there was this phenomenon called a polar vortex, and we fared pretty well. A week later, there was just cold and biting wind, and the water stopped. We had pipes freeze before, but with patience and slightly higher temps, they unfroze and we were back in business. No such luck this time.

The pipe didn’t just break, it shattered. And the water? It was everywhere. Michael found a cutoff so that we could have water in the kitchen sink, but the rest of the house was off limits. We were roughing it in our home until we could get to the pipe project. We’re pretty resourceful and try to have a sense of humor (and bottles of wine) about our house.
We were ready to tackle the project. We took off of work, had it mapped out and then Michael found out that he couldn’t take the day off; they needed him in the office. I had to choose: use the dry shampoo one more day and go to work waiting until Saturday so we could figure it out as a team, or fly solo. My dirty blond hair was looking a bit too dirty and there are limits to the miracle that is dry shampoo, so I ventured into the crawl space on my own.

I cut the old pipe out with minor difficulties and minor swearing (sorry, mom!), purchased new materials and replaced them. In ideal conditions (over 60 degrees), the pipe cement will be cured in two hours. Today did not include ideal conditions.
I had on so many layers, I wasn’t sure if I would be able to bend into the space that needed the work under the house. But, three hours after starting the project, the pipe is replaced (that includes the trip to the store). Now, I wait. And wonder if I did it right, and if the cement will hold and if I will get to have a shower tonight. I didn’t doubt myself during one step of the project, but now that I’m done I have nothing but doubts.

Michael was so thrilled that I took this project on that he has decided that I get to plan the plumbing in the guest bathroom that we’re finishing this winter. If the pipe holds, I may just be confident enough to try. Then again, work may just call me in that day. Turnabout is fair play, right?
An update: The pipes are still working and winter still hasn’t left us. As I type this on 16 March, we’re expecting about five inches of snow tonight.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

To grow a garden is to believe in the future.

I’ve seen this quote a few times, and some of the time it is attributed to Audrey Hepburn. I never thought much about her – positive or negative, good or bad, but I love this quote. Turns out, she found solace in her garden near the end of her life, or at least that is what is documented on her hospice care. My guess is that if she found peace in her garden at the end of her life, it probably brought her joy throughout her life.
I know mine does. I start planning my garden – edible and flowers (and some edible flowers) in December… more than 5 months before the last frost date. I review what worked the past years, the notes I made on different seeds, conditions and outcomes. Last year was a rough year for me and for the gardens. The spring was a mess with too much rain, I had to leave the country for work for two weeks in the early growing season (May) and I never seemed to catch up. Even as I write that, I wonder if it is a metaphor for how I felt last year, but I haven’t had enough wine to really explore that sentiment any more than this one sentence.
I’ll chalk the 2013 growing season up to a learning experience (and a ridiculously productive cucumber and zinnia crop) and focus on ’14. Last year I added a 20 x 20 foot addition to the 2 raised beds (4 x 16 each) of my edible garden. I may have grown too fast, but I am ready this year. My plots are measured out, the seeds are purchased and ready to start in the greenhouse. First seeds go in early February. The flower seeds start a few weeks later, but they are also planned out.
I’m ready for tomorrow, but enjoying the planning today. A new year, a new garden and a new opportunity. Happy 2014.