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17 May 2010
First hive inspection

That's a close-up of the queen cage with a few bees hanging out all over it. (Bigger version.) This was taken after we shook off most of the bees that were clinging to it when we first pulled it out.

Beekeeping is amazing. Thrilling, relaxing, and meditative, all at once. Immensely satisfying. I end up covered with the smell of smoke and sugar syrup together. It's like firespinning and working with liquid nitrogen all rolled up into one. Focus, sublime focus, and a dangerous pleasure that only works if you can enter a state of smooth calm when working with it.

This is my setup:

The box on the ground in front of the hive was the package. We've since fully cleared it of live bees and thrown it away. It looks like most of the bees that remained there after we left last time did manage to find their way into the hive without freezing to death. Phew!

We opened up the hive and pulled out a few frames, hanging them on this useful doohicky with two arms that hooks onto the edge of the hive when it's open. The bees didn't seem to mind at all. This let us pull out the queen cage to examine it.

The queen and her attendants were still trapped inside the cage by the sugar plug, which was only partially eaten away. She looked fine. The other bees were totally covering the cage, but they didn't seem hostile, just interested - I don't think she's in much danger of being balled. (When a colony rejects a foreign queen, they kill her by surrounding her as a group and overheating her to death.)

I poked a wider hole all the way through the sugar plug with a screw - not wide enough for the queen to get out, but surely enough to really help inspire them to finish the job. If they haven't released her when I check back in a few more days, I'm probably just going to do it manually. They'll have had a week to get used to her scent, and they don't seem to be acting aggressively towards her, so it should be fine.

Those little glints of golden light in the air in front of her? Yeah, those are bees.

That's it for now. The bees have started building some comb, and they seem to be doing well. Anderson has been emailing me to reassure me that they haven't suddenly disappeared. I'll try to get some better photos of their progress next time! They are gorgeous.

17 May 2010
A map from my old apartment to my favorite dim sum place

You should check out the bigger version here.

16 May 2010
Three necklaces made with paper

"Princes Perhaps Charming, But Not So Successful"
<font size=-3>(paper, glue, yarn)</font>

<font size=-1>”Like prayers tucked into a barbed wire Wailing Wall, or the tiny, short, sad stories of princes who struggled through the thorns to reach Sleeping Beauty.”</font>

"When I see three oranges, I juggle; when I see two towers, I walk."
<font size=-3>(ivory linen card stock, sepia ink, chain)</font>

<font size=-1>Text from Palimpsest by Catherynne M. Valente. I gave this piece to Patti Digh of 37 Days when she came to New York.</font>

"When I see three oranges, I juggle; when I see two towers, I walk."
<font size=-3>(ivory linen card stock, sepia ink, chain)</font>

<font size=-1>Text by Philippe Petit, from when he explained why he walked that tightrope between the Twin Towers.</font>

16 May 2010
Installing the bees

This is what a package of 3 lbs of bees looks like:

We brought everything up to the roof of the shul with the assistance of Anderson, who lives there and takes care of the property. He kindly agreed to take some photos of us after we got into our jackets and veils, and offered to keep the poultry waterer filled for the bees.

So there we were up on the roof, we three ladies of beekeeping.

We all wore jackets/veils, but we went barehanded. No gloves for us! The theory is that going gloveless gives you greater dexterity, which means you're less likely to accidentally squish bees, which means they're less likely to want to sting you in the first place.

We had BEEKEEPER HUGS! up there in the Brooklyn sky.

Next, you can see the basic set-up. We had a single medium super hive ready, up on a pair of cinderblocks. The white and red thing in the upper left of the next photo is the poultry waterer, so they don't bother neighbors when they get thirsty. To the right, the brown thing is the hive-top feeder for sugar syrup before they can gather their own nectar, and in front of that is a cardboard nuc box, then holding the package of bees.

As we set it up, we used the spritz bottle seen below to spray sugar syrup on all the frames that went inside the hive, so that when we dumped the bees in they'd be happy and inclined to stay put. In the process, we spilled sugar syrup all over our hands. Ack! We rinsed it off with the hose, but still.

We had a really hard time keeping the smoker lit. I've used a bee smoker before, but never lit one on my own, and it takes some getting used to. I got the hang of it by the second time I visited the hive, at least.

Here, you can see me standing next to the package, about to open it up. I got white hightop sneakers to keep at the shul, and I pulled my socks up over my jeans so bees couldn't climb up into my pants. The red strap under the hive is a ratchet strap to hold the hive together in the wind.

Photography paused during the actual hive installation, unfortunately.

We set up the hive with only 8 of the 10 frames in it. We sprayed the sides of the bee package (lightly and gently!) with sugar syrup to keep everyone happy, then smoked it a bit as well to cut their lines of communication. The smoking was probably unnecessary, but I made a point of going very gently with cool smoke, at least. More importantly, I smoked the munchkin's knee where she'd been stung earlier, in case there was any alarm pheromone left there.

To get the bees out, we used pliers to pull off the side and bottom bits of wood from one of the sides, then held the mesh up and literally shook the bees into the space left by the missing 2 frames. It took some gentle shaking and whacking, but ultimately most of them fell in. And then there were bees in the sky and bees on the ground, bees licking spilled sugar syrup off the rooftop and bees licking spilled sugar syrup off our hands.

We pulled the can of sugar syrup out of the package box so we could get at the queen. We held her tiny cage in our bare hands and shook the bees off of it. (Literally. Thwip, bees flying through the air!) I showed the queen and her long queenly butt to the fascinated child. Her cage did not come with a nail attached by a string, alas, so I used a staple from the wood we'd ripped off the box to pry the cork out of her cage, leaving only a piece of soft candy blocking her exit.

I slipped the queen cage into the hive, held by pressure between two frames, and carefully added in the last 2 frames.

We put the feeder on top, and filled it up with sugar syrup. Matchsticks in the feeder and the waterer so the bees won't drown.

I fit an entrance reducer into the hive entrance to help encourage the bees to hang out and nothing else to go in while the colony is still weak, and closed it up with the ratchet strap. Doused the smoker, cleaned everything up.

There were still a bunch of bees hanging out in the package, so I just set it near the entrance of the hive. This is normal, I'm told, and they found their way in eventually. Luckily, the chilly night air didn't even kill most of them first.

At some point my friend's phone rang, and she picked up and said: "Can I call you back later? Right now I'm covered in bees!"

I'm going to order some extra hive tools, because we really kept passing mine back and forth. And we might experiment with different veils when we order a few more for guests.

Ultimately, I wasn't stung at all, and I really calmed down about the amazing sensation of bees gently meandering along my bare skin. My friend was stung three times - once on her hand, while shaking the package, and twice through her thin sweatpants, when she crouched and squished the bees that had landed there. She didn't seem to mind at all.

We were giddy with triumph. This was one of the most extraordinary experiences of my life, in a way that I can't do justice to here. We installed those bees so damn hard. We installed the hell outta them! There were ten thousand and THREE victorious ladies up there on that rooftop!

I initially wanted a nuc, because it'd mean a greater chance of actually getting honey this year, but now I'm really glad that I got a package. What fun to really ride this ride on our own from the very start!

15 May 2010
Acquiring 3 lbs of bees, or, how bees are like liquid nitrogen

Me: "I'm a BEEKEEPER!"

Dave: "Well, I'm a beekeeperkeeper."

Me: "..."

Him: "You can be a beekeeperkeeperkeeper if you want."


I ordered my bees through the Gotham City Honey Co-op, which had them ready for pick-up on May 9th. With my friend and her 7yo, I went to the bee pick-up location, rewatched this video on how to install a package of bees, got a bunch of advice from the folks organizing the order, and picked out our package.

The 7yo was super excited. At one point, she giggled and said she felt like she already had bees inside her pants. We laughed, and asked her what the anticipation felt like. “Like tickling!”

A few moments later, she cried out and pulled up her pants. We saw something sticking out of a little swelling near her knee, which I immediately scraped off. She was obviously in pain. A splinter? Could it be a stinger? Hard to tell… but oh, yes, the area was swelling and reddening a bit, and it sure looked like a stinger. The organizer asked if she had maybe kneeled on the floor and somehow gotten it stuck in her pants that way, and she had, so maybe.

The 7yo was a bit teary, but not much. She was really chill about the whole thing. She got up, looked at the stinger, and talked about it with great interest. No problem.

A few moments later, it occurred to me that perhaps we should shake out her pants in case anything else was stuck in there. And what did we find? Oh, the dying bee inside her pants that had stung her!

MORAL: When a kid laughs and says it feels like there are already bees in her pants, there ARE already bees in her pants!

Apparently there had been a few strays, no one was really sure how, but so it goes. My friend and her 7yo took the pants!bee safely back to the tarp where the last few packages were waiting. As I asked the organizer all my remaining practical questions, they sat near the tarp and played with the strays.

I was very impressed - they just calmly hung out and encouraged bees to walk all over their hands. I told them they could go to the pharmacy and get some Benadryl without waiting for me if need be, but the 7yo didn’t feel like she really needed any, and was having plenty of fun.

Here she is, cheerfully showing off the place where she was stung:

So we loaded up in the car, the bees sitting in their cage in an open-topped box between me and the munchkin in the back seat. I fretted over the driving: “Please don’t get into an accident while we have 10,000 bees in the car! It would be the worst fender bender EVER!”

Really, it reminded me of the time Dave and I got some liquid nitrogen to make ice cream with up in Boston, back in 2005 or so. We carried it back to his apartment in a $3 styrofoam cooler we’d bought at the supermarket, sploshing around between us in the back seat of a cab. It was terrifying. Driving around with 10,000 bees humming in a box between me and the 7yo felt pretty similar.

(In the midst of making the ice cream, we experimented with safely sticking our hands into the liquid nitrogen with help from the Leidenfrost effect. If you go in slow and smooth and calm, an insulating pocket of vapor forms around your hand. If you move too sharply, you risk breaking out of that air pocket and burning your hand with the cold. Similarly, if you move calmly and carefully when opening up your hive, the bees won’t mind you. If you’re nervous and hasty, you’re more likely to squish and upset them, and get stung.)

Anyways, we finally arrived safely at the shul, where a couple of weeks earlier the Talmud Torah kids had helped us build the supers for the hive.

<img src="http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3581/4555453033_186ec5b68f.jpg".

Everything was set and ready for us. After all, we already spent a day weeks ago building all fifty of the frames I’d ordered.

Nothing left to do then but get everything up to the roof and install the bees into the hive.