Archive for category Beekeeping

Bee Update, Winter 2014

I’ve not talked about the bees in a while.

We went into the season with two fresh hives, package bees that took the trip up from Georgia. So, as one does, we named the queens Peachtree and Umbriel. This was an entirely unnecessary step as both hives staged coups and installed new queens during the early summer.

This was a less-bad year for bees in Northern Virginia. Still not a great year, but not the horrible year that we went through with our first attempt. Both hives made it through the summer and fall looking hale and hearty.

It’s been an odd winter around these parts. We had early snow, we had our share of the polar vortex taking temperatures down into the single digits, but we’ve also had some surprisingly warm stretches. During the first of these warm periods, we saw bees venturing forth from both hives to do some foraging. Unfortunately during the warmer weather this weekend, bees only came out of one hive.

So we’ve apparently lost a hive. However, that’s the pessimistic way of looking at things. Instead, we’re looking at the positive: our hives are half full. This is a major improvement over last year when we lost one hive to robbers during the early autumn, and the other hive was empty by this point in the winter.

There’s still a lot of winter ahead, but the bees have survived some of the worst of it already. This is fantastic news because year two of a hive is the earliest point for honey harvesting. It’s no guarantee that we’ll get some nice tasty honey even if the hive does make it, but we’re in so much better of a place now than we were last year. Crossing fingers.

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Oh Fer Two

Our first beehive failed in a spectacular way. Two hives went to war in the late afternoon, the sun catching them as they flew about the back yard. Far more bees than I’d seen in flight at once, each shining like gold. As the commotion died down, we knew we’d witnessed a robbery, and when we went into the hive we found it empty of nectar and pollen. Thus sealed the fate of Queen Victoria Queen Victoria Queen Victoria.

Our second beehive failed much more quietly. We’d combined the hives after the robbing event under advice from our mentors and several apiarist websites. We’d kept them fed with sugar water, artificial pollen, and bee candy as the weather turned colder. However, even on the balmiest of days we saw no activity from the hive, no bees wandering off to see what food they could find to add to the stores. We knew the hive was likely dead for a while. I’ve since confirmed it.

One hive failed for very obvious reasons. The other is more of a mystery. There are frames absolutely heavy with honey and concentrated sugar water. The hive just…failed. There were fewer dead bees than I expected. Some were forced out at the beginning of winter, others will flee a hive on the verge of failure. I wasn’t able to identity Reina Kickass, but I’m sure she’s there.

We picked a rough year to start beekeeping. Hives failed at an alarming rate all through the Northern Virginia region. Even in the best of years, hives fail, sometimes at up to a 50% rate. Even well-intentioned new beekeepers will often lose all their hives the first year. We’re trying not to be discouraged, especially when we see reports from far more experienced beekeepers who lost most or all of their suburban hives. We’ll clean out the hives, save what honey we can, and give it another go next year.

It’s a bummer. I’m surprised I cared nearly so much about insects, but they were our insects. They weren’t quite like a pet, they were self-sustaining, we were largely giving them a place to live. But they were still living things under our care who failed to keep living. So, yeah, perhaps I’m a little bummed about the hive failure.

On the plus side, all our neighbors who knew about the bees reported increased fruit and vegetable yields this year. And that’s what beekeeping is about: helping the pollinators. And, eventually, making mead.

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State of the Writer: November 2012

Picture released under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported by Wikipedian Someone35.

What do you mean it’s the second?

2012 Goal: Query Nickajack. Last night started a new phase for Nickajack that will see my wife and I find a half hour, even if it’s in two fifteen minute chunks, to read at least one scene of Nickajack out loud a night. It’s a great way to hear the adjectives, the filtering, and the misworded dialogue. The intent is to fix these on the fly and to identify spots where props appear or disappear, character motivations aren’t as strong as they could be, and other plot weaknesses that we can then go back and fix up. This is the novel moving forward in a substantive way for the first time since the birth of our daughter, and it feels good to be back into it. If we push hard and have a good product on our hands, we hope to be ready for the first round of alpha readers by January. No later than March is my hope.

The ultimate plan is two rounds of external readers, the first likely drawn from those who have seen the novel as we’ve crafted it, and the second drawn from those who have no knowledge of the plot or the twists. Each will be followed by a round of editing based on comments. After both rounds are done, then we’ll be querying this bad boy. We likely wouldn’t have made the 2012 query goal even if we hadn’t had a kid, even if we did work straight through, but I’m still glad I set the goal so high. Occasionally you need something completely out of your grasp to keep you jumping.

If you fall into either of the camps that we’re looking to draw readers from, keep an eye out. I’m not looking for volunteers yet, but I will be soon.

In other writing news, I’ve accepted final edits of my story for Old Weird South, and the publisher is hoping that the anthology is out by December 1. I know that dates like this frequently slide, we’ll see about when it will actually come out. If it does hit that date, or up to 30 days later, that will be three short stories published in 2012. Which is awesome. I’ll need to get my ass in gear if I want to match or top that in 2013, and set my sights on some professional rate sales.

State of the author’s beer. Man…I’ve got to bottle that stuff. It’s okay to hang out in the fermenter, but yeah, I’ve got to get that bottled. Maybe that’s a this weekend thing.

State of the author’s bees. They survived the storm in one piece, and now we’re focusing on winterizing them. This means keeping them fed with sugar syrup and pollen so they have reserves to make it through the hard months ahead. That’ll probably be its own post in the next month or two.

State of the author’s baby. Eight weeks old now and super cute. She should start “hatching” over the next few weeks, but she already looks at us and smiles. This is all part of the process by which she’ll learn what is and isn’t a face, and what is and isn’t a person. So while she smiles at us, she’ll also smile at the cats, the wall, and random spots in the middle distance. Still, any smiling is smiling, and it’s awesome to see.

This month is Nanowrimo. The editing I mentioned above is my primary project, but I think I’m going to pick two other goals.

  • Redraft Vampire of Mars
  • Finish draft of Antioch, 1098

That’ll be a great start if I am going to try to top this year’s three published stories. Jen Brinn, sage leader of the Cat Vacuuming Society, always cautions to not make sales a goal since they’re beyond the writer’s control…but it would still be nice to at least match this year’s output.

If you’re doing Nanowrimo, best of luck with your projects!

Update: Earlier version of this post stated my baby was eight months not eight weeks old. They grow up fast, but not that fast.

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Robber Barons

“What the hell?”

We’ve had bees for a summer now, so I’m used to seeing them in the yard. Even a lot of them in the yard. End of the night when they’re all coming home. After their hives were toppled by a branch during the derecho. This was different. The sun was setting, right at a perfect angle to illuminate the entire yard with nearly sideways beams of light, catching each bee and turning them into golden streaks. So many golden streaks. They filled the back like a galaxy.

Something was very wrong.

The right hive, the domain of Queen Victoria, had two full bee beards, one around the entrance, and one clinging to the out cover. Bees would occasionally drop off, straight to the ground. We thought at first they may be swarming, dissatisfied with the hive, the amount of space they had, the queen herself, there’s any number of reasons why a hive of bees will split and become two, an odd reproduction. Mitosis on a massive scale. Suited up, we examined a few clumps of bees, carefully looking for the old queen ready to take her faithful retinue off to form a new colony, leaving her successor behind.

The bees weren’t swarming. They were fighting. Each little battle was one-on-one combat as bee grappled with bee. The whole of the hive was at war, and there was only one reason for that sort of whole scale combat. The hive was under attack.

Bees will rob bees. If one hive comes across another and perceives weakness, decides that it’s easier to fight off other bees than to collect their own pollen and nectar, then the process will begin. We’d taken every listed precaution against the possibility. Wire screens across entrances which made it harder to fly in and right back out with honey. Keeping the bees fed so they’ll be healthy. Sometimes it still happens. We opened up the hive, and it was heartbreaking. Frame after frame of drawn out comb, all completely empty. By the time the robbing started, by the time we saw bees flying everywhere and fighting it out, it was already too late for anyone to do anything. Us, the hive, it was all over.

Soon we’ll have one hive. The robbed hive won’t make it through the winter, there’s no way it can store enough honey and pollen between now and then. The process is easy enough. Lay down a sheet of newspaper across the top of the healthy hive, cut a tiny slit so pheromones can pass back and forth, then stack on the supers of the robbed hive. Give it a week, and the bees will acclimate to each other, chew through the paper, and two hives will be one.

The only problem is Queen Victoria. A hive can only have one queen. She either has to be segregated with a few workers, or disposed of. I was glib about regicide while learning about beekeeping, but we’ve hit the first time where that’s an option. It feels silly actually giving a damn about an insect. Not bees in general, not our hives, but one specific bee who we’ve seen perhaps three times total.

So who robbed the hive? It’s impossible to know. I actually hope it was our other hive. First because it means they now have all the resources of both hives, and that’s not lost honey and pollen. Second because the alternative is an aggressor robbing hive somewhere in a three-mile radius of our house that could come back for our other hive. It’ll be bad enough losing one, losing both would be a real blow to our beekeeping spirits.

We always prepared ourselves to lose a hive, perhaps even both. Beekeeping isn’t easy, and even our mentors who have been in the hobby for years don’t have a 100% success rate on their hives. But it was a little brutal to actually witness, if not the actual death of the hive, at least the fatal blow being struck. Hopefully the combined hive will be healthy enough to overwinter, and come spring we’ll have all the wood ware to start a second hive, whether swarmed off the surviving hive or a newly created package or nuc.

This may put a serious delay in my dreams of fully homemade mead, however.

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State of the Writer: August 2012

SPQR, Baby

2012 Goal: Query Nickajack. We’re on a similar pace as I mentioned this time last month, with a hope that we’ll be ready to step away and let alpha readers at the project by this time next month. Things are not going as quickly as they could, but that’s entirely because we’ve had other things on our mind, what with the baby now due in a little over four weeks. We’ve been working on both for roughly the same length of time, but one is going to be far more insistent on when it makes its debut to the world, so the shifting of priorities is unavoidable.

This morning I reached the end of Act Two in the novella I’ve been writing on the side, mostly during the mornings. I forgot to grab my morning writing total for the month before working on this blog post, but I know it’s lower than last month as I lost the first week of July to power outages and some vacation time. Still, July did see me push past 10,000 morning-written words, and tomorrow should see me cresting 15,000. I’ve averaged around 300 words a morning across all mornings, averaging in several zeroes, and closer to 350 on the mornings I’ve actually written. In the last few days I’ve also surmounted a block I discussed on Unleaded wherein I was only working in the morning. The evenings have seen me working on the novella, and even starting the outline of a new project of currently unknown length.

I am, if I am honest with myself, not being quite so productive a writer as I would like, nor nearly so slothful of a writer as I have at times been. The summer tends to do that to me.

State of the Author’s Beer. I should arrive home today to a shipment from Austin Homebrew featuring their oatmeal stout, which I will combine with Boysenberries to make the infamous Pi Stout. It’s irrationally good. I’m hoping to find some time this weekend to set up the small television in the kitchen and brew while watching the Olympics.

State of the Author’s Bees. After the scare at the beginning of the month, the hives look happy and healthy. They’ve nearly stocked up enough honey for the winter, though a little more certainly wouldn’t hurt. We’re going to thoroughly inspect them this weekend, make sure everything is a hunky dory as it appears. If it is, each might get a new super.

State of the Author’s Education into World History. This isn’t quite enough for its own post, but I’m quite thrilled with the amount of online material I’ve found in my quest to learn a little more about World History. I’m currently working through Richard Bulliet’s Columbia course “History of the World to 1500 CE,” watching Crash Course World History as it updates, and listening to A History of the World in 100 Objects while commuting. In the wings I’ve got Open Yale’s “Early Middle Ages,” and University of Houston’s “The Vikings.” That should keep me going for quite some time. If I still want more, I’ve been looking at another Open Yale course on the American Revolution, and UHouston’s course on the Normans. Big help was finding this page, which compiles free online classes offered by several universities. Phew, that was a lot of links.

That’s me. I hope to finish the first draft of Ghosts of Venus this month, do some good outlining and get started on a project currently called “Untitled of the Fourth Planet,” and see Nickajack through to a point that it’s ready for alpha readers. That’s an ambitious month, but I think we can do it. This week or next I owe my next Ace Double review. Spoiler: it didn’t contain my favorite individual story, but it was probably my favorite combined double.

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Unrelated: Bees and Kickstarter

Two unrelated items.

First, I mentioned in my post about the big storm that both our beehives were knocked over by a falling branch, and have since gotten questions about how the bees are. We reassembled the hives on the spot, but weren’t able to take a full look at the hives until this past weekend. I can report that both queens were spotted (get it, it’s a pun because queen bees are typically marked with a spot of paint) during the inspection, so all the branch did (to the bees at least) was put a massive dent in one of our outer covers and riled up the hives. They’ve been devouring sugar water at a high rate of speed, but that’s a good thing at this stage. Got to get the stores together to overwinter.

For now, we’re filling up the feeder jars as quickly as the bees empty them, both otherwise letting them live their lives. Once we saw both queens, we removed any need to go deeper into the hives for the next few weeks.

Second, anyone who follows Kickstarter is probably aware of the controversial new project wherein Penny Arcade is using the site to raise $250k (though they’re really looking for $1million) in order to remove all advertising from their site. No one has asked, but I still wanted to share my thoughts on the project.

Thought the first. I don’t believe this is within the spirit of Kickstarter. I’m not going to say that Kickstarter should only be for the unknown and unheralded, it shouldn’t. I’ve seen many established products and brands use the site as an end-round of the games making process (such as for Double Fine and Ogre) or drives to fund reprints (such as for Order of the Stick). However, the Penny Arcade project strikes me more as a company seeking business expenses, not creating a product. As quoted from the Kickstarter guidelines:

A project has a clear goal, like making an album, a book, or a work of art. A project will eventually be completed, and something will be produced by it. A project is not open-ended. Starting a business, for example, does not qualify as a project.

I can’t help but wonder if the name “Penny Arcade” is what got this project green lit by Kickstarter. Obviously I don’t know Kickstarter’s reasoning, and I won’t pretend that I have an encyclopedic enough knowledge of past Kickstarters to know the precedents. However, in spite of my thoughts on whether it should or shouldn’t be within Kickstarter’s guidelines, I’m not joining the outrage because…

Thought the second. I don’t believe that Kickstarter is a zero-sum game. That is to say, I don’t believe there’s a set amount of money that is going to be donated to projects on a given day, and that the Penny Arcade project is taking money out of the mouths of projects that are less ambiguous about their adherence to policy. The people who are donating the Penny Arcade are donating to Penny Arcade. Hell, it could even be a net positive if people are funding a Kickstarter for the first time, and finding other projects while browsing around the site.

There’s one exception to the zero-sum issue, the staff picks. Currently the Penny Arcade project is taking one of the three Staff Pick spots within the Comics section, an exposure that it clearly doesn’t need. So do I think that it’s strictly within the rules? No. Do I think that makes it inherently a bad thing? No.

But I’m just me.


Storms, Trees, Fences, Bees

I spent four years growing up in San Antonio. And we got storms. These massive things that glowed red on the Weather Channel radar and would thunder and lightning like the world was ending. Even going back to childhood memories, where everything seems bigger and scarier, they were nothing compared to what barreled through the DC area on Friday night.

We heard about the storm while attending a show at Wolf Trap.  For those unfamiliar with the venue, it’s a theater run by the National Park Service here in Northern Virginia that includes both an outdoor pavilion and covered seating. It was a hot night to be there, DC registered one of its 11 hottest days since records were kept earlier on the Mall. We expected some rain, but at intermission overheard someone who worked for a weather bureau talk about a storm the size of West Virginia. This wasn’t an exaggeration. I checked the radar and it almost perfectly covered West Virginia with a sharp red line at its leading edge. We bailed on the show, Pirates of Penzance, and got home not just in time to miss the storm itself, but for my parents to get home before the storm as well. So to that anonymous person at Wolf Trap, thank you.

We were in the basement when it hit. The power flickered and went out a few minutes before the storm. Then the lightning started, so frequent you could almost read by it. Then the wall of wind, recorded at nearly 90mph, a blast as fast as the sustained winds of a level one hurricane or an F1 tornado. We listened to the world going to madness outside, and when the rain stopped surveyed the damage. Some limbs down in the front lawn, nothing major. We went to bed, and were awoken by a noise like a dumpster being knocked over. We couldn’t tell what it was until the morning, when we saw a tree in our back yard had sheered off several branches, which took out two sections of our neighbor’s fence and knocked the tops off both beehives.

Oh, the bees were pissed. As was, to a lesser extent, the neighbor.

Currently each of our hives is set up, from the bottom up, with a full super, a super of wax still being drawn out, the inner lid, an empty super for artificial pollen and some sugar water, the outer lid, and a rock to weight it all down. In both cases, everything but the bottom super was knocked away by the falling branch, and a cloud of bees was buzzing around. It’s hard to tell right now how much damage was done to the colonies themselves. We reassembled both of them, though one now has a massive dent in the outer lid as a scar of the storm. This weekend we hope to assess whether the colonies will survive or not. It all comes down to if the queens were in those bottom supers, and remained in those bottom supers. If they did, this will be a setback. If they didn’t, we’ll need to do some emergency requeening, and even then may lose the hive come winter. Toughest part is one of the queens is shy enough to begin with, we don’t see her every time we go looking.

It was a tough weekend, but we were luckier than most. Both of our parents live in town, so we were able to use my wife’s parents as a cooling station on Saturday (though in retrospect we should not have tried going home to sleep) and my parents Sunday into Monday. That’s not to say there weren’t down points. We did try to sleep at the house Saturday night. This was complicated by our smoke detectors occasionally chirping due to humidity and condensation, then the party that set off fireworks at around 2am.

Then there was Wendy’s.

We had my brothers-in-law helping us clear out what branches weren’t actually on our neighbor’s fence on Sunday, and as part of payment we offered them lunch. Which meant either Wendy’s or Popeye’s, as we couldn’t find anywhere else that had electricity. Which meant that everyone was in Wendy’s. Not all eating, there was the young lady taking up an entire four person table for herself and only consuming the occasional refill of her water bottle from the bathroom. I suspect the restaurant was trying, but orders were getting confused, food was forgotten, people were skipped, and things were turning ugly. Worst were the sorters, who would try to turn the food coming out into their order, like it was some sort of video game. This didn’t make it easier for anyone. Eventually we got our food, with someone else’s small Diet Coke (sorry other person) and a burger that wasn’t quite what my one brother-in-law ordered. There were no actual fisticuffs, but I’ve probably never been in a situation closer to punches being thrown. I think the presence of a pregnant lady was somewhat of a calming influence.

It’s amazing how social order breaks down. Especially over something like Wendy’s french fries.

Our power is back on at home, came on around 7pm last night. Still no cable, which also means no internet outside our smartphones, but I saw a truck working on the down cable lines as I left for work this morning. It’s amazing the psychological boon from sleeping in my own bed, air conditioned, with our clingy cat desperate for attention. Yesterday I went through the day in a fugue state, not quite making sense of anything. Today is a hell of a lot sharper.

It’s a kind of storm I’ve never seen, nor the power outage that followed. Not everything is back in pace yet, but things are increasingly normal.

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State of the Writer: July 2012

Right now the state of the writer is just glad to be in the air conditioning. More about that tomorrow. Ahem.

2012 Goal: Query Nickajack.  We’re now halfway through 2012. The current project involves revisiting the first few chapters and making them mesh with the tone and voices of the end of the book, which we like better. Then we need to go back and change one character from a nurse to an anti-technology reactionary and slip her into a few more scenes. Remove a MacGuffin we weren’t using. Little things like that. After those two fixes, we will consider the book a first draft and ready for beta readers.

Then we’ll take a month away from it. No getting around that step, it’s a vitally important one, even if it’s going to happen later than expected.

At this point, I’m not going to kick myself if I don’t have a query letter away by December 31. That’s not to say I’m giving up on the goal, I’m still pushing forward as hard as I can, but this is the first time I’ve really revised a novel. Top-down, end-to-end, major updates and changes, rewriting entire chapters sort of revising. So I didn’t know how long to give it. Plus, the whole having a baby thing is changing things. My wife/coauthor was pregnant when we set the goal, but neither of us knew it yet. I suspect if the goal does slip, it will by at most a quarter.

We’re also starting to talk about books two and three, and what things might happen in them. Working titles: Mogollon and Columbia. That’s all you’re getting for now.

In other writing, I’ve continued to work on my novella Ghosts of Venus, I’m most of the way through a short story that will be heading off to an anthology as soon as I have power back, and I wrote another of the background flash pieces for the Nickajack universe. Actually, there was a point this month that I was working on a flash piece while taking a break from the short story that I’m writing as a break from my novella that I’m writing as a break from my novel. While I find Russian nesting dolls charming, I’ve got to stop doing things like that. It’s nice to know I can multitask, especially as my wife has her changes to work on Nickajack, but multitasking only really counts if I finish things.

Morning writing has been a major boon. It’s a project I started after the Memorial Day holiday, and during the month of June I totaled 7642 words written between 7:15am and 7:30am.  That’s over 7500 words that I might not have otherwise written. If you want to know more about the project, I introduced it here, then talked about the power of doing a little bit of work everyday here.  With 21 weekdays in June, that meant an average of 364 words a day, which compounds out to nearly 95k words if I managed to do that every weekday for a year.

State of the Author’s Beer: Had intended to brew this month for the first time in a while, but then Austin Homebrew started a state-by-state sale on their website, so I’m waiting for Virginia’s sale date to buy…which is July 26th. So hopefully brewing first weekend in August. I did finally track down the boysenberries I needed. Only had to buy an 8-pack from Amazon.

State of the Author’s Bees: Got my first sting this weekend, learned that I’m not deathly allergic. Also learned that stings on the cartilage of the ear hurt like a bastard. More on that when I talk about the storm.

This week on the blog: The DC storm and my next Ace Double review.  See you then.

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Unrelated Weekend Things

Thing the first: We are now officially beekeepers.  Saturday afternoon my wife and I picked up our nuc from one of our fellow members of the Beekeepers Association of Northern Virginia.  The bees were just chilling in the dining room when we showed up, well secured in their cardboard travel case and humming away like mad.  There are few things that make me a safer driver than having a hatchback full of bees, apparently.  The buzzing was always just a little louder than the radio, especially when a stop or turn made their little cardboard box slide around.

It was raining when we got home, so we immediately broke my first and most sacrosanct rule of beekeeping: no bees in the house.  The cats were exceedingly concerned about the box, I suspect the sound of the bees humming sounded different to their ears.  I picked up our younger, stupider cat and let him have a good look from about five feet away.  He wanted no closer than that, tensing as I held him and scampering off when I let him down.  The rain tapered off, so we took the opportunity to suit up and get the bees into their new hive.  This meant doing things faster than intended, so we didn’t have time to identify the queen, even though she has a little yellow dot on her back.  We’ll need to go in again by next weekend anyway, we’ll get another chance then.

We were told to expect productive and gentle bees.  True to form, they only buzzed around us curiously while we assembled the hive, and by yesterday were already coming back to the hive with huge saddlebags of pollen, even with a patty of artificial pollen sitting right in their hive.  We did come across one bee who was a little braver than her sisters.  This is the bee that will hover right at eye level with us, really staring us down and just daring us to come in closer to the hive.  We’ve long planned to name one bee “That Bee” who we could blame any problems in the hive on.  I think we’ve officially found That Bee.

It’s unusual to harvest from a hive in its first summer, but this colony apparently produced around 100 pounds of honey last year, so it’s not out of the question that we might, might, get a taste of some honey in late August.  Of course by then I’ll be beekeeping solo for a few weeks, so we might just let them keep all the honey this year so they have more than enough to overwinter with.

I have some photos, but I’m having a hard time wrangling them at the moment.  I’ll update this post later in the evening and send a ping on Twitter when it happens.

Thing the second: Late yesterday I got word of a short story sale to an upcoming anthology.  I’m never sure if I’m supposed to share details of just which anthology, so I’m going to hold off until I see something official on their website or get a green light on email.  I will say I’m one of two Unleaded contributors on the author’s list, which is awesome.  Because of that, it’ll probably be over there not over here that I give more details, when they exist to give.  This is my third sale since getting serious about submissions, which is fantastic.  Means I need to write more short stories so I can have more rotating through markets.  If you’re a fellow Cat Vacuumer, yes, it was that story.

Speaking of anthologies, we are in the last week of the Kickstarter for The Memory Eater, and what was once moving fast and furious is now stalled out just shy of 80%.  It’s not too late to get in and preorder a copy.  I’ve seen Kickstarters pull in impressive last week numbers, but there’s certainly no room for complacency.  If you’re still considering, time is running low.  If you are already in, please consider giving us a signal boost on Twitter.  Doing so can even earn you free reward-tier prizes, check out the contest here.  Our deadline for funding is Saturday morning at 7:55am eastern time.

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Into the Hive

My bee classes are over.  The last get together included learning how to light and use the smoker, how to use our hive tools to get to the bees, and a short lesson in the history and manufacture of mead.  There’s a push to start a mead makers group within the club at large, which might help me get over the fact that producing my own honey wine is such a distant proposition.  Yes, I could buy honey from a store and make it that way, but there’s something about having it be such a from-scratch proposition that I’ve harvested my own local honey as step one.

Then this past weekend we moved from theory into practice.  That’s quite a moment.  The theory I’m fantastic at.  Building woodware I’m good enough at.  But there’s something about sitting in a stranger’s sun room tying on a bee vail and looking across at a hive that has bees actively milling around the entrance.  We got some instruction from our mentors, who walked us through their own experiences in handling bees, let us handle frames of wax heavy with honey, and even showed us how much damage the wax and foundation of a frame can take and still be repaired by the bees.  They’re amazing little creatures.  That doesn’t make them any less intimidating when they’re buzzing around your head.  Or smashing straight into your vail.  Or deciding they’re going to be a hero, and no amount of smoke or distance is going to deter them.

That’s the bee that stung me.  Unfortunately she gave her life for nothing, and she stung the thickest part of my glove.  I didn’t even notice until I was getting out of my bee equipment later and saw a perfect little stinger sticking out of the glove’s wrist.

Beekeeping involves getting over certain base instincts.  Like that instinct about not wanting to be surrounded by a swarm of bees.  That’s the hardest part of my transition from theory to practice, but one I’m going to have to get over the next few months, especially as there are going to be times late in the season where tending the bees is a one-man job.  Baby steps.  At first I’m going to be in charge of the smoker and notebook, and I’ll slowly build up to pulling a hive apart without flinching.  I actually quite liked it whenever a bee landed on me.  They’re about as close to cute as insects can get.  They have over-sized eyes, fuzzy little abdomens, and constantly throbbing butts like they’re dancing to a techno beat only they can hear.  It’s when they swoop past, buzzing…  Yeah, okay, it’s a slight phobia, but not one I can’t get over.

Opening a hive is just like on television.  What I mean is whenever I saw people beekeeping on television (why did I ever see this…must have been something I watched, but I can’t remember what) there was an immediate hum from an opened hive.  I always assumed the mics on the hives were mixed hot to exaggerate the noise.  No.  You open a healthy hive and there is an audible hum from about 10-15 feet away.  It’s quite impressive.  As is the structure and order of a hive as strong as the one we saw.  Even as I was a little freaked out by the occasional dive bomber or head butt, I kept getting closer and closer in to see what they were doing.  That’s going to be the antidote to my fear: my fascination.

Our bees will arrive as early as the end of the month.  Probably no bee updates until then.

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