girl talk

I tell my bees everything. From the mundane to the monumental, they get to hear all sorts of news from me. I especially like to tell them my troubles. They seem to have a way of talking me down from just about anything. They’re always so calm and practical. Their attitude sort of rubs off on me. And after a while, my problems generally seem less problematic. I can’t really explain it, but I’ll take it.
There is plenty of folklore out there that suggests bees should indeed be kept in the loop. Old timers will tell you that a hive will swarm if they aren’t informed of big news. This bit of Celtic wisdom nails it:
Marriage, birth, or burying, 
News across the seas, 
All your sad or marrying, 
You must tell the bees.

And I get chills when I read about the ritual of tapping three times on a hive to let the bees know that their keeper has died. There is a beautiful Deborah Digges poem about this gloomy task.

In the spring and summer I look in on my bees about once a week, which means I get ample time to gossip. Sometimes I even run out of things to say. But even then it’s an easy silence. Basically visiting with my bees is a little mini-escape. It’s like having coffee with a good friend. So I always get a little nostalgic on my last visit to the bee yard of the season. Sure, I’ll check in on them all winter long, but I won’t open up the hives again until early spring. So I take my sweet time tucking them in for winter.
After the fall asters and goldenrod have dwindled I usually give each hive a couple of pails of sugar water. This helps to bolster their winter food supply – one of the most critical factors affecting their odds of winter survival. And then some time before the end of October, ideally on one of those last sunny, brisk afternoons, I’ll pull off the food pails and literally wrap up the hives. I use a black plastic that is backed with a thin layer of insulation. I top each hive with a piece of moisture wicking construction board so that any winter moisture – another key survival issue – gets drawn out of the hive. I also make sure to leave an air opening on the top and bottom of the hive so that air will circulate though, hopefully keeping things nice and dry.
I especially like the top hole because it means I can peek in and see what the girls are up to. Even in the dead of winter I can usually coax a few girls out onto the opening. I like to think they are spreading any news I’ve brought once they scurry back into the warmth of the hive cluster.
We’re having such a splendid fall that I’ve been putting this job off for as long as I can. After a few nights of hard frost though, I know it’s finally time. So this afternoon I packed my lunch with a thermos of tea and headed out out to the hives to bundle the girls up for a long winter ahead. But not without telling them the news of the day.

5 Responses to “girl talk”

  1. 1 Carol Sowl October 29, 2011 at 8:45 pm

    Oh-wish that I was there to see how you put them to bed,.Hopefully this time next year, I will be doing the same thing.

  2. 3 Liz Fentress October 30, 2011 at 11:29 am

    Hi! What a lovely post! And a beautiful poem by Deborah Digges. I, too, am a beekeeper–and have been feeding sugar water to my bees for several weeks now. Topping the hive with “moisture wicking construction board” sounds like a great idea. Can I ask what you use? And where do you get it? Do you place it inside the inner cover? Or outside the inner cover? Thanks! Liz Fentress

    • 4 GarlicPig October 31, 2011 at 12:41 pm

      Hi Liz – I’m not exactly sure what it is called – I’ve heard it referred to paper board and moisture board. It’s cardboard box brown color and looks like pressed together paper/cardboard, about a half inch thick. It comes in a big sheet (like plywood size). I actually got some scraps of sheets from my local lumber yard and then just trimmed them to the same size as the inner cover. They will disintegrate if they get saturated, but generally mine stay pretty dry and I can reuse them for several seasons. I put it outside the inner cover, with the main outer cover propped sort of loosely on top of it. I usually put in a little chunk of wood so the outer cover doesn’t completely sit down on top of it. HTH and hope your bees have a good winter!

  3. 5 Ann November 6, 2011 at 5:47 pm

    Thanks Jill for your lovely description of your striped girl friends. Today I hiked on the Jolly Trails in a tank top and I’m thinking you may not want to button those girls up too soon. We may still have a little sunbathing in our futures…

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