You Can’t Always Get What You Want…For Example, Subfreezing Temps, Freezing Rain/Ice/Snow on Honey Bee Hiving Day

I have recently been trying to make a more conscious practice of gratitude.  Anyone who follows this page knows that I have a lot to be grateful for in my life, so practicing gratitude is something I should certainly have no trouble with.  However, I have to confess that as today dawned, which was the day we were scheduled to pick up our honey bee packages for the season, I was feeling decidedly ungrateful toward Mother Nature for dishing out what amounts to winter weather:  high 20s (Fahrenheit, in case you’re reading this from the civilized world where temps are measured in Celsius), and a combination of freezing rain, ice pellets, and snow, depending on Mother’s whim, all day long.   This is not great weather for bees who recently made the trip via motor vehicle from the sunny South.   This is not what I wanted.  I wanted weather at least in the 40s and a nice rising barometer.  But no.  This is what I got, so onward we went.

Before I go any further, let me clarify “we.”  Congratulations are in order to my husband, Bill, who recently completed his beginner beekeeping class with the wonderful Master Beekeeper, Carol Cottrill.  She was also my teacher for both beginner and intermediate beekeeping, and thankfully we also have two additional mentors in Master Beekeeper Vanessa Rogers of Backwoods Bee Farm (where we get our bees and equipment) and Eric Davis, who is currently serving as the membership coordinator for the Maine State Beekeepers Association.

So, today was Bill’s first day installing package bees in to our hives.  Our three hives from last year did not survive the winter.  The reasons for this are many, but the overarching reason is that I did not adequately keep their varroa mite load down.  Last year was my second year as a beekeeper, and I was doing well.  I’d even caught a swarm (my own, I’m a bit embarrassed to admit) to create a third hive, which was incredibly strong mid summer.  However, after the illness and loss of my Welsh Corgi, Tru, I had a tough time keeping up with a lot of my responsibilities.  I was not as vigilant with the hives as I needed to be.  I had been beekeeping alone for two seasons, because my husband was deathly afraid of bees.  I never even seriously considered asking him to assist me with them, so strong was his aversion.  This is why the Parris House hives are built with all eight frame, medium boxes, to keep the weight of each box under control so that I can lift them alone, even when they’re full of honey and fairly high in the air.  An eight frame medium box full of honey can easily weigh forty or fifty pounds.

Imagine my surprise when Bill showed an interest in helping me with the bees this season.  Maybe surprise is too mild a word.  I was shocked.  However, I gladly went along with the idea and here we are.

Bill is a person who can look at a field of clover and pick out all the ones with four leaves.  This may sound like a skill unrelated to beekeeping until you consider that spotting the queen among tens of thousands of other bees is a thing you need to be able to do.  He’s also really in to science and biology, and understands systems and the kinds of interrelationships you might find at work in a hive.  Perhaps best of all, he doesn’t stress or worry easily, or overthink situations.  I possess none of these qualities; not a single one.  For this reason, I think he’s destined to be a better beekeeper than I am.  The stress and worry thing on my part was on full display as the weather continued its winter-esque rampage, never letting up, including by the time we were ready to put the package bees in the hive.

It was never my plan to hive the bees myself this year.  As the new beekeeper this was an experience Bill had to have himself.  Once you do it, you don’t forget how.  It’s just that under normal spring circumstances, midway through April in Maine, you’ve got a day at least in the 40s F and if a few of the bees don’t make it in to the hives, they will buzz around a bit, “smell” their queen, and eventually make their way in.  This is not the case when Mother Nature is being a sadist.  In these temperatures, with ice falling from the sky, the few bees we did not manage to get in to the hives simply fell to the ground, went dormant, and quickly died.  Both previous seasons I’ve hived bees I had an overwhelming sense of joy, as I did when I caught my swarm last June and popped it down in to its new home.  This year I watched with sadness and contempt for the weather as we immediately lost twenty to thirty bees (an extremely small number, but still…) who fell to the sides of the hives and died on the snow below.  You don’t want to stand there watching bees die on installation day.

At any rate, we survived and so did most of the bees.  In the spirit of gratitude, I am going to list the positives.  Bill did an exemplary job of installing these bee packages.  He knew exactly what to do, put the queen cages in without a hitch, got the overwhelming majority of the bees safely in to the hives, and perhaps most extraordinarily, was not consumed by anxiety by the harsh conditions.  (I will not sleep well tonight knowing that the weather is so inhospitable for our hives.  He’ll sleep just fine.)  Neither of us had ever used ball jar feeders for bees before, having always baggie fed.  However, we were advised by one of our mentors to use jars until the weather improves, and Bill was able to make that adaptation without any fuss as well.   There is no forage in our part of Maine right now.  It’s just…still winter here.

I am also grateful that our bees are going in to hives that already have drawn comb, some honey frames on the box ends, and “sticky” frames available that still have traces of honey from last year’s extraction.  This is as opposed to a never-before-used hive where they have to start from scratch in building their home.  Maybe the thing I’m most grateful for is that the weather will be improving slightly over the next week or so.  Hopefully the queens will release nicely and start doing their jobs, and the building up of the hives will begin.

I’m going to go out on a limb here with the positive thinking and be grateful for the honey these hives will provide later in the season.

Here are some pics of the installation process.  You can see how bad the weather is.

These are the bee packages in the back of our Honda CRV, about to make the trip from Backwoods Bee Farm in Windham to the Parris House in Paris. It’s about a 40 minute ride. There are some drones hanging on to outside, but that’s no problem. Even if they had decided to fly around the car, drones (the males) can not sting. Only female bees sting.
Bill gets the smoker ready even though we barely needed it. Between the temperatures and how docile package bees generally are (they have nothing to really to defend yet except their queen), this was just a precaution.
The queen cage in the hive we call Fleur de Lis is installed. The queen is in the little wooden and mesh cage and will remain there until the bees release her by eating through a candy cork in the bottom of the cage. This takes just a few days. It is to ensure that she will be protected until it is assured that she will likely be accepted by the colony. We will check back to make sure that she is out, and later we will start looking for her and for her eggs to make sure that she is alive and laying. In the meantime, while she is in the cage, her attendant bees will make sure she is warm and fed.
Bill shakes/pours the rest of the bees in to Fleur de Lis.
Making sure they are all out, or as close to all as he could get today. Again, under normal conditions any remaining bees would fly out and in to the hive on their own, but not when it’s in the 20s F.
Time for the hive we call Hippy Dippy to get its queen, in her cage, installed.
Hippy Dippy’s queen goes in without any trouble.
Getting Hippy Dippy filled up with bees. They were not exposed like this for very long at all.
Getting ready to close up Hippy Dippy and go back in to the house to get the feed for both hives.

This is a brief video of Bill shaking the bees in to Hippy Dippy.  I have more of a pouring technique, but hey, we’re both relatively new to this.  You can hear him at the end saying, “They’re not happy.”  I’m not sure any of us were happy.

Note:  It is a solid truth that if you ask five beekeepers a single question you will get ten different answers.  So it is entirely possible that if you are a beekeeper reading this, you may decide there were other possible methods for achieving the goal today.  I’m sure that’s true.  This being only our third season, we take the advice of our experienced mentors and our own growing intuition and knowledge and do what we think is best at any given time.

That’s the news from the Parris House bee yard.  Barring disaster, I’ll have updates as the beekeeping season continues.

Pray for spring and happy hooking.  – Beth

You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need.  – The Rolling Stones

 

 

A Gray Gardening Day in May plus the Parris House’s Honey Lemon (or Lime) Mint Tea Recipe

Today I put in most of the plantings for the Parris House vegetable and herb garden.  As some of you who follow me on social media may recall, around the time I was planning to start my seedlings, our local water utility burst an underground water main directly in front of our home, sending thousands of gallons of water in to the basement.  Unfortunately, this is the area where I usually have seedlings set up with grow lights.  The basement was a complete wreck and the cleanup and recovery have taken a couple of months, so…this year…no seedlings.

Fortunately, Smedberg’s Crystal Spring Farm in Oxford, Maine always has a huge variety of vegetable and herb seedlings, so this year, that was my solution.  I am usually picky with my seeds, selecting a lot of heirloom varieties, but this year growing my own plants was off the table and, having used Smedberg’s plants at times in the past, I know I will not be disappointed with my harvest.

I got the following in to the garden this morning, even though the weather on this Memorial Day is gray, cold, and frankly miserable:  tomatoes (three varieties), bell peppers, banana peppers, swiss chard, kale, eggplant, slicing cucumbers, pickling cucumbers, lavender, basil, thyme, rosemary, and oregano.  I have a good sized spearmint plant potted and over near the kitchen door, because let’s face it, that’s an invasive and if I put that in my raised beds it will party on until it’s filled them up.  Also, our rhubarb has come up once again and it’s really time (maybe past time) to cut some of that and make something delicious with it.  There’s still work to do, even though it’s getting so late in the season.  I still plan to add some dye/flowering plants to the herb bed and also to the container area near the house.  My husband put up the electric fence for me again this year and our stalwart plastic owl is standing guard as he has for many years (successfully) now.   In looking over my plant selections I’m pretty sure my Italian DNA is showing.

Here are a few pics of the fledgling vegetable garden.  I assure you that in a month or so, this is going to be lush and just starting to put off some food, that is IF it’s ever warm and sunny for more than a day or two at a time this spring.  I’m starting to wonder.

I really couldn’t resist taking some of the spearmint, even though the plant is relatively young and small.  I love mint in my iced tea and I make my iced tea a particular way.   The recipe is right here for you, if you’d like to give it a try.  Let me put forth the following caveats.  I do not like my iced tea very sweet (sorrynotsorry to those of you in the South; I know this is considered an abomination down there).  In fact, the only reason this recipe has honey in it is because a) I like the flavor of honey and b) I have bees and am about to extract my first load of honey (it will be called Tovookan’s honey and will be for sale – watch for it) in the next few weeks.  It wouldn’t be ok for me to not use it in my tea, after all.  Since I don’t have my own yet, the honey shown in the pic is from Beekman 1802, and it’s delicious.  What I do not like is for sweetness to obliterate the flavor of a really good tea.  Second caveat is that I like my tea like I like my coffee – so strong you could stand a spoon in it.  Please adjust for your own taste.   Third caveat (hello, Canadian friends!) – I am using King Cole tea which my son James dutifully picks up every time he goes to visit his girlfriend in Nova Scotia.  This is a very popular Canadian tea that has ruined me for most other everyday teas, but if you can not procure this, just use your favorite.  Each King Cole tea bag is made to brew 2 cups, so you just have to double how many you use in your recipe.

1 half gallon Ball canning jar or a half gallon container of your choice  (but let’s face it, the canning jars are really cute)

3 King Cole Orange Pekoe tea bags OR 6 tea bags of your favorite tea

2-3 tablespoons honey or to taste (go ahead Southern friends, pour that jar upside down and count to 100)

1 lemon, cut in to quarters (lime is also tasty)

1 sprig of fresh mint, cut in to slices and put in to a tea ball

About 4 trays of ice (the Parris House icemaker broke about ten years ago, the repair guy said $600 to fix it – we use trays)

Fill your kettle with hot water and start it on the stove (or plug it in).  Meanwhile, put the honey in the bottom of the jar, and cut up your lemon and mint.  I don’t worry about the lemon seeds, but if they’ll bother you, remove them.  I put my mint pieces in to a tea ball so that I don’t have to fish them out of the tea later.  This may compromise the diffusion a little bit and you can certainly just put them in whole.  However, do NOT put them in the jar yet.

Once your water is boiling, fill the Ball jar to about a third with it and then stir the honey from the bottom until dissolved.  Add your tea bags, fill to about half with the hot water, and steep with the lid on for as long as you like.  As I said, I like my tea super strong, so I let it get plenty dark, about 10 or 15 minutes (ok, sometimes longer – yes, I know it can get bitter – yes, I kinda like that).  When steeped to your liking, remove the tea bags and add the ice.  Notice that I have not yet added the lemon and mint.  This is because I do not like the lemon to take on that “cooked” flavor that can happen when you’ve put the lemons in while the water is still too hot.  I also think it alters the freshness of the mint.  So I wait until most of the ice has melted and cooled and diluted the tea.

Once the water is not hot enough to alter the freshness of the lemon and mint (about room temperature), add those to the jar.  Let these flavor the tea for at least an hour or two.  I recommend getting them both out of the jar the same day, though, because I think the lemon starts to take on an odd flavor if left in the jar too long.   I store the tea in the fridge so that the flavors stay fresh and so that when I use it it’s very cold.

Unfortunately, today is not an iced tea day.  Today is a hot tea, hot coffee, or possibly even hot chocolate day here in Maine, replete with wood stove burning to knock the chill off.  But…I have to think iced tea days are coming, so try making it this way and let me know what you think.

Happy Memorial Day and happy hooking.

P.S.  I have not failed to observe Memorial Day; in fact, I am always deeply reverent of its origins and meaning.  If you follow me on Facebook you will have already seen a Memorial Day post I wrote for the Paris Hill Historical Society today.  Take a look by clicking HERE.  Thank you!

A Sneak Peek at the First Hookers Circle Project and How You Can Join Us!

Not everyone can join us in the Maine studio to hook together on Tuesdays.  In thinking about how we could create an online community to bring people from all over the country (and possibly the world) together in a common project, I came up with the Parris House Hookers Circle. 

As some of you may know, we shipped the first pattern for the Parris House Hookers Circle in March of this year.  If you’re not aware of it, here’s how it works. Every quarter (March, June, September, December) I will send out a new surprise pattern or kit (you choose!).    You can pay all at once up front and receive a 5% discount on your subscription, or you can pay in installments.  The details are explained on the shop listing HERE.  

So far, we have had three brave hookers sign up, and two of them, Pam Congdon Springer and Carolyn Cooke, have been participating regularly on our Hookers Circle closed Facebook group.  They signed up without having any sneak peek at all at what they might receive, but lucky you, you’re about to get a look at the first pattern we shipped in March and what two of these lovely women did with it.  Keep in mind that they chose the pattern-only option, not a kit with cut or uncut wool, so the color planning was all theirs.

When I set about designing a pattern for the March shipment, we were in the midst of some serious winter storms with spring nowhere in sight.  I thought it might be nice to do a pattern inspired by some of the woodland plants we see here in Maine in spring and then in to the summer, so I chose lady slippers and trillium.  On any hike in the woods of Maine you are pretty sure to see trillium, but the lady slippers are rarer, so much so that it is literally illegal to pick them.  I’m not sure why anyone would, but the state actually protects them as a relatively rare plant.

So here’s what my hookers circle members got in the mail…

Each member received an image of the original sketch as a jumping off point for their own color planning and hooking.

Each member also received a pattern drawn on the grain on high quality linen with 4″ edges all around.

They also received a special little extra in their packages, which for March was a bar of our handcrafted soap.

It took Pam and Carolyn no time at all to get started on their projects, but they posted progress pics throughout their hooking that were fun to see.  We were able to bat ideas around as the projects developed and offer constructive opinions and kudos on the work.  Another benefit of joining Hookers Circle is that mutual support as the projects unfold.

So, what did the finished projects look like?  Of the three members, I have finished pics of two, and permission to post so…without further ado…

This is Carolyn’s finished rug. She chose unconventional colors and a beautiful whip stitched binding that coordinates with the primary background. Her use of purple on the stems of the flowers, and then echoing it in the corners of the design, I thought was brilliant. I think she achieved a really beautiful result here, thinking outside the box.

This is Pam’s finished wall hanging. I absolutely loved the way she incorporated a natural object that you would absolutely find on a walk in the woods as part of the hanging apparatus. She used a coordinating button flaps to attach to the twig and then set the whole thing off with the proddy fringe along the bottom. I think her color choices are lovely. This is another spectacular result I would never have imagined when I was sketching the pattern.

So, this is our fledgling start to the Hookers Circle, a group I hope to grow to at least one hundred members.  No, I’m not kidding.  I really want to get Hookers Circle to at least one hundred members.  I know that that would require employing several people for about a week or so a quarter to draw, assemble, and ship the kits, but I think it would create a big version of the camaraderie that is already developing on our Hookers Circle Facebook group.

If you like this pattern, it will be available for general purchase one year from when it was released, so March 2018.  Hookers Circle members enjoy exclusive access to every pattern for at least one year.  Members can join at any point in the year and subscriptions will run on a rolling basis.  Want to join us in time for the June shipment?  Join here.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this sneak peek at what’s been happening in the Parris House Hookers Circle.  I think spring is finally arriving here in Maine.  There’s still snow on the ground, but I think its time is short, and I will have to start thinking about warmer days and summer sun to inspire the June pattern and kit.

Happy hooking! – Beth

Stella Wants My Wifi

Image credit: Wunderground

The weekly blog post is pretty late this week, partially due to my overall work load and partially because I just haven’t been able to quite settle on a topic.  As I sit here tonight working on this post, Winter Storm Stella is popping our power on and off, and my wireless router keeps resetting.    The wind is howling, we can’t keep the wood stoves lit because of the down drafts, and the snow continues to pile up.  I can’t really tell you how much snow there is, because in some places it’s drifted to about three feet and in other places the wind has swept the ground clean.  Corgi Tru couldn’t go out tonight before bedtime until my husband shoveled a way for her.   A window pane blew out of one of our attic windows and we had to take a shutter down that was in danger of being ripped off the house.  In a nutshell, it’s pretty harsh here at the moment.

Our part of the northeast was largely shut down today, but this is Maine; storms roll in, they are extremely unpredictable in terms of actual outcome, and we do whatever we have to do to navigate through them.  We do this more or less from October through April.  We put up with this for the love of Maine…or something.

Always being one to see life analogies in natural situations, I am finding Stella informative.

I worked pretty much nonstop through this past weekend.  My current to-do list includes a super-exciting-project-I-can’t-talk-about-yet, two more design/writing projects I can’t talk about, two classes I can’t announce yet, two to three designs that are still under wraps, a floor sized custom order, an upcoming trip to Rochester, NY to teach college students, an outstanding Beekman 1802 order, continuing to set up my new Handmade at Amazon shop, tweaking Shopify to help our Hookers Circle members have the option of paying in installments, and the every day operations of the existing online shops and the physical studio, which are a full time job by themselves.   Oh, and I’ve also just begun training for a four mile run in May.  😉   There is absolutely nothing unusual about this, not for me, not for any other small business owner out there. We all do it.  We all work this hard or harder.   We’re not heroes.  We just have dreams and love what we do and get a little OCD about it sometimes.

I think we all try to make it look to each customer like she is the only customer we have and that her order is the only thing we have to attend to that day.  My Tuesday hooking group knows better, because they are here in a big group together and sometimes need to wait a turn, or sometimes have to hear me say, “I’m so sorry; I didn’t get to that this week” (which I invariably feel terrible about), or see the projects I’m working on that have to ship the next day.   They see when I mess up, and they see when I pull something off just the way they’d hoped.

One of the issues with online shops is that the context of a business is much harder for a customer to see from the distance and filter of the internet, and the illusion we so carefully try to maintain of any one customer’s order being all we have to do that day is virtually complete (pun intended).  Miraculously, 99.9% of the time, things still go smoothly and to expectation.  (That other .1% tho…) This is where social media comes in, of course.  Business owners use Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and all the other social media sites to try to recreate, in the virtual world, the first hand knowledge that our Tuesday group experiences in the physical world. Unfortunately, I can’t fit a couple thousand of you into the Parris House.  Fortunately, however, you fit just fine in our online community, which I cherish.

So where am I going with this?

“The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.”  (Thanks, Robert Burns.)

Stella rolled in here this morning and disrupted everyone’s plans.  She even disrupted the plans of those who had planned specifically for her when she didn’t perform as forecast.  Nature is that way.   Small business is that way too.  I have a planner.  Who am I kidding?  I have several planners for different purposes.   I am vigilant about using these tools to plan out every single day of my business life, and yet…sometimes something akin to Stella bursts through and disrupts everything, whether it’s an actual event that demands the rearrangement of my schedule, or just something that breaks my concentration or flow and throws off the rest of the day.

The lesson here is this:  I can work through Stella, even as she makes a play for my wifi, and I can work through almost anything the serendipity of running a small creative business throws my way too.

What Stellas have you faced down recently that have taught you just how resilient you are?  Because I know you all have Stellas, I’m offering a coupon code in the Etsy shop this week only (ends Friday night at midnight):  MYPERSONALSTELLA.   This will get you 10% off any order of $25 or more.

Happy persisting and happy hooking.  – Beth

 

 

 

 

Do You Like Antique Wide Pine Floors and Blizzards? These Videos are for You.

While Jen’s been visiting this week, she decided that the floors in the Parris House were video worthy. Here is her video tour of the creaky old floors in their full noisiness, since it’s winter. In summer, the floors swell with humidity and tighten up, but mid-winter it’s a creak fest here. Let’s just say we can’t even have stealthy pets let alone stealthy family members in this house.

We’re expecting another snowstorm too.  This is what Tuesday’s blizzard looked like on the village green, Paris Hill Village.  I shot this video while Jen and I were walking (staggering?) around in the storm.

If you’d like to follow all of our videos as we add them, hopefully increasing our videography skills considerably, just subscribe to our YouTube Channel.

Thanks, and happy hooking! – Beth