As you can possibly surmise by the heading of this blog post that something is going on. Well, it is. Hobby farming has become a constant challenge. I find that lately, nearly every day, it’s another case of “on the job training.” Learning on the job can be a great thing if you have a good instructor, but if you’re winging it solo…well, I have to say it can be a little bit daunting.
Last week I went to inspect my bees on a very hot day to check all was well. The week before I had added another box to the hive, which is important to do to create enough space for a healthy, growing bee hive. Trouble is I waited a little too long…and the bees did not like that. So they did what all bees do when there is no more elbow room. They reproduce a new queen, take the old queen, and swarm. Yes, swarm. I don’t know about you but the word swarm (italics seem appropriate at this moment) freaks me out just a wee bit. So all seemed well when I inspected my hive until my husband pointed out the huge watermelon-sized object clinging to the trunk in a nearby cherry tree that looked a LOT like a whole bunch of bees. Upon further inspection, we realized it was. Dimly in my memory, I remembered reading in my book, Beekeeping for Dummies, that swarming was an awesome sight–if the bees weren’t yours doing the swarming. The book basically pointed out that poor you, if they do swarm, poor, poor you. I called the local bee guy (whose number was on a jar of honey I bought from him at the farmer’s market) and, trying to keep from screeching out loud, asked him the following: um, what-do-you-do-if-there-is-a-big-ball-of-bees-in-a-tree-are-they-mine-or-what-will-they-go-back-in-the-hive? He replied: those are your bees. Go get them. I paused, cleared my throat and squeaked out…”But I’m scared.” After a little pause, this guy I never met in my life delivered some sage advice. He said: ” Get a grip. Experienced beekeepers wouldn’t even put a bee suit OR a veil on because the bees will not sting you. You took up beekeeping because you like bees, so man up and go out there and get your bees.!”
These are not my bees. I was too freaked out to take a picture. But basically this is what I was dealing with. They looked just like this.
The upshot was, If I didn’t get the bees then they’d be gone to greener pastures in the morning or within the hour, depending upon how quickly the scout bees found a new home. Not being an “experienced beekeeper” I put everything bee-related on that I owned, “manned up” and went out to “get my bees.” As per the bee guy’s advice, I took a box out with me to catch the bees and then used my bee brush to knock them out of the trees. Bees filled the air, humming and buzzing. I dumped what I had caught on a bed sheet in front of my hive, and just as he predicted, they started to go back into the hive. The other four thousand or so bees I didn’t catch went back into the tree. So I called the bee guy again. He said, “HIT the tree really hard the whole ball will fall out of the tree and into the box. Don’t be wimpy about it.” So after dinner I went back out and all the bees had left the tree for the hive apart from a small ball in the box, which I dumped in front of the hive. Crisis over. They have stayed in the hive and not swarmed again. Even though I was scared I was really proud of myself. For crying out loud, I captured and rehived a swarm of bees! The fact that my knees were knocking and I was scared beyond scared made it so much better. I did it myself despite the fear. And of course I learned my lesson and got prepared. My father built me another hive just in case they swarm again I will put them in their new digs.
My second major challenge has involved milking my doe, Dulcinea. My vet’s wife, Donna, told me I had to wean the kids from her. She was getting to skinny and the kids were draining her of all her nutrition. So I had to start milking, which I am not that good at. First fresheners (meaning does new to the milking scene) can be tricky. So green goat and green milkmaid probably isn’t the best combination. And it turns out that Dulcinea is every milkmaid’s nightmare–she is a kicker. She kicks like a mule. She turned over several milk buckets and nearly took my head off once. A tearful milkmaid is not a pretty sight. I wondered whether this milking lark was for me. Maybe I found my Nemesis at last. Then the stubborn part of me reared up and gave me the bee guy’s lecture–“oh, really? Millions of people can milk a goat/cow. Do you think you missed the milkmaid gene or something? Now man up and go milk your goat!”
This time I consulted the internet where I discovered a nifty invention called goat hobbles. Basically goat handcuffs. $10, thank you. Ordered and done. Until they arrived I made my own handcuffs out of bed sheets and they worked great. Let me say that I don’t blame the goat for kicking one bit. She didn’t ask to be milked, but we all have a job to do and that job is hers to do. But it’s up to me to make her happy to be milked. I make sure when I milk her that she has plenty of grain to eat, I keep my nails short so I don’t accidentally poke her, I turn on the fan to keep her cool and flies away, and I give her a treat at the end. Most of all, I make sure to keep my mind completely on the job. I stay calm and quiet. And I noticed in the past few days she’s been pretty good. But I don’t think I’ll take the handcuffs off yet.
Goat hobbles with my handmade “guy wires” to keep her legs where they belong. Aww, bless her.
Hobby farming is a lot like writing. Both pursuits force you to come up against yourself, to challenge you to step outside your comfort zone a little bit and do something you’ve never done before. Sometimes you fail and sometimes you don’t, but you always learn something that makes you a better farmer or writer the next time the problem comes around. So I will try never to feel defeated. There is always a solution, help at hand, or…even…goat hobbles to be had!
I think this passage from Winnie-the-Pooh is very fitting:
One day when he was out walking, Winnie-the-Pooh came to an open place in the forest and in the middle was a large oak-tree, and, from it came a loud buzzing noise.
Winnie-the-Pooh sat down, put his head between his paws and began to think.
First of all he said to himself: “That buzzing noise means something. You don’t get a buzzing noise like that, just buzzing and buzzing, without its meaning something. The only reason for making a buzzing noise that I know if is because you’re a bee.”
I agree with you, Mr. Pooh. Now bear up and go get your bees!