Two weeks ago we celebrated Queen Elizabeth’s Platinum Jubilee in a unique way on Jo’s Farm — by “requeening” the bee hive.
It was an informal yet momentous occasion marked with music as my husband softly hummed “God Save the Queen” more widely known as “My Country Tis of Thee” around these parts.
Like everything that seems to happen on Jo’s Farm, the timing was serendipitous. We did, however, refrain from raising a flag, hoping that our next inspection would prove the presence of a queen — or in beekeeper’s language, finding the hive to be “queenright”.
In the presence of a queen, a beehive shows signs of health and growth. The queen is the only one who can lay eggs, or brood, and produce the phermones to guide the behaviour of the bee colony. When a beekeeper inspects a hive, she looks for the queen and these signs that a queen is present in the hive and the population is growing.
Our first inspection showed that there was no queen in the hive. We gave the hive 10 days to recover because sometimes the bees are nurturing another queen. But in our situation, that was not the case.
Our mentor and local master beekeeper, Chris Kelly of Promised Land Apiaries, came to the rescue to add another queen to our hive.
This adventure into beekeeping started at the urging of a friend who offered to purchase a flow hive for my daughter so she could start beekeeping.
My very first reaction to my friend’s generous offer was, “Have you met my daughter?”
I pictured myself balancing Jo, dressed in hot bee suits, with angry bees swarming around us. I thought her idea was absolutely crazy — until she sent me this video on the flow hive, a new technology in beekeeping that makes the experience a little more accessible, especially for people like my daughter.
Jo and I were convinced when we saw our favorite Marvel actor, Chris Helmsworth, in the video. We secretly hoped he would appear with the bee hive.
We signed up for our first beekeeping class at Hallockville Museum Farm and joined a growing community of “Hallockville Beekeepers.”
Beekeeping makes sense for our little backyard adventure on Jo’s Farm. The dogs, the garden, the chickens, the goats and now the bees, all have different lessons to teach us about life.
In the two years since the pandemic began and we started Jo’s Farm, Johanna has been outside more than ever before in the 25 years of her life. Even though Jo’s motor and cognitive skills are diminishing because of bleeding in her brain, her desire and will to work on her farm has only grown.
The first day we received our bees, Jo and I held the frame filled with bees. I balanced Jo from behind and helped her to hold the bee frame. It was an awe-inspiring experience.
People often think that beekeepers keep bees for the honey they produce. Raw honey is a welcome gift to the diligent beekeeper for the efforts we put into the hive. But most of us keep bees to help boost the dwindling population of bees.
In addition to cultivating plants that attract pollinators like butterflies and bees, we also don’t use pesticides anymore.
We use our free range chickens and a professional organic spray company to control the ticks around the yard.
When at first inspection, I realized that the queen bee was gone, I felt overwhelmed. It was that old familiar feeling I sometimes have when I don’t succeed at something or am unable to complete tasks in a timely manner.
I didn’t post any messages on our beginner beekeeping group, because everyone else was excited about the growth in their hives and sharing what they were learning.
I was in an all too familiar place— waiting to see what would happen next. And I wasn’t feeling very patient, just discouraged.
I gave myself about 24 hours down the rabbit hole of discouragement before I started to practice what Jo and I now call our “bee patient” state of mind and heart.
Life challenges all of us to practice patience from time to time. But raising a child with disabilities and being a caregiver requires embracing patience as a companion on the journey — or be in a continual state of frustration.
The simplest tasks often take longer for people with disabilities. For me as a caregiver and mom, I have had to learn to step back and assess when to step in to assist Jo with a task and when to intervene for her safety or simply because she needs more support.
So when my queenless hive seemed doomed in the first week of beekeeping, I realized I had a choice to make: either “bee patient” with nature, supporting her as needed, or give up.
I chose to be patient and wait.
What broke me out of my funk was a decision I made to view beekeeping the way I see life: in seasons. Especially over the past 25 years, I have never really been able to do things at the same speed as everyone else around me, often achieving goals in small steps rather than large ones.
Life and caregiving gets in the way. Emergencies happen — some life-threatening like seizures and brain bleeds, and some annoying like paperwork for the New York state programs.
I try not to compare my commitments and success to others, because my life is different than most other people I know.
Patience is a virtue that gets us through these seasons of waiting. I’ve learned to be patient with myself and others and to wait for the fruits to be shown— even if it takes more than one season to see results.
Patience applies well to gardening and beekeeping as well.
This beekeeping season is not about harvesting honey. It’s about keeping the bee colony alive so they can pollinate plants and help the garden grow.
It’s also about learning a new way to do our part to nurture the environment and help my daughter and other people with disabilities make more connections to the natural world around them.
Just today Jo told a group of beekeepers that she has learned how to care for bees. “if I don’t bother them, they won’t bother me,” she said.
This season is about learning to be patient for signs of growth. Learning to respect the bees is a great sign of growth.
The first year of raising chickens was a lot of work with few rewards. The first months of raising goats was overwhelming too and it took a while before we saw the therapeutic benefits of raising goats.
Now Jo has a thriving little egg business and we are getting ready to welcome baby goats to the farm.
When it comes to the garden, we are also behind in planting the veggies and some perennials I wanted to add which means a longer wait for harvest and blooms.
In a season like this I tell Jo that our garden is currently growing in someone else’s greenhouse — the plants are waiting for us to take them home to our garden to grow.
Today, my decision to “bee patient and wait” for the bees paid off with signs of growth in the hive. The queen we added two weeks ago went to work for the hive and signs of a growing colony are apparent.
It’s a small gift to encourage us to “bee patient” in this season of waiting, trusting there will be more growth ahead. We will “bee ready” too for the days to come.
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