I have always wanted to keep bees. I love their magical dances, quiet dedication to the greater good, their dedication to the queen and enigmatic communication that we humans don't understand. We have always worked on having habitat for native pollinators, who do need our help. And while some think bringing a box of bees into an environment is not natural, what the bees do when we "keep" them, it really pretty independent from us as much as we pretend to have control over the situation.
When we moved here I knew I wanted to keep bees. I was happy to see that the neighbors who have their permaculture forest guild wilderness across the road had a few hives down the road. I know most of the native plants and medicinals we plant are loved by both natives and honeybees, and we also planted two areas of orchard. We have bush fruit in the back orchard area - cherries, elderberries, nannyberries - and in the front orchard we have aronia, goji, raspberry, blackberry, blueberry, apple, peach, plum, and serviceberry. We also have wild raspberries, mulberries, and blackberries. And, we have many other plants and flowering trees. Truly enough support and food for our pollinators.
So, of course as it goes, we installed bees when they arrived at the post office. We had everything ready to go, and we transferred them into the hive. As a new beekeeper, while I spent years reading about beekeeping, I have been reading ongoing now as well, so that I follow the season and know what to look for as I have been inspecting and checking throughout the summer.
I was a little nervous on my first inspection, but know that they can smell our fear, and so I focus on telling them how amazing they are, thank them for pollinating my plants, and radiate love. It might sound cheesy, but I do think that helps keep them calm. I do inspect suited up - I know some don't wear gloves or a suit - but I move with intention, carefully, and thankfully. The inspections have gone well all summer. I find what I should, I proceed through the hives, and I find the queen or evidence of the queen.
I know as I get more experience working with them, I will expand with more hives and probably experiment with different processes or setups. I love the idea of natural beekeeping, but know that with mites and other issues that can arise being so common, I should be a responsible beekeeper and do my best to keep them healthy before I experiment or try new things. So many long-time experienced beekeepers are losing their hives - or a lot of their hives - every winter, so I hope to make it through a winter.
Now that we are in September, I have checked the hive again and we will start looking towards preparing them for winter and protecting them from invaders looking for warmth and food. I am happy to finally be keeping bees, after dreaming of them for many years. Every time I walk the dog on the back acre I see our hive setup and am grateful for all of the changes we have made in the past year to get here. My whole family jumped in headfirst to get us to this new place, and our life is so different than it was one year ago. We overwintered successfully in this new place, now we need to get the bees through their first winter here as well.
The amazing thing about volunteering is working with people and feeling like you are making a difference. The hard thing about volunteering is how everyone feels so much more important than you feel to yourself. Everyone else needs your time, and you know they need your time and you care about the wellbeing of everyone, so you make yourself come, last. We moved here to have more family time, which we make, but it is hard to carve out time for other life! I see people going on vacations and traveling the world, and we are here. I choose to be here, but I also realize how much of my time is spent doing the paperwork and office management of volunteer work, and not working on my own farmette, gardens, business, home, or art. It is so hard to find a balance and volunteering always needs more hours, more supplies. I volunteer probably 30-60 hours a week, and spend every moment not volunteering for nonprofits or free clinics trying to catch up on the rest of life. Homeschooling teenagers, keeping a clean house, walking the dog, putting food on the table. Change of seasons is when I most feel that pressure of needing to slow down, take stock, and find balance. Volunteer a reasonable amount and spend time on my business so that I can contribute to my household and we can even take a vacation or ... gasp ... leave our house for something other than errands! When the seasons change and we get tired and need to pull in for autumn and winter, it seems impossible to find out where to possibly cut hours, and I care for all of those I work with and serve, so it can be a hard thing to juggle.
Having a child with unique and intense health needs dictates a life. We can't eat out, we cannot travel much, there are so many things we cannot do, it takes a lot of energy, and is with us 24/7 - volunteering gives me an opportunity to worry about something other than my child. To do something, while doing it from home, as his unique health challenges dictate so many interactions and environments that we can or more accurately, cannot, be in. But to be honest, being a mom to a child with intense health issues is tiring and stressful all the time as well, of course, and art in the past was always my outlet, while my herbal studies and gardens were my hobbies for my family and their health. I need to blend a bit of both, to allow my artist to still exist, while also still caring intensely for my child as he grows up.
So, my goal for this fall is to pull back, focus more on the people less on the paperwork, take time, work on my business and my own work, my own art. I will of course still volunteer way too many hours, but my goal is family time, income, balance, and fulfillment. I want to work on the farmette we have here - closing the beds for winter and prepping more for next year. Setting up the ceramic wheel and kiln to do more pottery. Work on more projects with the kids - which we do - but, more. Focus on my business and develop it to where I feel like I am contributing to our family life. I have kids who will want to go to college and that means I need an income. I will paint more. Draw more. Write more.
So, I hope to work on the book proposal I keep putting off. Work on the art I keep putting off. Work on the studio and workshop I keep putting off. Travel with my kids a bit, where it is safe for my teenager to travel, which I keep putting off. Work with clay, which I keep putting off. Work on the house, which I keep putting off. Work on the greenhouse, which I keep putting off. Work on bulbs and plantings, which I keep putting off. Work on more music, which I keep putting off. Work on my embroidery, which I keep putting off. Work making things, which I keep putting off. Work on products, which I keep putting off. Work on creating classes, which I keep putting off. Work on taking some time to sit down and be quiet for a few, which I keep putting off. Work on reading books again, which I keep putting off.
Work on being me, which I keep putting off. My birthday is coming up - 52 - and it is time for some introspection, pulling in for autumn and winter, and finding the next year of who I am.
"Still I always
Look up to the sky
Pray before the dawn
'Cause they fly away
One minute they arrive,
Next you know they're gone
They fly on
One of the things we have wanted to include on our little farmette is chickens. Not only do chickens lay eggs, and my teenager is, and has always been, a chicken whisperer (and while he is allergic to all mammals/meat/milk, he is not allergic to feathered animals or eggs!), and they are also wonderful in a permaculture system. They eat bugs, weeds, and bits and pieces of garden plants, and they leave rich fertilizer for our compost, orchards, and gardens. We are raising them only for their eggs and fertilizer, not for meat. They will hopefully live a long and happy life here at Lunar Hollow!
We got 6 sexed chicks in early March, and inevitably one was a rooster - so we have 1 big guy and 5 hens. We have 2 golden laced wyandotte, 2 silver laced wyandotte, and 2 barred rock. They should all be pretty cold hardy in our Wisconsin winters. The boys initially wanted to name them after epic video game characters (Ahri, Aurelion Sol, Cassiopeia, Fiora, Jinx, Kai'sa, Shyvana, etc.), but I have just naturally fallen into calling them by names that end with the -ie sound, since it is easy on the mouth and easier to remember for me, so the names are starting to stick. The boy is Budgie, then we have Siouxie, Terri, Cyndi, Annie, and Toni. (Can you tell how old I am from the names?)
We live with a natural woods barrier on one side, but 3 other sides are pretty open for wandering (& one side is along our road), so we have not let them roam without supervision yet. Every day they get out to roam in a different area and we are taking them farther from the coop and run each time, and training them to come back when called (treats!). It took a few of us to herd them back each time, but now I can do it myself with only minimal clucking sounds, as they know what awaits them when they return. As the summer winds down, they will get to wander in our food gardens, medicinal beds, and orchard, and we will know they will come back with us when it is time.
We started with just 6 chickens, but plan to add possibly geese or ducks next year, if we make it through the first winter with the chickens. We shall see. It worked out well for us to start with only 6 and get used to the routine and care of the chickens before expanding.
It is interesting to see the intelligence of the chickens, see their personalities, and see them learn and figure things out. They are fun little dinosaurs! Our next phase for the chickens is figuring out the best way to add some shelter/tarp area for rainy season and as we go into winter and snow. Also, winterizing the coop...any tips?
I am a certified aromatherapist, herbalist, organic gardener, photographer, writer, designer, artist, nature lover, whole foods maker, and mother of two unschooled boys in south central Wisconsin.