Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Working like a farmer

Outside our window, a red headed skink moves like a snake through pink clover, chasing another.  It is hot, so he is fast.  Italian honeybees visit the modest flowers.  When I weed, I leave the clover.   I want the bees well nourished.

The children are at swim practice.  Grace is sleek as an otter, and Sophia has learned to roll her stroke.  This is another activity they at first refused, and now enjoy.  Like their play, The Hobbit.

I am home alone, enjoying the quiet.

I've not wanted to be inside lately.  I've been working like a farmer: weeding the garden beds, starting summer seeds, hauling compost, training vines up trellis, dreaming of the food I might harvest later. Snacks are there:  peas are ripe on the teepee, and strawberries lay red and warm on the black soil.  I remember the Thai field laborers, and wear my Chevy's birthday hat and long sleeves to protect from sun.

Grace has started a mandala of cracked tile inside the gazebo.  Joey nailed together a bench.  The roses are crawling up.  Also the kiwi vines: male and female, and honeysuckle.  I planted more peas, and sunflowers and lettuce around its shady edges.  Maybe I will rest here when the hot gets unbearable.  I feel myself completing a one year growing cycle.  I harvested these seeds last fall from our first summer garden.

Just now, I planted 2 long rows.  The first is corn:  red popcorn, giant Peruvian corn, and rainbow Inca corn.   Also a few pumpkins and some zucchini.  The second row is a variety or cucumbers and dahlia flowers.  This year I'll harvest the cucumbers before they get tough and watery inside.  Our worm compost was ready, so I top dressed these heavy feeders.  Then I cracked the hose off its connection before I could water them all awake.

I notice the bees have started to visit the watering stations I placed for them.  Shallow dishes with river pebbles to sip from safely.  The little golden toads have also left their eggs there.  Their tadpoles are tiny.  I imagine they and the fence lizards are my allies against some bugs.  I'm careful not to step on the tarps beneath which they hide.  I hope the weeds under are cooking into rich compost.

I caught a 4th swarm this week at Elise's place in Novato.  She is a science teacher at Redwood High School, Joey's colleague, and had been reading our blog.  It was waist high on a quince tree.  The collection went smoothly, just a few snips and the bees were lowered into the box still on the branch.  The rest marched in through the box opening.  Our friend Elena Pletcher is interested in keeping bees, so we moved Elise's swarm to Elena's San Rafael garden.  I opened their door so they could begin their exploration of the new place, but instead, sometime during the day, they all left en mass.  Disappointing.

Instead we'll install the Colfax bees this Friday.  They'll have had over a week to draw out some frames of wax and may be more apt to stay put.  They are also Italian honeybees, a smallish swarm, mannerly.  I watched them gathered around the door to their box this afternoon, fanning wildly.  Not sure if the box had become over hot, or if they were already making honey from their nectar.  There were good smells coming from inside though.  Like sweet baked goods.  Love them.  And I love that our friends will start with bees, and that we get to help!

That same day, Sunday, we witnessed something amazing.  The arrival of a huge wild swarm to occupy an empty hive that had been placed out in hope of collecting bees.  My mother's.  She'd stocked the empty hive box with a swarm lure (nasanov pheromone) and some old smelly comb from our abandoned hive.  It must have smelled like home.  We heard it coming first, and then they landed, and marched in in an orderly fashion, seeming rather celebratory, and continuing to make a great racket the rest of the day.  Bees for free, and good ones, many and industrious.  My mom, Bette Lee, had been wanting bees so badly that she says she feels she actualized their swarm.  Quite a few swallows seemed to have followed them, and have been swooping in to feed on the bees the last few days.  I like them better as mosquito eaters.

My mom, decked out to install her purchased hive.  Another swarm later volunteered!


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