Bee Ordinance, Take II

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To continue this saga where I last left off—>

At the December 20th Port Washington Common Council Meeting, the City Planner and the City Administrator introduced their draft of Port’s urban beekeeping policy.  Charlie from BeePods and the Urban Ecology Center was there to give his thoughts and ideas on the document, and he was able to address the Council and clarify things.  It was met with rave reviews from the Council members and a fair amount of questions asked by the City Attorney.  It was understood that the document was very organic, that it would continue to be tweaked and changed, not only from feedback from City officials, but also based on input from Charlie.  We walked out of there with positive attitudes, feeling nothing but good vibes from everyone involved.  And I am pleased to say that’s still the case.  🙂

There were a couple of gray areas that needed to be dealt with and some modifications/clarifications, and from the last draft I have seen, it is ready to rock and roll!  As I have stated in previous blog posts, with all of the research I have done since October, I have read literally dozens of ordinances varying from restrictive to bee-tolerant to bee- (and beekeeper-) friendly.  This last version is the closest to bee-friendly I have seen.  Period.  I knew that Port was looking to other communities’ ordinances as a rough model, a starting point, and my fear was that it was going to be a very restrictive starting point.  If I were asked to characterize the last draft I saw, the words I would use would be responsible and educated.  It is readily apparent the amount of time that these two gentlemen spent on this topic, and for that we are grateful.

I was accused by a Council member of not wanting any regulations on beekeeping, which couldn’t be further from the truth.  I told him that the last thing I want is a neighbor who has taken checked out “Beekeeping for Dummies” from the local library, thumbed through it, and goes out and gets 5 stacks of Langstroths and a nuc for each, installs the bees in Spring, shoves them under a tree on his 40’x60′ lot next to a neighbor’s swimming pool, and doesn’t do a thing with them until he’s ready to harvest (steal) ALL of the honey in Fall.  1.) It’s irresponsible.  2.) It doesn’t do anything to help the honeybee population.  3.) It gives beekeepers a bad image… and that doesn’t even touch on the obvious safety issues.

The thing with regulations (like a lot of things) is that it is a slippery slope.  Once you get started imposing the terms and conditions, it is easy to go too far.  Not the case here.  This particular draft allows for a beekeeper to proceed with their hobby in an urban setting in a way that not only keeps the neighboring residents happy, but allows for the bees to be kept in the locations and the manner in which best suits the bees.  When looking at hive placement, some ordinances look solely at having the hive be in the dead center of the lot/yard, furthest from the public right-of-way and neighboring properties; this does not leave any room for the beekeeper to look at optimal locations, taking into account sunlight, residents’ living/play space, flight pattern, etc.  Some ordinances fail to write it in a way that allows for a hive to be placed on a porch, a deck or even a rooftop.  We are thankful that our (hopefully!) soon-to-be ordinance takes all of these things into consideration, is very forward-thinking, and is community-oriented– it allows for conversations with neighbors (rather than postal notification), it allows for neighbors to sign-off on closer hive placement, and it encourages joining a local beekeeping organization/community.    This may very well become the new “Go-To” ordinance for beekeepers to introduce to their communities.  It is that well written.

On to tonight~ at 7:30 PM is the Common Council Meeting where they will have the official 1st Reading of the proposed beekeeping ordinance for the City of Port Washington.  This is a big day… one of many big days, with a few more yet to come.  If all goes well tonight, at the next Meeting in two weeks, they will have the 2nd Reading, followed by the vote.  (My stomach just did an ever-so-slight somersault.  Or seven.)

We are going into the meeting tonight cautiously optimistic.

Ooohhhh, to hell with it!!  We are going into the meeting tonight cautiously completely, uncharacteristically optimistic.

 

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Wintering

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My husband Mike has spent months concerned about how to winter our hive.  Everyone seems to have their opinion.  Wrap or don’t wrap?  Wind-guard or none?  Do they have enough honey to survive?  If not, fondant or sugar tray?  And given that we live a few blocks from Lake Michigan here in Wisconsin, winters are kind of unpredictable.

So Mike did what any good beekeeper does: talk to a lot of people and find out what they do or what they recommend for our climate, read up about it and make a decision.  What he didn’t count on was this:

… or this:

These pictures were taken the 3rd week of December when it was unseasonably warm, as in high 40’s, low 50’s (Fahrenheit).  The past 2 years, we have had huge snowfalls on December 1st.  Mike definitely did NOT take a prolonged heat wave into account when planning how to winter our bees.

The day before Thanksgiving, I took 3 bars of empty comb, made fondant, and filled the comb with it.  It was my first foray into fondant-making, and it was a lot less difficult than I expected it to be.  Given that we are situated at one of the highest points in Port Washington, wind is always a factor for us; because of this, we opted to move the hive to a more sheltered location on our property, about 15-20 feet away from the hive’s regular location.  In addition, Charlie from BeePods (the manufacturer of out top bar hive) recommends putting nylons (pantyhose) full of sawdust under the cover on top of the bars to help prevent moisture in the hive, so we also did that.  Also, as you can see in the top picture, Mike took the whole wind break thought a step further and made a box (minus the bottom) around the entire hive.  He painted the top black to absorb the heat of the sun, and stained the sides (also to absorb the heat but to add a bit of aesthetics to it, since the brick on our home is almost the same color).  He cut 3 holes in the side to line up with the openings, and viola~ with all of his research, planning and hard work, our ladies would hopefully, prayerfully, make it through the harsh Wisconsin winter.

Harsh!  HA!  Not this year– at least not as of yet.

We have had a lot of sunny days in the 40’s which means some fairly active bees.  The month of December, which traditionally has brought large, steady snowfalls, has brought days of bees venturing out to do what bees do– corpse removal, drinking water, and of course going to the bathroom.  Our driveway, vehicles and even our sweatshirts have been spotted with bees and bee-droppings, and a lot of dead bees in a 5 foot radius of the hive.  Nothing says “Happy Thanksgiving” and “Merry Christmas” like spray paint patterns of orange bee-poo!  But what it has done is enabled us to do on these warmer days is to crack the top off the box, remove the lid, and put the feeder jar of 2:1 sugar syrup back in to hopefully give the girls something else to eat besides their winter stores and the fondant.

But with the New Year came a change in weather.  This past weekend we got a trace of snow, and last night we were down to about 7 degrees.  Reality should soon be setting in and they will be hunkering down for their long winter’s nap.  Then we will be back to nervously awaiting Spring, the thaw, and hopefully the return of our hive.  We have done all that we can do, and now it is up to them.

Exhale!

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It feels like I have been holding my breath since the beginning of October, when we first received the letter from the City Attorney about our urban beehive.  It has been a long process of ups and downs, phone calls, meetings, letters and emails, weighing our options and planning our next steps, but it would appear as though we may actually be able to stop and simply breathe right now, after holding our breath for months.

Did someone say it’s Christmas?!?!  Where did the last two months go???  Oh, yeah… that’s right…  🙂

Going into the meeting Tuesday night, we had become aware of the fact that it was not, in fact, going to be the first reading for the proposed ordinance, but just an update on the draft.  We went to the meeting early to make ourselves available yet again, and were greeted by a neighbor who happened to be there regarding another issue.  He attended our open house in October, and he again stated his support for our hive.  Then we were surprised to be approached by one of the City officials who has been, shall I say, not our biggest supporter.  He asked a few specific questions (which I always see as a positive sign, that there is engagement and interest), which we were happy to answer.  Our mentor and friend Charlie Koenen from BeePods also came to help us out.  Unfortunately, there was a lot on the agenda, which made for an anxious 2 hours before our issue came up, and of course, it was right after a very heated, contentious 45 minute long debate.  I was sweating and squirming the entire time, absolutely sick with nerves.

The City Planner and City Administrator started out by stating that the ordinance that they had drafted was being modeled after Milwaukee and Evanston, Illinois’ ordinances.  After some explanations, Charlie was allowed to get up and speak to the Council members.  He spoke point by point about ideas, concerns and suggestions that he had, and he was able to answer questions from the Council and, in particular, the City attorney.  All of the Alermen had positive responses not only to Charlie’s thoughts but also to the document as a whole.  The City Planner and the City Administrator said that they are going to make a few changes and that the City attorney was going to “have his crack at it” and that it would be presented to the Council for a First Reading at one of the two January meetings.

Following the meeting, I took the opportunity to speak with the City Planner to thank him for his hard work and time and tell him what a great job he did with the draft.  In all sincerity, the working draft rivals some communities’ ordinances.  It is closer to being bee-friendly than many others, as opposed to strictly bee-tolerant, and it allows for dialogue with neighbors, local beekeeping associations, the state bee inspector, bee educators, City officials, and individual beekeepers.  It is extremely forward-thinking in it’s language and is obviously the result of many hours of research and conversations, and we are beyond appreciative.  It is one thing for those of us who are passionate to learn more about our hobby, but he and the City Administrator have done so by default.  They could have easily looked to adopt a carbon-copy ordinance from another city, but instead they took into account what would work best in our community.  Even Aldermen who were on the fence at last conversation appear to be standing behind this document right now.  Aaaand exhale!

Now we can rest for this Christmas week, having a little less stress for the time being.  Yes, minds can easily be changed back to the fear and the negativity that we were facing earlier, but we cannot allow that to dictate our attitude right now.  It is simply time to breathe, to enjoy this period of peace (albeit short-lived, as it usually is), and celebrate this small victory.

Bee Ordinance, Take I

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One of the days that we have been anticipating is rapidly approaching~ the day of the first reading of the City of Port Washington’s beekeeping ordinance.  I thought that I would be more nervous, but really… with all we have been through (and all we still have yet to endure), I think it has given me some perspective that this is a necessary hurdle.  The only question is, how high is it?

The City Planner was kind enough to emailing me the working-draft of the proposed beekeeping ordinance on Thursday; in addition, he also sent it to Charlie and another beekeeping reference person, Andy, for feedback and input.  On Friday, after taking into consideration some of the feedback from Andy, some changes were made to the document and it was again sent to me.  In the last 2 months, I have become quite informed about the ordinances across the US (and even Canada and the UK), and this is actually pretty… darn… workable!  …Assuming that it withstands the scrutiny of the City Councilmen and that it passes.  At this point, that’s a pretty big assumption.

So here’s what will happen: Tuesday evening at the City Council meeting, they will have the first reading of the proposed ordinance regulating beekeeping in the City of Port Washington.  At that time, the Aldermen, City Planner, City Administrator, Mayor and City Attorney will weigh in, give their opinions and debate the ordinance that the City Administrator and the City Planner drafted.  Whether we are able to speak or answer questions is uncertain; typically the audience is not engaged during the Council meetings, although it does happen occasionally.  Basically, we can talk during the public comments portion at the beginning and the public comments portion at the end, but otherwise we just get to sit and listen to the conversation.  That should be followed by a 2nd Reading and a vote on the ordinance two weeks later.  Then, if passed, we will have to go through whatever individual, case-by-case process that is decided upon.  And rest assured, it will be a process.  Tuesday is just step #43 of at least 100.  It is just the next major step.

The fact that this has blown up into the firestorm that it has amazes me.  I am an uneventful, run-of-the-mill, average, 30-ish mom who just so happens to keep honeybees.  I have gone the last 10 years being defined by either who I am married to or who my children are, and have spent the last two months defined by my hobby and one of my passions– my bees.  I exercised due diligence in finding out the laws regarding beekeeping, becoming informed and educated, and choosing the optimal space and the perfect equipment for what I was intending to do…  I never would have imagined that I would be here.  I also never would have thought that the City officials would have reacted as they have, both positively and negatively– private conversations with City officials that were filled with compassion and candor, and also private conversations with City officials with patronizing, belittling and demeaning attitudes.  I never would have predicted the response we have gotten from the media and from the general public.   Nothing has ever been predictable or what it seems throughout this.

All of that being said, I wish I knew how this was going to go, that I had some sort of an indicator, but I am without.  Conversations and meetings that I thought would go smoothly left me stunned, and likewise, things that I was dreading and sick with anxiety were a breeze.  I have encountered ignorance and roadblocks from people I expected to be more educated and informed.  I have also made friends and partnerships in some of the strangest, most unexpected places and with the last people I would have thought that would ever align themselves with me.  I used to think I was a good people-reader and that I could feel out a situation well, but not after this.  All I can do is hope and pray for the best, but be prepared for everything else.

Stay tuned for updates on this.  Charlie emailed in some suggestions and hopefully they will be considered.  He will also be at the City Council meeting on Tuesday to lend a hand and a voice to the cause, along with being available to answer questions if needed.  I am hoping to then spend the next two weeks providing any follow-up information that is needed for everyone to make an informed, educated vote.  If you are in SE Wisconsin and are passionate about honeybees and want to lend your support, please consider coming, 7:30 PM, Port Washington City Hall.

Radio Silence

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I return from a much needed self-imposed period of non-blogging for a couple of reasons: 1.) “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything,”  and, 2.) I have made it this far in my dealings with City officials without having stooped to the level in which I have been treated at times, without having engaged in a back-and-forth/tit-for-tat exchange when provoked, and I have been nothing but proactive even when needlessly bound by red tape.  Even as I type this, it tales all that I have to not spew forth a lot of the thoughts that have been going through my head for 2 months (but especially for the last 3 weeks), which is why I went radio-silent.

Hasn’t helped much.  🙂

There hasn’t been much to report, unfortunately.  The Beesentation was held a few weeks ago in response to City Aldermen stating that they did not have much education or information to base a decision on; only 1 Alderman showed up.  Part of me (naively) thought that I would be contacted in the weeks following the Beesentation from City officials with questions, concerns, or to gather information.  Not so much.  Actually, not at all.  I spoke with the Mayor by phone shortly after the Beesentation and told him that for the first time in this process, I was at a loss for what I could do next.  He was sympathetic but stated that there wasn’t much that he could really do (which I already knew).  I asked him if he happened to know what the City Council’s plan was for obtaining education, since only 1 of the 7 had taken mine or Charlie’s  invitation to contact us.  Nope, no idea.

While it would have been great to then hit my blog, Twitter and Facebook with a scathing 5,000 word rant, including the names, phone numbers and email addresses of the Aldermen and every other City official, that is not the row I chose to hoe.  When we received that first letter from the City, we had a choice to make:  fight or educate and advocate.  If we would have chosen to fight, we would have put a lot of people on the defense, and rarely does anything good come of that.  So we chose to educate and advocate.  This has meant a lot of tongue-biting, taking the high road, walking away, smiling when you want to scream, and a lot of Radio Silence.  This means that I sit through City Council meetings where the very Alderman who called my honeybees a danger to children advocates for the right for people to be armed with guns in City Hall.

It is hard to not get bitter, angry, and at the end, apathetic.  But I smile on, push the rock up the hill, and will continue to until all of my avenues are completely exhausted.

Read Between the Lines

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I have been deliberately silent since the Beesentation.

I am just going to write facts. Period.  If people want to read into it, make assumptions, jump to conclusions, that’s on them.  Here are the facts, indisputable, verifiable facts:

1. I have invited the general public and City Officials to my home to take a look at an urban beehive in operation.  Two Aldermen came to check it out.

2. At numerous City Council meetings, a Planning Commission meeting and in all interviews/articles, I state my willingness to answer questions or concerns, either in person, email or over the phone.  I have said that if I cannot answer the question(s) myself, I have access to resources for them.

3. At least two bee educators have offered their expertise, free of charge, to the City.  One has had his personal email and phone number distributed to all Aldermen.

4. I have made myself available after the last 3 City Council meetings to answer questions.

5. At a City Council meeting, most (if not all) of the Aldermen stated their need for information (see the Patch article and the Ozaukee Press article).  In addition, the majority stated that the research they did in preparation for the meeting was via Google/the Internet.  It was based on these two facts that I coordinated and scheduled the Beesentation.

6. This issue is so important to one Alderman that he stated that “Someday my, “yes” vote could lead to a Port Catholic kid getting stung and going into anaphylactic shock.”  It is that  important of an issue in his eyes.

7. All Aldermen were notified of the Beesentation by phone a week to a week and a half before hand, by email 5 days before hand, and reminded in person the night before.

 Even given all of these facts, the overwhelming need for information…

8. One City Official came to the Beesentation.  One of the seven who will vote on an upcoming ordinance.  One.  The Mayor and two of the seven Aldermen informed me that they were unable to attend (and that they would contact Charlie for the information they needed).  One.

One.

I thought after 4 days I would have a different attitude about this, but I’m coming up empty.  I thought I would have an answer to the question of what to do next, but I don’t.

I am at a complete loss of how to provide information to people who have said that they want it, but who don’t take advantage of the opportunities created for the exchange of that information they want and desperately need.

Beesentation Day!

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After a late evening at the City Council meeting last night, I woke up with butterflies in my belly thinking about the Beesentation tonight. (Nothing about beekeeping was on the agenda or came up~ it was simply another opportunity for me to speak during the public appearances portion to remind them about the event.)  I have spent the morning trying not only to quell them, but also to determine if they are nervous butterflies or excited butterflies~ I’m going to go with both.

We have gotten the word out as well as we could: word of mouth, email, Twitter, Facebook, local printed and online news sources, fliers distributed and posted, and also though personal telephone calls to City officials. I am both nervous and excited to see how many people from the community attend, and also how many Alderman (who will be voting on a proposed urban beekeeping ordinance) take advantage of this educational opportunity. I know a few of the officials have told me that they are unable to attend, which is why I provided them with Charlie Koenen’s email address and phone number; therefore they can obtain the information they need and will have missed directly from him.

So, I am anxious about the turnout. In one respect, I think it will be what you could classify as “good,” given that there is a lot of interest in the subject and that it has been everywhere you look/read locally for the last month. In another respect, there may not be that many people there, given that the overwhelming reaction I get from people is, “I don’t see what the big deal is.” Either way, no matter how many people come (or don’t come), I am looking forward to being reminded about why I am doing this… not only why I have a beehive, but also why I didn’t simply just adhere to the initial letter from the City Attorney and get rid of the hive. I would have gotten a lot more sleep in the last 5-6 weeks, my hair would still be on my head rather than clogging my drain, and I would have had a lot more time to devote to things that I have been neglecting while trudging on.

I am also anxious because I know that this is a step closer to D-Day… Decision Day… the day that the second reading of the proposed ordinance will be read, discussion will be had, and a vote will be taken… the day that there won’t be any calls left to make, letters to write, people to plead with, meetings to attend, minds to change, information to pass along, signs to post, emails to send… nothing. That will be the day when all I will be able to do is sit and watch, no voice or a chance to present counter-points, and certainly no vote. While I don’t always get satisfaction from doing any of those things, I feel as though every time I DO, I have to opportunity to make a difference. That day, all of those opportunities end. That makes things like tonight feel so urgent and crucial. And that also is the main contributor to the anxiety I am feeling.

If you are in Southeastern Wisconsin and are free tonight, stop by and say hi or introduce yourself to me if we haven’t met yet. Just look for the rather short woman in the back looking ill-at-ease and sick to her stomach, next to the pretty little girl with the bright pink cast on her arm.  Meet Charlie, one of my favorite bee (and people!) charmers, hear his great stories and be blown away with information about these wonderful little creatures that play such a huge role in the ecosystem.

And if you aren’t able to be there, please say a prayer, light a candle, cross your fingers, say a blessing… whatever your custom is!… just hope that those who need to be there DO come and listen.

Busy Week

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This is shaping up to be an un-Godly busy week, some items more pleasant than others.

On Saturday, I had the pleasure of going to the indoor farmers’ market here in Port.  If you live in the area and haven’t had the opportunity to go yet, I highly recommend that you do.  It is not only an opportunity to shop and sample, but a wonderful venue for conversation and fellowship.  My daughter and I milled about, tasting and talking, browsing and enjoying the company of friends, new and old alike.

I was then able to introduce a neighbor, her niece (age 13) and nephew (age 9) to our hive.  The weather was in the upper 50’s/low 60’s and the bees were out socializing, doing some housekeeping, gathering some pollen (even still!), getting a drink from our “watering hole” (a crock with wine corks floating on top), and going to the bathroom.  What pleased me the most was the 9 year old’s knowledge of honeybees, their life-cycle and their importance to us.  They were fascinated and addicted to watching them through the observation window.  I love creating new fans of the bees and also seeing people’s reactions about the hive and the bees at work– they truly are magical!

The afternoon fun ended abruptly with a quick trip to the ER for my daughter, who had an, um, incident on her scooter that involved a flight over the handlebars, pavement, a bruised cheekbone, a skinned knee and one fractured left arm. Ahhh, the joys of managing my hive of humans!  🙂

Today was spent getting a full arm cast for said fracture, and then it was off to tend to what was, at one time, our vegetable garden in the back yard.  I took down fencing that kept (or tried to keep!) our city deer population at bay, putting some around my juvenile magnolia tree to keep it from being rutted against by a rogue, frustrated buck, but alas I noticed I was a little late, as there were already some fresh scratches on the tree.  That tree has to be doomed, as a rutting two years ago left half of it demolished.  We had some broccoli that we neglected to harvest and that we let flower, and sure enough, it got warm enough for me to enjoy some of our honeybees coming and going, providing some entertainment for me.  I put a small amount of fencing up to protect our new grape sprouts that the deer munched early this summer– I guess we will have to see if they ever make it.  Then it was on to cutting down the asparagus, garlic and onions that went to seed, raking and mowing the remnants.  This is always a sad time of year, the dismantling of the gardens…

After a tiring afternoon in my gardens, it was on to the first of many meetings for the week, this one being about another one of my “hives,” the youth of the church I attend and am employed by, St. Peter’s United Church of Christ in Saukville.  I not only am a member and a Faith Formations teacher for 6th-8th grade, but I am also the Youth Director.  Luckily, it was a short meeting as I was/am fairly exhausted.

The agenda for the rest of the week includes the Common Council meeting tomorrow night, the Beesentation Wednesday night, two parent-teacher conferences and the Planning Commission meeting Thursday night (*UPDATE: the Planning Commission meeting was cancelled*), and Friday it’s off to a retreat with 2 of my youth until Sunday.  And this isn’t even counting in the daily grind and things that are bound to come up.  I have a ton of emails to catch up on, a paper to write, two books to read, and I can feel the anxiety building in my chest… time to remember the deep breathing exercises.  🙂

I am extremely excited about the Beesentation, a chance to not only see Charlie, but to meet new people, spread awareness about beekeeping (esp. urban beekeeping), and talk about/share stories about a hobby that has infected almost every avenue of my life.  I take that back– it is no longer a hobby, it is a passion.  I look forward to not only creating interest and maybe even fans, but also to having concerns addressed and hopefully, with the proper, responsible education and information, put some of the myth-based fears to rest.  It is a big undertaking, but if anyone can do it, it’s Charlie.

Barring any unforeseen turn of events at tomorrow night’s Council meeting, the next post I will write will be on the well-attended, successful Beesentation (how’s that for positive thinking?!?!).  Again, it is in the Community Room at the Niederkorn Library in Port Washington Wednesday from 6-7:45 PM.  BEE there!!

Feral Bee Hive

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With all of the newspapers and online articles, I have gotten a lot of phone calls and even a few letters.  They have been from people all over the area wanting to talk about bees (well… another guy had to tell me about his ducks, and yet another guy wanted to share a story about some beavers.  Yup.), but there is one in particular that is pretty freakin’ cool.

He lives in Mequon (about 15 minutes away, midway between Port Washington and Milwaukee) and he said that he had what he thought was a honeybee hive in some bushes in his yard.  He was pretty sure that they were honeybees since he was a beekeeper when he was younger.  He was worried that, with all of the foliage now dropped, the hive was completely exposed to the elements and that they would not survive winter.  I gave him Charlie Koenen’s number knowing that this was right up Charlie’s alley!  So, Charlie swings over there that day, posts this picture and asks for assistance the next day.

Mike & I were in!

So the next day we went out there and could not believe our eyes– it was simply spectacular.  The owner said that the volume of bees was decreased from about a week ago (the temps were starting to really drop at night), and it was obvious from where they were in the buckthorn that they had about another month left, maximum, if we would have left them there to winter.

So after Charlie, John and Matt came (we also had 2 others help for a time), we were ready to get down to business.  We suited up (for the most part) with veils and gloves.  First all of the surrounding branches were removed.

Then the chainsaw was fired up, and with the branch being braced on both sides of the hive, the branch was cut from the bush, enabling us to lower the hive down.

We brought the hive down and braced the branch it was attached to between two step ladders.  The owner, faced with the prospect of bidding farewell to his hive, decided to purchase a BeePod top-bar hive and keep the bees on the property that they had chosen themselves.  We placed the BeePod under the hive and slammed the branch down on the ladder, causing heaps of bees to fall off, into the hive.  Then it was on to the BIG job.

There were at least two distinct varieties of bees that we saw, the vast majority being Italians. Taking large knives, we cut into the hive, carefully, creating “fins” almost, flat pieces of comb (mainly filled with honey) that we then attached to top-bars with a combination of large rubber bands and/or zip-ties.  I do not have any pictures of this process, as it was beyond messy!  It took us over an hour of slicing, attaching and arranging the hive from the outside of their natural hive in.  We had to stop continually to brush the bees off the comb into the hive, or to bang the branch if they were balling on the end of the comb again, and those who were able to hold on scrambled into the interior of the hive… a mass of caverns and caves.  This gave us hope that the queen was in there somewhere.

Mike kept laughing at how covered in bees we all were, especially a helper’s hat.  I had to stop and take the above picture to show him that his was just as covered.  Even though we were cutting apart their work of the entire season, filled with a lot of honey and some brood (as carefully as you can, but there are always casualties and quite a bit of spilled honey), and that they were scrambling to get to the middle to their queen- most likely- as far as we are aware, no one was stung.

At the very core of the hive, sure enough… there was the beautiful, majestic queen.  We quickly isolated her into the queen-clip (shown here on Mike’s hat) for safe keeping while we finished up.

2:1 sugar water was placed in the feeder jar, the queen was released into the hive, it was closed up, and we called it a day.  The husband and wife were very excited to watch it all happen (from a distance), really enjoyed seeing the queen, and were happy to become beekeepers, albeit quite quickly.  They were wondering about who to call to have the hive taken care of (they didn’t want it exterminated), and they just happened to come across one of the articles and called me.  Charlie was able to mobilize some help and a lot of pretty ladies got a home.  Tie a pretty bow on that and call it a happy ending.

So, thank you, City officials– you unknowingly saved a hive and helped another family become beekeepers.

Pounding the Pavement

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I tend be rather introverted with people I don’t know to the point that people probably think I am rude or snooty.  I do OK in a small-group setting, but 1:1 or large groups of people I don’t know, that tightening-of-the-chest feeling creeps up.  And this has really been a struggle for me; this is why I say that I am, apparently, a bee-advocate by force.  But if being a bee-advocate is what it takes for me to increase awareness and provide the education necessary to continue to be an urban beekeeper, then I’m in.

It seems as though everywhere I go in our town of 11,000, someone recognizes me as “that bee lady.” I am always relatively cautious (given the reaction of certain City officials), somewhat afraid that I am about to be reamed out or chastised. But that has yet to be the case; for the record, NO ONE that has come up to me, personally called me or personally emailed me outside of City officials has said they are against urban beekeeping, my beehive, or the location of my beehive– NO ONE.  The overwhelming sentiment is that they don’t understand what the big deal is, they proceed to tell me all of the wonderful things that honeybees do, and quite a few go on to thank me for what I am doing.

That still doesn’t relieve me from the sense of dread I get when I have to approach someone I don’t know to talk about my bees, or when they approach me.  I can’t help it… it’s my personality.  I spaz a little inside. Actually, a lot.

So this morning was a real stretch for me to step outside of my comfort zone.  Armed with a stack of the fliers promoting the upcoming Beesentation, I pounded the pavement downtown, talking to shop owners about having my flier posted.  This meant a lot of introductions and conversations about urban beekeeping and my bees in particular.  And I am proud to say that my record holds.

I introduced myself to tellers, sandwich-makers, baristas, store-owners, a seamstress, a chocolatier, and a variety of others.  Some had gray hair, some had their nose pierced… some patrons who joined in the conversation had small children with, others were grandparents… some had lived in this town their whole lives, one was a recent implant from Germany… some were wealthier shop-keepers, and one was struggling to pay her bills as a clerk and growing food in her backyard.  My point is that the people that I met this morning, introduced myself to, talked to, it was a literal cross-section of our community.  This was not a group of people that I pulled together to skew poll numbers (not that a poll was really taken); I met people where they were, doing what they were doing at that moment in their life, unaware of the conversation that I was going to start with them.  These were 100% natural conversations and reactions, and every one of them was supportive.  Every. Single. One.

After introducing myself, I got a couple of, “Oh! You’re the bee lady!” remarks, but the best one was this: I interrupted a young woman while sweeping.  I said, “My name is Bethel Metz and I was wondering if you could…” and she stops suddenly, puts her hand up to stop me and says, “If it’s about the bees, yes! Whatever you need!” and grabs a flier out of my hand, goes behind the counter and tapes it to the glass on her door, thanking me for helping the bees.  Without having be beg. Heck, without even reading the flier! I was speechless.  🙂

So, thank you Dockside Deli, Port Washington State Bank, Smith Brothers Coffee, Fair Trade for All, Chocolate Chisel, Java Dock (x2!), Anchor Menswear, Shoppes of Port Washington, Harbor Temptations, and Baltica Tea.  And to all of the patrons and customers inside who joined in the conversation, shook my hand, asked what they could do to help, thank you. Your kindness was overwhelming. As I have said, going through this feels like pushing a square boulder up a steep hill; but having the support of friends, family, and many strangers help push that rock makes it a heck of a lot easier.