I was going to take pictures, but I travelled to Vermont on a bleak day that devolved into dense fog. The people were much nicer than the weather.
Deb had a family emergency so I headed off to get my woodenware alone. I had two addresses for my beekeeper. The one I headed for, inevitably, was his old one. Vermont takes place on a piece of very old ocean bottom -- marble and limestone. New Hampshire was once Africa, a piece of granite that smacked up against North America. I have been trying to pay attention to this and without the distraction of leaves or really any colors, it came through clearly. We got little narrow valleys and jaggedness. They have insanely wide valleys, partly, I suppose, because the rivers have been there so long, and partly because limestone wears away faster. So I had sweeping vistas and crept along ridges on roads, God help us, worse than my driveway and my anxiety about heights crept up on me. Becoming low on gas and being unable to reach the beekeeper (must ask him for working phone number).
There was a tiny house along the highway with CLOUDS of steam coming out and after the second time I passed it I parked and approached, cautiously. Three guys, all younger than I am, waved and suggested I use the front door where there was a way through the mud. "Are you boiling sap?" I asked, since it reeked of maple for hundreds of yards in all directions. They had a three-by-four-by-ten-foot tank and said they were just a small hobby operation, no piping, just buckets. They were so nice. They gave me a jar of syrup and said yeah, Fred USED to live there, but now... did I know the Snowville country store? My eyes rolled up into my head. We agreed that heading for Randolph was the best idea, and they said to tell Fred the McCullough boys said hello.
There was a gas station on the way to Randolph, where they had a bathroom and a good selection of calories and water. I was deeply heartened after stopping there, which was good because it was three-thirty and getting dark. Reaching the other address was almost straightforward; I overshot the right street number and drove back to a long, muddy driveway with outbuildings and sullen chickens (Reds, Leghorns, and Silver-Spangled Hamburgs). I'd have been sullen too if I had nice feathers and bare feet. A small boy assured me I was at the right place and showed me to the right door.
A long, warehousey shed that reminded me of the archaeology lab was filled with beehives, noise, lumber, and a huge amount of metal piping or scaffolding or material to make something. I would guess he welds things. Fred was younger than I expected (a lot of the beekeeping community seems to be more or less grizzled men), maybe early 40's, and really loves bees. He is thorough-going organic and chemical-free and perfect for me to get bees from.
I think I was there most of an hour. I learned a lot more about why it's important to get Northern bees. It's not just that a bee from Vermont is more likely to be able to cope with the cold than one from Georgia, and some generations of exposure to the way the seasons work up here, but apparently some queens have enough sense to break out of their cluster once the immediate food has been eaten and move to another part of the comb. Maybe their clustering is less rigid, maybe the cluster can stay less rigid at lower temperatures. (It's hard to keep my verbs singular when the bloodline of the queen determines how the workers behave; bees are both points and waves.)
I badly want Fred to give classes or write a book. He says he might blog sometime. Perhaps I will actually follOw him around with a tape recorder, since I can't recall everything he said. It is certain that beekeeping makes you pay more attention to the natural world. Bees, he said, start taking off in the north at the same time as the syrup-makers give up, when the maples start getting bud-dy and the sap gets too strongly flavored, the flowers open at the tops of the trees. Knowing that early pollen is terribly important has made me look even harder at the poplar trees around, which seem to bloom even before the maples. I think my area has great forage potential, with the wetland across the road and the mixed trees and meadows nearby.
I am going to Texas to see my aunt and dig from May 4 to the 17th or so. According to my rather patchy records, the apples will blossom before I get back, and I had wanted to have the bees by then. But that depends on when the bee inspector comes and certifies Fred's nucs sometime the first week of may, and since I am leaving on Wednesday it seems unlikely. He promises he will take good care of them for me and not to worry.
And so it was. I went home. I have painted my hive with raw linseed oil and beeswax, which according to the BareFoot Beekeeper (who uses this)takes months to fully dry, and apparently has no protection from UV rays. I greatly enjoyed making the mix (double-boiler) and wiping it on (and disposing of my rag in the woodstove so it wouldn't spontaneously combust and burn my house down, probably the only way it will ever be tidy). It smells nice, sort of (it's supposed to make me think of cricket bats, but I am culturally deprived), and it's not eating my kidney or my liver or my brain.
And then I bought materials for the electric fence, which should provide hours of fun as we try to plant eight posts and a grounding rod that's supposed to be pounded down _three feet_ (a meter). Given that I have only rocks held together by rocks for soil... but Doug hopes that we are near enough to the garage pad that at least part of it will have been machine excavated once.
I need an electric fence not because I fear getting bears, but because I have them, and it's doubling the setup cost.