The Cinnamon Challenge
Saturday I had a package of bees and a just-cleaned hive waiting for them. Cleaning out the hive wasn't an arduous task by any stretch, but it did take bit and included a lot of scraping, detoxing, sunshine and wiping things down. When it was done I set the hive in its new location in the garden on the cinder blocks that were holding it up off the ground. And here is where the mistake was made: I didn't clean the cinderblocks. I just moved them.
So after a full day of farm chores, hosting a workshop, and then driving to my friend's house to get the bees she so kindly picked up for me that morning I was finally ready to install the new hive in the clean super and get the gals started on the right path towards colonial life. I opened the lid of the hive to remove the two center frames and I was surprised to see thousands of small ants. This was not good. Ants in few numbers are no problem to bees, but as you can imagine, there is no such thing as a lone wolf ant. I lifted out the frames and they were everywhere. A young hive like mine with no brood or comb wouldn't stick around a hive already occupied by the sweet eaters. So I did what any sensible homesteader does: I checked with Farmer Internet.
And there I was, looking up ant-removal tips while my package hummed. I remembered something about cinnamon and checked a few sites to confirm it. Then I went inside the house, got all the cinnamon I had, and came back outside in full beekeeping apparel while I laid the hive out in the sun on the lawn and sprinkled, shook, cursed, and bitched. I saw the majority of the ants were coming from the cinder blocks and made a mental face palm while I used the rest of the cinnamon on the blocks. I was busy with my spicy endeavor when I heard the sound of clattering wood and wire and hard horn.
One of the blackface ewes (Split Ear) had backed up and hit the gas at full speed. Using pure force smashed the old piece of plywood used to repairing a hole in the old fence. Within moments the flock was loose and on their way up to my neighbors' gorgeous lawn. I call their lawn Narnia. It is a magical place sheep get to by transporting themselves through wooden objects that hold wool.
So there I am. Standing in my white bee keeping pants (okay, my karate pants) and white jacket with white bee keeping gloves in a haze of cinnamon as my sheep trot away. I say adult phrases I will not repeat here, grab some grain, and walk up the road looking like I work at a power plant and smelling like Christmas.
I get the sheep back in minutes (Grain is mightier than Narnia) and in my hassle did not move the bee gear from the lawn. The sheep ignore the cinnamon and the frames and ants and trot through, pushing and breaking a few of the pieces of old hive wood I refused to replace because the older I get the more frugal I get and bees are never on HGTV so who cares if the inner lid has a crack on it? Well, Split Ear and Brick cared enough to comment via hoofmarks and I now have a broken inner hive lid. Everyone is a friggin' critic.
With the sheep back in the paddock. The fence repaired (time 3,2245) and the ants removed from the equipment I knock off the majority of the cinnamon and start reassembling the hive. I don't remove the cinnamon from the cinderblocks or the ground around them. I open the package of bees, insert the released queen box between a few frames, and dump the new bees into the spicy hive. I realize at this point I didn't check to see if bees liked cinnamon and didn't have the heart to check with Farmer internet. I closed the lid and stepped back. Bees were everywhere. I let out a long sigh while sheep complained close by.
It's been two nights and the bees are doing great. They have happily settled in the hive. The ants are gone. And the only real challenge was the thing I didn't anticipate: weather. It was 34 degrees here the last two nights and a new hive just here from Georgia wasn't acclimated to the harsh first night in a new hive. I did lose a hundred or so worker bees that didn't get into that hive the first night and found their frozen bodies around the hive, dusted with cinnamon. But the majority were inside around the queen box, warm and humming. So despite the drama all is generally well in BeeTown.
And I'm sharing this story because of something I'll never forget hearing from Joel Salatin. He has said many times to new farmers that anything worth doing right is worth doing wrong first. Mistakes are important. Cinderblocks are important. Fences repair is important. Four years into this place I still make mistakes and am still figuring out how to do things right, but I am doing them. I think this is important. It's important to learn as you go, to accept that mistakes will be made, cinnamon will fly, sheep will travel to Narnia and at the end of the day even the worst of your problems are blessings. Even if I am worried about book critics, the mortgage, and budgeting the farrier and the sheep shearing in the same week I am only able to be worried because I asked to be an author, a home owner, and a farmer. These are wonderful problems to have in my book. And over the years I have learned to ignore the critics and focus on the people who show up with crock pots and rototillers. They are the ones whose advice and critiques I care about.
I am rambling. In few months this farm's sheep escapes will be a silly memory. New fencing built with friends and a dirt hill cultivated and seeded will heal. The pasture will have time to rest, the new electric portable fences will replace the old ones, and one project at at time the joint will become a better farm. It takes time, and the willingness, forgiveness, and a lot of doing things wrong first. But in five years this place will be a happy machine where you will rarely hear about goofy mistakes in the older skills.
P.S. The sheep have only escaped 2 times since. I can't wait till next Sunday when we finally rip out all that old fence, repair it, replace the bad sections, and install the electric wiring. If you want to come to the farm for a potluck/work party come on by. It'll start around 9AM and go to 1PM. I have four folks coming already and that alone makes it a quicker job. Unrelated: Jasper is still for sale but no takers and I don't expect there will be any. He will remain here and I'll figure that out too.
P.P.S. Sometimes folks write me to say they expect better grammar and spelling on here since I am a published author. I usually tell them that my books have a professional editor. I have a Border Collie. And while he is pretty savvy he still refuses to use Oxford Commas and that alone has made a divide in our relationship. I kid. But seriously, you can pick two of these three options and I will oblige.
A. A heartfelt, personal blog.
B. An often-updated blog.
C. A well-edited blog.
P.P.P.S. Also, Look Up.