Tuesday, September 24, 2013

sweet tendings at home

It is fall.  And it is chilly.  I am monitoring the house's temperature, holding myself back.  Because I am really tempted to fire up ye olde woodstove and make it cozy in here.  But the warmth of midday makes me think it is still a bit too early for it.  Especially when I see the bees stream out of their hives to forage when the sun hits the bee yard in late morning.

I have never really paid attention to all the goldenrod and aster in the yard, until this year.  Because these flowers are some of the last few plants of the season from which the bees can forage for nectar and pollen this time of year.  And happily, our yard is doing its job, offering plenty up for them, and for many other pollinators.

The kids are back at school.  And just as I am shifting from summer to fall management of the bees, we are doing a different kind of child tending these days than we do during the open and relaxed days of summer.  Homework and routine and the perfect pair of pants seem to be what's required most of these days here at home.  And managing their health.  Because there are some nasty germs flying around the kids' school.  At this point, I am the only one of the five of us who has not succumbed...tick...tick...tick...

It has not been a terrible sickness, but it has been the kind that has left me wondering, while I throw a breakfast together in the morning, trying to stay on schedule, whether or not they should go to school that day.  Fevers?  They are wonderful, because they tell me that without a doubt the child with one should stay home. And I love the no fever within the past 24 hour rule.  That helps me a great deal.  I have been wielding my digital thermometer this week like a trusty six shooting side kick.  And like any trusty side kick with a flair for drama, it seems to be missing at all the necessary moments, and a frantic search ensues.  Once found, in a drawer, in the refrigerator, out in plain sight but missing nonetheless, anyone who complains of feeling sick gets it popped into their mouth.  Fever?  They stay home.  No fever?  They continue on our rushed routine of getting them out the door for school.

For some, particularly the younger ones amongst us, feeling sick has been their way of asking for a bit more care, nurturing, and tending, as they adjust to the change of our schedule, the rushing, the have-to's, and the separation from us as they head off to full days at school.  Elliott in particular is needing this special care, and it has become focused, for some unusual reason, on his choice of pants.  Fuzzy on the inside, smooth on the outside, elastic waisted, and not too colorful.  Those are his demands.  I have done my best to try to find a few more pairs to supplement the worn, holey, and overworked ones he currently has, but with no success.  Too bright, too scratchy, too puffy... They have all been rejected.  So I stain stick, mend, and wash the ones he has.  I stuff them each night into the washer, waking early to pop them in the dryer.

This week, Julia presented me with the easiest decision about whether to go to school: a low grade fever, and cold and flu symptoms.  And therefore?  I was gifted two very gentle days with her, on the couch, listening to audiobooks and drawing, embroidering, and using up boxes of tissues.  With a scratchy sore throat and an upset stomach, we went through gallons of tea, sweetened with honey.

Despite some rather humiliating public moments in which we opened our car doors and wet dirty tissues actually spilled out of the car in the school drive-through drop off line, as well as one rather frantic moment in which I constructed a lean to in the back seat of my Subaru out of a forgotten thermarest sleeping pad from the back of the car for Julia to sit under, concealed from passersby while I ran a nervous and jittery Elliott into his classroom, we seem to be coming out the other side of our sickness.

As I tend the children, I am also tending the bees, working through fall management of the hives, getting them ready for the winter months as best I can.  Our bees, newly establishing themselves here and with a strange summer of weather and foraging that began a bit late for them, are keeping their own hard won honey this winter.  I am leaving it all for them, and feeding them a syrup of white sugar and water, in the proportion of 2 to 1, a higher proportion of sugar to water than I used earlier in the season.  To make it a bit less work for the bees to collect it from the feeders' place above the inner cover but under the outer cover of the hive, and turn it into honey.  This higher concentration requires that I actually boil the water to get the sugar to dissolve, rather than using the hot tap water I have been able to get away with when there was less sugar to dissolve in the water.

And so, my counter is full these days.  Of sugar canisters, pots and mason jars of syrup and water, and small mugs and mason jars of the sticky remains of tea, sweetened with honey.  All of this mixed in with my preserving items, many overlapping, of mason jars, sugar, fruits and pectin, all waiting to be turned into preserves, when the time is right.

I have one hive that is going strong.  Full of honey, behaving predictably.  Bonnie, my mentor and honey supplier until we have our own, helped me consolidate them a bit, removing the top box that they had built out but not filled with any brood and only a small amount of honey.  We moved those frames with honey in them over the the other hive, into the box above the inner cover with the syrup feeders, so those bees could bring that honey down into their own frames and store it for the winter.

Just as I pop the thermometer in the children's mouth to monitor their required amount of tending, I am also monitoring the bees.  I have been counting mites.  On the bottom board where they fall when they are groomed off the bees by other bees.  In brood cells that I open with a toothpick to see if there are growing mites in with the larva.  And I determined that it is time to treat.  Though Bonnie and I both agree that my mite counts are low, we want to be sure that strong healthy bees go into the hard winter months.  Bonnie and I placed Apiguard in one hive this week, a natural remedy containing thymol, placed above the brood nest, where the amazingly hygienic bees will remove it from the container and carry it down, through the brood nest and out the bottom entrance, trailing goodness and mite deterrent throughout the hive, knocking down the mite population as they work.

All this monitoring.  The feeding.  The treating.  The tending.  All the sugar and honey.  The pants.  And the containers for it all.  It is a sticky messy business.

Apparently it is not just me who is wanting to nest and make the house and hives ready for the cooler months.  I found this tucked in the garden, built by Elliott the other day while I was harvesting.  A cozy shelter, solid walls, complete with food, in the form of pollen and nectar, for anyone who should need it.

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