Liz Swain 11:30 a.m., March 30
- Community Blog
- Sand in the Potato Salad
Bees at the beach.
It’s been sort of crazy over here at Worldwide Headquarters. The Communist continues to brainwash me relentlessly with E-mails and links from Bolivia, I had to rescue my stranded old Mercedes 300D bacon burner from the Baja desert, and there was the unfortunate incident with my bees, which led to the authorities being summoned.
Seems strange, but all of this really began a couple of years ago when my largest customer, an account I faithfully serviced personally for over twenty years, informed me they were going in-house because of the economy. My life suddenly went from comfort to crisis.
This happened just as my business associate, Mikey, was getting divorced. I approached him with an idea.
You see, I had never liked the business I was in. It was stressful, and I was on call all the time. The hours were terrible, and I felt the people I dealt with were superficial, petty, and demanding. The money was good, even though I could feel my soul shrivel just a bit more with each passing work day.
The business revolved around high tech stuff, and all I wanted to do was grow vegetables. I needed a big change in my life.
I offered to rent my house to Mikey for six months. He needed a place to live, and I needed to get away from the city for awhile and think about my life. He would also take care of my last few customers while I was gone.
I found the perfect gig on Orcas Island, off the coast of Washington. A nice woman named Suzanne wanted someone to watch her house and aged cat, Puppy. The house resembled sort of a hobbit house. Very whimsical. Round, made of cedar, and nestled in the tall pines overlooking Puget Sound with a gorgeous view of Mt. Hood. Hard to describe in a few words. You can see pictures of it here. She is selling it now I guess.
Orcas is one of the San Juan Islands. I found out it’s the only county in the United Corporate States of America made up entirely of islands. Travel to the mainland and the other islands is made by ferry.
I sold my car to my brother, and shipped my bicycle up there. I was tired of driving everywhere. I intended to try a simpler life for a change.
Someone told me the San Juan Islands has one of the highest education levels in the country. I met all sorts of interesting people there. Creative, kind, non-violent people. People who were living a more sustainable life. They ate home grown food, shared what they had, entertained themselves, and took care of each other. I guess most people would call them hippies. But they were hard working hippies.
I was in heaven. These were my people! I learned a lot about sustainability while I was there. Also about community. I went to composting classes. I became familiar with permaculture. I even volunteered at a tiny private school called Salmon Berry teaching little kids how to garden. They actually had a class for it. I taught kids with names like Willow, Burly, Zane, and Clover. We planted kale, beets, and carrots. We even built a worm bin. The kids took great delight in digging through the compost pile looking for the little wigglies.
I was happy for the six months I lived on Orcas, but I found you can’t change the channel of your life just like that. It’s just not that simple. My time on that beautiful island came to an end, and I had to return home to my mortgage and what was left of my business.
I got the idea that I could use some of the skills I learned on Orcas in my life here in Imperial Beach.
I signed up for a plot in a community garden down near the border. I bought my old Mercedes and began using waste vegetable oil as fuel. I learned how to brew beer and bake bread. I converted my front lawn into a water wise plot of drought tolerant plants, and built a little oyster mushroom garden in the shade of a big podocarpus tree. I started composting, and got rid of my television. I made it a point to try and get to know the neighbors, and I joined the San Diego Bee Keepers.
At one of the meetings, a cool African guy I met told me about a type of bee hive called the top bar hive. Basically, it’s a ready made condo with bees wax already inside. A scout bee finds it, tells the rest of the hive about the sweet digs, and hopefully a swarm will come and move into it.
My buddy Scott and I built one out of scrap wood and set it up on a sunny spot on my back patio, against the fence next to the alley. I really didn’t think it would work, but one day I noticed bees going in and out of the little entrance holes. I had bees! And they hadn’t cost me a thing.
It sort of caught me by surprise. I didn’t have a bee suit, or a smoker, or any other tools of the trade. The hive was only about three feet from the patio table where my friends and I drank home brew and told smoky stories. We’d watch the bees come and go, and they didn’t mind us at all. They never bothered anyone, even though I was sure they were wild Africanized bees. The media likes to call them Killer Bees.
I was thrilled. They were so cute, you can’t imagine. They worked hard bringing pollen back to the hive. They got up early and worked late. And they each had a job to do. Some were guards, some fed the babies, and some of the lucky little guys had the job of breeding with the queen all day.
I bought a bee helmet, and put together a haphazard suit using an old pair of coveralls, some duct tape, and a pair of black rubber electrician gloves. I wanted to open the hive and see how big it was getting.
I took off a few of the bars and looked inside. The hive was still small. They had only built four or five combs. The bees started getting upset, and I quickly put the bars back in place, closing the lid.
At the next meeting, I learned I would have to wait some months before the hive got big enough to take any honey out of it. I was still pretty jazzed. I was an urban beekeeper! Technically, it is illegal to keep bees in a populated area. But bees are everywhere, and nobody really notices them. I figured as long as nobody got stung. . . . Who would know I had them?
When the time came to finally take the honey, my formerly happy go lucky bees turned into an angry mob when I opened the hive. There were thousands and thousands of them this time. And boy, were they mad. I tried to keep calm, but if you’ve never been in a bee suit and felt the power of a zillion bees trying to defend their hive, you can’t imagine it. It’s a true force to be reckoned with.
While I was working on the hive, I heard the dull thump of a basketball coming from the neighbor’s house across the alley. Shit! Their kid was practicing free throws in the backyard, not twenty yards away. He was sure to get stung if I kept working. I closed the hive back up and went inside the house to let things calm down. I needed a different plan.
I remember once, this professional beekeeper simply shook his head when I told him about my bees. “I certainly respect you guys who keep bees in a neighborhood environment,” he said. Which is a real nice way of saying, “You’re nuts for doing that.”
I decided to move the hive over to my now ex-friend Wilma’s house. She has a huge yard, with lots of loquat trees and a garden.
One night when the bees were sleeping, my buddy Van Dam and I quietly covered the entrance holes of the hive with duct tape, and put it in his truck. When we got to Wilma’s and lifted out the hive, Van Dam and I both started getting stung. Bees were pouring out of a crack in the bottom of it.
The hive had sat out all winter in the rain, and the wood had bowed, making a small crack in the bottom. They say bees don’t fly at night, but believe me . . . they can. We quickly set the hive down on some concrete blocks and got the heck out of there.
I left the hive there for a while, letting the bees settle, until one day Wilma and I decided to take some honey. We both put on our make shift bee suits and got to work. We started prying off the top bars, and the bees poured out of the hive like a raging river. We started cutting away at the comb which was dripping with golden honey. The sky darkened with bees. They mobbed together in the fruit trees, climbed all over her camper in the back yard, and tried as hard as they could to drive us off. The sound of the buzzing was maddening.
“Wilma!” A voice screeched from the far edge of the property. The old red haired neighbor lady stood there fuming. She had been having a feud with Wilma since way back in the day. They hated each other. It seems we picked a day when she was having a party for her grand son. The kids were out in the yard having a scavenger hunt or something, and one of them had been stung. He started crying, and when she came out of her house to see what was going on, the sky was full of bees . . . mad Killer Bees!
She saw us in our suits and just started screaming all sorts of things. I had been facing the wrath of angry bees, and now I had to deal with an angry old lady. You could feel her hatred.
“You’re not even supposed to HAVE bees!” she screamed just before being stung herself and bolting back into the house.
We grabbed the honey bucket, shut the top of the hive, and escaped over here to World Wide Headquarters to process the honey, and to get as far away from all the bad noises as we could.
Things went even more down hill from there. Angry lady called the bee police, which consists of one old guy about eighty, and we found out what we already knew . . . we couldn’t keep the bees. But by then Wilma had blamed the whole incident on me and I wasn’t allowed over there anymore. She put a black plastic bag over the hive and smothered them in the hot sun. Terrible. I really liked those bees.
So no local honey will be made in this neighborhood, I’m sorry to say. I can’t do everything I want until I have more space. I often dream of one day moving to my perfect beautiful place of peace and harmony somewhere far away from this modern world. A place with great weather, water nearby, and cool people. A place where life is just a bit different.
Maybe I can still have it here in I.B.