Category Archives: beekeeping

another swarm story

Today actually was a red-letter day!  A call from the post office first thing in the morning alerted me that the 2 packages of bees that Ben had ordered from Kelley Bees had arrived.  Ben has taken over the hives but — as often happens — he is out of town right now so he had arranged for me to collect the bees and get them into the hives.
So yes.  For those of us born in the suburbs or the city, you may not know that your live bees — or live chicks — arrive at post office and you are summoned to come and rescue them from their travel crates.

When I got out to the hives, turned out the bees in one of the older hives were busy swarming (re-locating to another home, which I have written about before).  So the new bees and I had to cool our heels for a while as I was not inclined to get in the middle of that, though it is a mesmerizing sound and sight.  Look closely and you will see the bees in the air all around the hive.

When they were clear of the hives, and safely parked in the tree above (where they await directions from their scout as to where they are relocating), I got busy and opened the little crates to pour the bees into their new homes.
The box at the top is the traveling box; below is the hive body with its removable frames where the comb is built.  You knock the frame against the hive, and the bees fall out with a whump.  Some stay in the travel box through repeated whumpings.  They will eventually migrate into the new hive by the end of the day — they will find their way by smelling their queen’s pheromones. 
The queen rides in her own little carriage, a small wooden box sealed with a sugar cube.  She will nibble her way out of the box, by which time her court will have settled in and can welcome her home.  The bright aluminum strip you see, middle right, is holding her small box in the midst of the frames.  The queen always begins in the center of the hive, and her court huddle around her in a protective buzzing ball.

After I finished, I gently slid the lids back into place, and put the travel boxes, with their lingering tenants, on the top of their respective hives so they could find their way home before nightfall.

rescuing the beehives

I found a very strong man to move them to higher ground.  He was amazing, and like a gentle giant lifted each heavy hive off its base and relocated it to the new area.  It was too wet for many bees even to bother coming out under all this commotion, but some did.  I got stung only once and Steve, who performed all of this gloveless even though I insisted he wear a veil to protect his face, caught only one sting.  He isa natural with them.  
Here are the before & after photos – -we finished up just before nightfall.

Color & Metaphor

Most of my color use in my weaving has been, admittedly, tied to a limited palette of landscape & architecture and fairly literal.  I won’t say it is not inspired or even lyrical, as I often begin in my inspiration for work with the color that comes into my line of vision.  But it is dictated by some grounding in an exterior place.

My most recent work has been tied to an inner, metaphoric landscape of emotion that is linked to reality by a figurative silhouette and animated by bees, which have always been the animators of all of my landscapes.  In this time of pain I have found my bees to be the language of engagement that works for me.  Surrounded by bees when I am safely zipped inside a bee suit, the air is alive with their language and they crawl with great energy all over me.  This would be threatening without my protective clothing, but inside the suit I can enjoy their nearness and not worry about imminent pain. My woven bees are, similarly, simultaneously benign and threatening, my protectors and my adversaries. 

But the color now can be informed by an interior dialogue of emotion and metaphor.  So in winding warps last week for 4 new tapestries in the series, I thought, hmmm, what color?  I looked at the yarn shelves in my studio and intuiutively chose carmine reds and sulphur yellows.  Out of these will come these stories:

The Burning Barn ( I wove the study two weeks ago)
In My mind’s Eye I am Fine
The Bees Always Swarmed When We Argued (working title)
and Breathing.

Here is the photo of the warps as threaded through the reeds.  More as it happens.


I made two Bee tapestries in 2009; the first is of our hives over by the flooded Wabash river (the river is one field away from us, but in the spring the field floods up to our property line, where the hives live). The second came later, begun after watching in admiration and dismay as we lost 3 swarms of bees in May last year (“come back! come back! what did we do wrong?”). Swarming is a breathtakingly beautiful sight, when the air is filled with a vibrant buzzing audible from a long way away as the bees leave the hive and hover over it for a while, in a cloud, waiting for the next command from their queen. They then move up into a nearby tree and hang in a quivering mass as the scouts go out — for hours or sometimes for days — to find a new home. In our case, it took about 2 hours, during which we wrung our hands and wondered how to get a ladder high enough to reach them and get them down (Ben has experience with capturing swarms, but not a long ladder!). The as we watched, they suddenly let loose and flew in a huge mass across the field toward the river, never to be seen again. (“come home! come home!”)

more buzz

I am gratified by a few lovely responses to my last post about bees. I have always loved them — OK, at first for their looks, I admit — and have frequently populated my tapestries with bees. They keep the surface lively and we know that they have deeply important lives, as we humans assume we have as well.

Last week Ben successfully installed a new queen. Unlike our own political elections, the hive is a matriarchal monarchy, but inserting a new queen when the old one has died is a tricky business. I am still astonished that you receive bees through the US mail! She arrives in a little box with a wire screen lid and four attendants. The exit door is blocked by a sugar cube which provides nourishment. They help her eat through that to freedom once installed the hive, and presumably they escort and defend her on arrival. It takes a while for her subjects to accept her. (A good topic for Obama’s first 100 days!) The first new queen didn’t get out of the box: t hey all tragically died inside, but queenie #2 (#3 if you count the first queen who died) is happily installed & laying her 2000 eggs per diem now. What a job!

Summer arrived abruptly this week and I have summer fever — the air is wonderful! and a fresh desire to get to the loom. First I must go to install some tapestries for an exhibition at St Meinrad’s Archabbey in southeastern Indiana, tomorrow. A very interesting place. More soon.
(the tapestry shown is Big Sunflowers from a number of years ago; it is a good example of bees in my work)

more on inspiration

I usually hesitate to speak about what I am ruminating about, in terms of new art projects. I feel that the first articulation needs to be visual before the discussion (others’ input?) and expectations freeze the idea into a less malleable form. Nonetheless, I will tell you that last week was pretty exciting for my husband Ben, and also for me, when we together cut the first honeycombs out of frames from his four hives.

Ben is new-ish beekeeper, and it is not so easy to learn. He is learning from a local beekeeper, Dennis Hermann, who has an established family of hives and sells honey & beeswax candles at our local farmer’s market. They have brought a couple of swarms over here, introduced first to hives on loan and then to hives Ben bought. Tragically the first few swarms died — it is horrible to watch the bees struggling out, half dead! Finally last summer, with new hives, the bees stayed and have seemed to prosper. A few weeks ago we both suited up and went over to inspect the hives, and were able to harvest a few frames of honey (now we find it might have been too early in the season! Oh no!) and last week we cut them up.

Lexie Holeman designed the labels, I contributed the ribbon (and yes, as the ribbon was an afterthought we will re-calibrate the labels so the ribbon doesn’t cover the labyrinth) and we proudly took the first 10 boxes over to the New Harmony Coffee House where Ben sells honey from around the world.

Those of you who know my tapestries will remember that bees have populated my work since the early 1980s, so you can imagine what resonance all this has for me. Add to it the dimensions of harvest, cooking, and nurturing that all of this implies and you might understand the satisfactions of having one’s own bees. But, bee architecture….!

It is raining this morning and so I took this picture from the cabin porch, but here are Ben’s hives, set against the edge of our property. The neighboring field is in spring flood (the Wabash river is on the other side of the field). I have been weaving large moths lately but will switch insects in a few weeks and move into hive housing on the loom, I do believe. There, I have said it! let’s hope it is not a jinx.

(the photo of the beekeepers in suits is from this weekend: Ben, our son Will, and Christine)