Friday, April 2, 2010

Going to see a barber about some bees.

I attended my second beekeepers meeting last week and I have to say, it was much more informative than the first meeting. There was a guest speaker, a 'retired' professional from the Ontario Beekeeper's Association who was extremely informative and was a woman. Maybe not that big of a deal on it's own, or at least it shouldn't be, but you have to realize that this group that meets every month is comprised mostly of men ,over the age of 60. So to have a female speaker, my age no less, was a delight and a little less intimidating.

She spoke about preparing the hive for spring. Bees need food and pollen. Two things that can be in short supply this time of year. An extra supply of feed in the form or sugar water can help see the hive through a wishy washy spring and a pollen patty, a mixture of mostly sugar, water and pollen will give the bees a decent food source while they wait for flowers to reappear after their long winter hiatus.

She also spoke about common health problems a hive can encounter and the less than obvious predators who are a constant threat to any hive. I learned that the threat of infestation of parasites is constant and that I will have to be diligent on checking the hive throughout the spring and summer to be sure the hive remains healthy.

It was a plethora of information, I scribbled lots of notes in my beekeeping journal and am glad I attended. I'm equally as happy to have my trusty beekeeping reference book and a vast source of tips readily available at my fingertips, on the information highway, because there sure is a lot to learn about raising bees.

It was all good, yet the highlight of my night wasn't just the 'dirt under my fingernails' kind of  information I received. The coffee break proved to be just as interesting as the presentation. Instead of twiddling my thumbs and shyly smiling, as everyone mingled with beekeeping friends that they hadn't seen in a few months, I was drawn into a conversation with the gentleman sitting beside me. He started by telling me that he had been sitting all day testing for his driver's license for the second time and he wasn't really enjoying spending more time on his rear end that evening. He advised me that he was eighty-three and before I knew it, I had learned quite a bit about his life. 
He grew up in Italy, where his father, a meticulous tailor by trade, raised bees. One day his school friend came by to show off a new bicycle. He was quite envious of his friend's new bike and quickly turned to his father and asked for a bicycle. His father promptly turned his gaze  to the beehives in the distance and told him, if he wanted a bicycle he could pick any hive he wanted but he would have to care for it, raise the bees and harvest the honey himself and then any profits he made from the sale of the honey could be used for purchasing a bicycle. And so began his life of beekeeping. 

He told me stories of Italy during the Second World War and how the honey helped his family survive. A pound of honey would be traded for a pound of cheese. Money was useless during those times. He chuckled when he told me how the Germans would open the hives and help themselves to the honey inside, only to receive many stings to the hands. Unfortunately, they never replaced the covers and the colonies would not survive the winter. The war, he told me, changed everything, including his dreams for university.

Eventually, many years later, he came to Canada. He had become a barber, a stylist I believe is the word he used! He told me how he bought an existing business and built it up in less than a year, with profits far succeeding the previous owner. His business was in the heart of downtown Toronto and he had many a celebrity enter his door, especially with clientele from the theatre district. He told me could give a hair cut that would look the same a month later. "Very important for the stage", he told me. I was even more astonished when he told me former Prime Minister Lester Pearson also visited his shop. As he spoke, I determined that he had the same work ethic as his father. He took great pride in his work, and would chastise any of his staff who rushed through a haircut. For him, it was never about the time it took to do the job, it was about doing the job right. Something he said, "is certainly missing today". After many years, the lease was not renewed, the location itself is today considered prime real estate in Toronto and I'm sure the building was vacated in order to be sold. 

He moved to the country and with, I'm sure the same craftmanship he learned from his father and that he used in his own business, he began raising bees again. He built all of his own hives, queen extruders, anything that was required, which by this point, didn't surprise me. He recounted how he would share honey with all of his neighbours and has even made honey wine. "It lasted one night" he said laughing, his neighbours and friends thought it was the best wine they had ever tasted. A few years ago he gave most of his hives to a friend who had helped him a lot through the years and now has only two hives remaining. Only two, I thought to myself! I'm struggling to get one afloat. He finished the break by looking me straight in the eye and with a pointed finger, said, "And that's how I got to be here!"

I replayed his stories over and over in my head, all the way home, not wanting to forget a single part of it. It was a unique story, the story behind an experienced beekeeper. How he learned to raise bees, how he came to be at the meeting that night, to share with me, his life through bees. I realized halfway through our talk that before meeting him, I had never met anyone who lived in Europe through the second world war. It was on odd feeling to realize this, yet to hear an account first hand, also made me feel fortunate. This spring, as I walk out to my hive for the first time, I will carry his stories with me and know that I can do this, in my little piece of countryside, without war, without deprivation, or loss of dignity, I can and will do this. I will raise bees. I thank him for that; I only wish I got his name.

Be well friends,


~from my front porch in the mountains~ said...

What a wonderful story. Yours and His!!

I think you were meant to be there at the meeting to sit with him...and learn much more than beekeeping.

I am overwhelmed and I wasn't even there!

Years from now, Andrea, when we are two old woman, I will be visiting you. And while you tend to your bees, I will watch.

And I will remind you of the elderly man from Italy who gave you the confidence to become a beekeeper!

Then we will wonder if his hives are still thriving all these years later, as they were passed down.
As we drink honey wine!

You are going to be a wonderful Beekeeper :)

xo, misha

Flat Creek Farm said...

What an amazing story. I'll bet you had no idea what was in store for you that evening :) Truly some priceless memories, and I'm sure they will fuel the fire for beekeeping for a very long time. Thanks for sharing this gem of a gentleman with us. I love following your beekeeping journey! -Tammy

Deb said...

What a wonderful meeting! He must have known you needed his words.

Mary, Windy Meadows Farm said...

Isn't is amazing how we sometimes meet people, and it seems as if we've known them forever? We can just sit and talk and's a rare experience. I thought of you as I set up my cold frames yesterday...onions, carrots, lettuce and radishes. If you do set up yours, lay a screen over them during the day until the plants get growing. Otherwise, the cats & kittens like to think they're a litterbox...I learned the hard way!

Wren said...

Sounds like a wonderful evening. Amazing where the journey of beekeeping can take you..

Maura @ Kisiwa Creek Photography said...

Andrea what a wonderful story! I LOVE meeting people like that gentleman...we can learn so much from them. We have a colony of bee's living in our corncrib walls and last winter Keith tore open the wall to see if they were still there. They were! And they were alive and moving around! We did call a fellow who had bee's to see if he'd like them ...but he was going to charge us so we figured we'd just keep them ourselves. So...they are still in the corncrib and will remain there until we figure out what to do with them. Thanks for this wonderful post...I would have really liked this gentleman too. I hope you get the chance to see him again. Take care Maura