Monthly Archives: February 2012

Apis Mellifera

A large cardboard box was sitting on our deck when I came home from work last Friday.  Eyeing it from the car, I could not fathom what might have been delivered.  My wife was already home; she usually carried our deliveries inside.  Why had she left this one exactly where the delivery driver had dumped it? It didn’t add up, I thought, unless it was. . .

“Aha!” I thought. “. . . heavy”

It clicked into place. A week earlier I had called Dadant & Sons to order their beginner beehive kit. The kit would come un-assembled – a box full of wooden slats, boards, nails, all bagged and pre-cut at the beehive shop.  Also included were a smoker, some gloves, a beehive tool, a small instruction booklet and a bee veil.  All that wood had made the package cumbersome for her to move.  So there it sat, like an abandoned orphan on a doorstep, waiting for me to discover and lug it inside.

Such a box can be intimidating when it appears out of nowhere. What formerly had been a casual idea, weightless and without real consequence, had abruptly been given substance and form – a sudden anchor, an albatross, a karma now realized.  Here, finally,  was the first true evidence of a decision I made several months earlier.  Tuck in your pants legs and be ready with the epinephrine: I shall become a beekeeper!

Actually, the wheels had been set into motion about a month earlier when I called to order the colony.  Bees are sold by the pound, I discovered, with packages typically weighing in at three pounds for a standard beginning colony.  “All packages will be ready for pickup on April 17th,” the woman at the Chatham, Va. location informed me.  The colony will be shipped in a screen covered box: many thousands of worker bees, together with a live queen who will travel in a separate chamber.  It will be the workers’ job, once the colony is transferred to the hive, to eat their way through a sugar plug in one end of the queen’s cage. Thus freed, the business of the hive begins.

The box is heavy, the parts are packed loosely with shredded paper, the instructions minimal. A cloying, waxy small rises to my nostrils as I slice into the box.  Wrapped in tissue paper is a special stack of ten rectangular honeycomb foundations with hexagonal patterns pressed into both sides of their surfaces. These will be assembled into ten frames which will hang vertically in the hive.  And from those six-sided patterns will spring everything: egg cases, pupae, capped off stores of honey to feed the colony through the winter.  The very essence of the hive originates in this geometric figure, which is perhaps the most efficient structural pattern known.  Its three-cornered joints minimize material and labor while maximizing space and rigidity.  Geometric ramblings notwithstanding, it is time now to gear up and build this thing. I have a couple months to prepare a spot on the back lot, set concrete blocks in place for the hive to rest upon, get the hive painted and finally, familiarize myself with the basic tasks of bee stewardship. Then in April, the long drive down to Chatham to pick up the colony (perhaps a chance to check out Black Snake Meadery while we are in the area).

I am excited at the prospect. Certainly, the failure rate for new colonies is high.  But with proper care and attention, who knows?  In time, I may earn a new title for myself – bee whisperer.  Stay tuned.


(Apis mellifera is the scientific name for the Western or European honeybee.)


Hello folks –

Welcome to my experimental weblog, Out here in the fields.  If you are of the right age, you’ll know the inspiration for that title.  And who am I to think you might be interested in yet another blog. That shy, brainy kid from high school suddenly having a late-stage mid-life crisis?


Something odd happens when you put your words out for others to read. Suddenly, every word has hooks in it, tethers that stretch into the mist, leading to unseen readers.  Will there be ridicule, apathetic shrugs or a condescending silence?  You are my best ally, even though  I cannot fathom what  you are thinking.  Yet I try.  I stand outside of myself when they are posted, reading my little words again for the first time. This one of the artifacts of creation: of coming upon yourself as a stranger.

We still carry it around inside us: that teenage wasteland that we got through so many years ago.  It’s a common language.  Old classmates speak it fluently, and when we meet on places like Facebook it is the first way we remember each other.   We were edgy, confused, promiscuous, prudent.  We were defiant, scared, wise, excited, cowardly, courageous.  We lived in a world of shifting sand. Of limitless possibility.

Some people like being reminded of this era; some people don’t.

Now comes this blog.  You don’t have to read it, but I’d like you to.  All is in flux here; things will change as I find new bearings, topics, titles, design. But under all this fluff, I am asking the same question everyone else is.  I’m not going to be presumptuous and try to put that question into words. . . the deepest question any of us are capable of ever asking. We ask it with every breath, every act, every thought. Something to ponder.

Stay tuned for content: ideas, reviews, poetry, the working life, flash fiction, philosophy, guest posts, friends, enemies, and occasionally: where to buy good bacon.

We’ll see how it works out.  I aim for an average of one new post a week.  If you have comments or suggestions, I’d just love that.