Archive for the ‘Musings’ Category


Sept. 24, Sept. 20

So we’re getting ready to harvest the honey, which means that last week I went up to the hive one morning before work and reversed the supers, putting the bottom one on top. Then I took the inner cover and insert a bee escape. A picture of of this process is here, which also has some good tips on removing honey supers and extracting honey.

The bees are doing well, starting to wind down on bee production, although they both still have lots of brood.  I’m thinking it may be time to start feeding South again, although they seem to still be bringing in some honey.  Will consult with my more experienced beekeeping friends.

The big news is that we will be featured in a column by my friend John Kass in Thursday’s Tribune.  John’s father kept bees, and so it was a pleasant surprise for him when we first started working together that I had kept bees for a long time myself.

John, his new Legman, a videographer and photographer came by early this morning. I put the bee escape under the second super, although I’m having second thoughts about that…might take it off and let the bees cure it a little more. But it was fun. John brought some yoghurt his mom made, and we ate fresh honey with the yoghurt and some walnuts.  Lots of fun.  And a fun video: chicagotribune.com/beekeeper.

More soon. I’m also adding photos to some old posts, so stroll through and see some more of our visits & visitors.



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Random amusements

Bees make the news a lot these days, probably more than they have since Africanized honey bees first entered the United States in 1990 and every apiphobe’s worst nightmares about bees. (Decent links are here, plus a map and a summary of what they are.) This time, the publicity comes because of Colony Collapse Disorder. It came along just about a year after I subscribed to the American Bee Journal, which is published by beekeeping supplier Dadant.

So, here is an amusing link about CCD, which in turn links to Haagen-Dazs’ http://www.helpthehoneybees.com. It’s at the self-deprecatingly named Treehugger.com.

And here are some beekeeper jokes.


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Bee musings

Keeping bees on a roof has many challenges. My friend Joe helped enormously when he designed and built our excellent, heavy hive stands. (Below) With some chair straps to keep the hives secure, so far they haven’t moved an inch, despite thunderstorms with 70-mile-an-hour gusts. I continue to worry a bit about how well these Slovenian ladies are tolerating the heat. But so far, they seem to do pretty well. The roof is not monstrously hot, as it’s silver rather than black. And although they sometimes hang out outside the hive, largely on South, that seems to be more an issue of perceived overcrowding (you have another whole story, ladies! Use it) rather than overheating. I don’t think the temperatures–it’s gotten close to 90 sometimes here in Chicago already this year–have thrown for a loop yet. And as you can see from the picture, I’ve also given them a water dish designed for dogs that feeds them fresh water as fast as they can drink it. (I put some concrete and rocks in the dish so they won’t drown.)The hive stands

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An unrelated post

My mother sent a short essay about my grandfather, Paul Henry Ziemer, and I think I will share it:

Things my pappy taught me:

My dad taught me that a poll tax was wrong because it kept the poor from voting and because it kept black men and women from voting.

My taught me that segregation was wrong because it ruined the self respect of the children sent to inferior and distant schools. He taught me that institutionalization was wrong because it broke the hearts of mothers, fathers and children. As it turned out I needed to know both those things.

My dad taught me that Siegmund and Sieglinda were the parents of Siegfried. He taught me to love Wagner. He taught me to suspect the German culture and to decry the arrogance that touts a master or a master race.

My dad taught me to make deviled eggs, pork hocks and sauerkraut, and navy bean soup. He taught me to use only cold water for potatoes. He taught me to sweep a floor.

My dad punished us when we left fireflies in a jar overnight without air holes: he taught me that we must be stewards of the living creatures on this earth because God placed us here to watch over the land and its beings.

My dad taught me to dig and plant and weed a garden, to bring in tomatoes to the windowsill before the frost, and to make wild berries into pies.

My dad taught me that Protestants and Catholics argue over faith and works but that since faith presumes works there is no worth in that argument. He taught me that Lutherans call their pastors but that Catholics believe God calls the priest. He taught me that John XXIII prayed the priestly prayer of Christ — “that they may be one” — in the agony of his death.

When my dog died my dad taught me that after awhile you just remember the good times and the pain fades. He told me he knew because his own father had recently died. (He was right about dogs, but wrong, though, about fathers; for me the pain never faded.)

When some of our dog’s puppies died my dad told me about the baby our mom was expecting. He taught me that that baby “will be much more wonderful than puppies.” Again, he was right about the dogs, and he was right about the baby, too.

My dad taught me that sometimes it’s good to keep your head down and take care of business: he shaved his beard off before he interviewed Joe McCarthy in 1951 because he knew that as a former Socialist he would be vulnerable to investigation. He didn’t win the longest beard contest for the Onalaska town centennial, but he did stay off of the blacklist.

My dad taught me that life is darn close to meaningless before your morning coffee.

My dad taught me that when the door opens in a moving car you shouldn’t reach for the handle. He taught me that in Pampa, Texas, in the moving car as the door opened and I was reaching.

My dad taught me never to put in writing what you don’t want others to find out.

My dad taught me that sometimes you have to keep your mouth shut or your typewriter unused, because once upon a time he libeled someone in the morning paper, was sued, and lost.

My dad passed on something he was taught by Henry Maier, a Wisconsin politician who became mayor of Milwaukee. Confronted by Dad about a scandal in the Wisconsin State Senate, Maier said he had no intention of digging into the problems beyond what was already known. When Dad asked him why, Maier replied with one of Dad’s favorite political truisms: “The more you kick shit, the more it stinks.”

My dad taught me what the word “schmuck” means and not to say it.

My dad taught me that there is more to everything than meets the eye, or at least that is true if you read T.S. Eliot.

My dad taught me to organize books according to the Dewey decimal system. He had a list. This proved to him that he was German, I think.

My dad taught me several songs about sheep. He taught me that “The large stars are the sheep. The little stars are the lambs, I guess, and the big round moon is the shepherdess.” Now I am a shepherdess.

My dad taught me to love horses by making me a rocking horse named Rochester out of stove pipes, a mop head, and some old rocking chair rockers.

My dad taught me to express what I learned and knew by taking me to sing “Jesus Loves Me” on Radio Station WKBH, La Crosse.

My dad taught me that you have to go to work “so the Man will give you money.” Also, if you work extra hard, you’ll be “rich and crabby.” He taught me the meaning of overtime and respect for the guild.

My dad tried to teach me to read notes but failed. He taught me that to play the piano and to sing, year after year across a lifetime, is no less wonderful because one will never master either.

My dad taught me another rule of politics and life: “The guy with the gun always wins.” He taught me not to try to hard to catch a man you plan to kill, because the chance is too great you’ll go to jail. As part of that same tale, the story of the burglar who got away, my dad taught me that you should not keep a gun unless you would kill a person if called upon. He decided he would not, so he did not.

My old pappy taught me that in the end we can finally say it: “Thy will be done.” He taught me to revere the burial places and the history of my family. He taught me that you ought to be able to ride your bike to work at midnight in Detroit, Michigan, but if you do you will come close to death. He taught me that if a teacher mistreats your child you go straight to the pastor and you make sure it does not happen again. He taught me to take my library books back and to open a new book carefully so I wouldn’t break the spine. He taught me not to acknowledge a whistle or a wink, to wear gloves and a hat downtown in Chicago, and to always expect a gentleman to walk on the outside of the sidewalk so he can dodge the shit that rains from the sky.

Penny Ziemer Ford
String Prairie, Texas
May 20, 2008


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Me, the bees & the doctor

When we were young, my mother taught several of us at home. We learned to read with a set of phonics records, workbooks and standard Montessori materials. We learned about science with whatever came in front of us. To demonstrate why the sun rose and set, our parents used an orange and a flashlight. We learned about social insects when we saw ants on the sidewalk.

If we needed to learn something more about a subject as we got a little older, we always had a ready way to find out. My mother’s parents, Paul and Margaret Ziemer, both journalists, wrote for encyclopedias, including Compton’s. So we had a copy of Compton’s Precyclopedia for Children. It was there, and in a children’s book on bees–a simple see-and-say reader–that I first read about bees.

One spring, a swarm of bees appeared on a maple tree in front of a neighbor’s house. I don’t remember if I started thinking about keeping bees or then, or if they already fascinated me. I do remember the beekeeper who came to hive the swarm telling us that when the bees were away from their hive, they were even more harmless than usual. In search of a new home, and without one to defend, they put their efforts into looking for a new one, and rarely stung.

Then when I was 10 or 11, I went to the dentist. After the appointment, my father told me I should come with him to meet someone, a doctor who had his offices in the same building as our dentist. Dr. William V. Fitzsimmons was friends with our family doctor, Dr. Gregory White. Dr. Fitzsimmons asked me a few questions, then told me I should read a few bee books, and said if I wanted to, I could help him with his bees. He did help me get set up, and eventually I had two hives on a neighbor’s property. I don’t think I always tended them as well as I should, and once I went to college, I gave up my hives. I’ve always wanted to go back to it, and this past week, I started two hives on the roof of a Chicago restaurant, Uncommon Ground, 1401 W. Devon Ave., whose owners are friends with close friends of mine. Because I’m a writer, and want to keep close track of how the hives do, I decided to write a beekeeping journal. But decided a blog might work just as well. My blog will be about starting hives in a city. But it is dedicated to Dr. Fitzsimmons’ memory.

In my next post, I’ll tell how it went setting up the hives, how they’re doing, and what brought me to this point.


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