Monday, May 28, 2012

Bee Keeping

Hello everyone --

I have decided that since I am once again in Finland, and it is once again (almost) summer, that I should make an attempt at reviving this blog.  Plus, since I'm currently an indentured serv --  worker -- on an organice honey farm in Finland, there should be plenty to write about.  For whatever reason, as Im going about my daily work, sanding 2 x 4s and putting up bear fences, beautifully crafted sentences always flow freely in and out of mind, and then of course the minute I sit down to write I have trouble putting anything more than four words together.  But Ill do my best.  And also please pardon the lack of apostrophes.  I dont really know where they are on this computer, as they have been replaced by the "ä" so important to Finnish words like "nähdään", which means "see you".

I live with a Finnish family.  Or actually I live in a little cottage by the lake with a sauna next to it.  I cant lock the door, and on the first night I was afraid a lumbering brown bear might try to poke his head in to investigate or that one of the neighbors might steal my socks when I was sleeping, but the only problem Ive had so far was a wasp that would come in every day around 6am looking for a place to put its new nest.  I dont like killing anything but in this case it was unavoidable.  As Ari said, the father of the family and guy I basically work for, "Life is cruel".

But life isnt really all that cruel out here on this beautiful farm.  Its just tons of hard work.  Ive never seen anyone work harder than Ari and Marja do.  Ari more or less works continuously from 10am to 9pm every night.  But they dont really consider it work.  The just consider it "things that need to get done".  And when you have about 800 bee colonies there are always things that need to get done, like the bear fences weve been putting up since i got here.

Apparently there are brown bears in central finland.  I always thought bears in Finland were only in the east next to Russia and and the north, but four brown bears have been terrorizing Aris beehives for the past few weeks, the first bear problems in this area since the mid 90s.  It doesnt sound like a huge deal losing a bee colony (which basically looks like a small filing cabinet except filled with a thousand little insects that desperately want to sting you in the throat), but Ari calculates that the loss of each colony costs him about 600 euros.  And the government, bless its Finnish heart, compensates bee farmers 300 euros, but it can still be a very substantial loss.  Hence, the fences. 

The reason I used "throat" as the part of the body that bees desperately want to sting you in is because on my first day here I got stung in the throat.  But it was actually (sort of) my fault, as I was standing directly in front of the flight path for the bees to get back to their colony and I wasnt wearing any kind of protective gear.  But I havent been stung since, and Ive come to learn a lot about bees, which has been one of the best parts.  Here are a few things Ive learned:

1) Bees will never sting you just to sting you.  The only sting you when you make them mad or when they panic.  One thing you can do to make them REALLY mad is try to take their honey, since you are essentially stealing their food.  One time during honey harvesting Motters, a racist Latvian kid whos been working here on and off for the last five years, got stung in the face twenty times when a nail in the box he was carrying ripped a hole in his suit.  Twenty times.  Apparently your body gets somewhat used to it after you get stung enough, but I dont think it could ever get used to that kind of attack.

2) All worker bees are female.  Plus the queen, of course, is female.  So where are the males and what do they do?  Well, the males are called "drones" and they do nothing.  They sit around and eat until theyre grown up, and then they go off in search of a queen to impregnate.  If they find one and mate, they die.  If they dont find one and dont mate, the eventually die.

3) The queen is an interesting character.  The only difference between a queen and a regular bee is her diet.  A few days after theyre born most bees stop receiving proteins and become workers.  But the queen keeps receiving proteins and become bigger and more prominent.  I always thought the queens just kind of sat there in one of the cells of the honey comb, but this is not the case.  Shes always walking around looking busy, because if she doesnt the workers start to think shes sick or that somethings wrong.  She must keep up apprearances.  Also, whereas the workers die off every year, she can live for up to five years.  Imagine if all your acquaintances died every year and were replaced by a new crop, for lack of a better word, the following year.  The queen must be emotionally tough.

But enough about bees for now.  I also feed the chickens every morning, for example, and I catch the mother hen eyeing me with undisguised loathing every time I come into the coop and take the one egg she layes (though yesterday she laid two).

It has been an interesting few days here on the farm and Im excited to see what comes next.  The sun is setting sometime after 10pm i think and it never gets fully dark.  At 11pm you could easily sit outside and read the newspaper.

I hope all of your are well (and by "all of you" i mean the two or three or zero) who have read this far, and enjoying your springs.  More to come soon.


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