So last week we took off for Aguascalientes, a state about three hours away from the ranch, to buy a "nucleus" of bees (several hundred, or perhaps thousands of bees) plus one queen bee to repopulate the inactive hive.
The trip was brief but stunning. The capital of Aguascalientes is a beautiful, thriving town, worth far more than the thirty-six hours of our flash visit, plus we got to visit the facilities of a state-of-the-art supplier of apiculture supplies, including live bees.
"Aguascalientes," by the way, means Hot Springs, though we didn't devote enough time to find out the origin of the name.
How do you buy a thousand bees, maybe more, a queen bee and bring them all home in a car? Excellent question, one that I pondered on the way to Aguascalientes.
You start by cleaning out the "brood chamber" of your hive. The chamber is a wooden box containing ten removable frames, each with a pressed wax sheet with the familiar hexagonal pattern one associates with bee hives. Plus a lid. (Check out illustration below)
At the bee supplier they replace your empty frames (all beehive components are standard size) with theirs which are teeming with live bees, plus a queen. They replace the lid on the brooding chamber and—presumably—seal it tight so the bees don't escape and begin buzzing around your head while you're driving home.
|A beekeeper loading new frames full of bees|
into the brooding chamber
we brought to Aguascalientes.
But there were no human fatalities or injuries and the new bees are now residing happily, or so it seems, in our third beehive.
Until the hive gets established Félix and Stew have to feed it a half-and-half solution of sugar water daily, using a special plastic feeder.
Unless something goes seriously awry, we expect a bumper crop of honey—fifteen gallons or so—like the one we had two years ago.
Stew spent quite a few pesos at the bee supplier buying fancy gizmos to make the extraction easier. Such investments are sure to push our honey operation finances further down into a bottomless pit of red ink from which it will surely never recover. Remember that Félix keeps any income from the honey business.
Call it an expensive hobby, or a Félix subsidy.
Our vegetable operation on the other is barely alive. We planted dozens of seeds (lettuce, tomatoes, radishes and other greens) and except for a few veteran heads of lettuce and Swiss chard, and two tomato plants we received a friend, the beds are barren and we don't know exactly what went wrong.
It could be we started too early, when the ground was too cold to support germination. Or the seeds were too old. Or overnight temperatures cooler than the seeds could tolerate. Or the most promising answer at the moment: Who knows?
We replanted the beds and also ordered a new batch of seeds from Johnny's Seeds. This time I avoided the age-old gardening error of being swept away by all the glossy pictures of ideal vegetables, and ordering more seeds than we could possibly use.
This problem is equivalent to grocery shopping on a full head and an empty stomach, and getting home to find you bought a kilo of radicchio and a chunk of wormy Croatian cheese for an exotic Alice Waters creation you're never going to make.
We've adjusted the timer and rechecked the drip irrigation hoses, and replanted the old seeds plus some new ones we bought locally. If those don't work, Johnny's seeds are on the way.
Now comes what has to be the worst aspect of gardening—waiting. For the seeds to germinate. For rain, because no amount of artificial irrigation can compete with a good rain. And to find out if, for once, the myriad insects, rabbits and other vegetarian critters lurking nearby will give us a break this year.