When my father died, my mom found a huge fish in the chest freezer that they never ate. It was wrapped in white freezer paper and in my dad’s beautiful script, the date was written, what kind of fish it was, and on what Delaware bay he caught it in. She didn’t have the heart to toss it into the garbage can and have the trash man drive it away to a landfill. It felt like it was part of dad, like an appendage of his, an arm or leg wrapped in the freezer paper. She valued it, as she did her husband and tossing it seemed sacrilegious.
Three years later, when my mom died and we had to clean out the whole house, the chest freezer was included. I was now responsible for dealing with my dad’s fish. I wasn’t tossing it out either. It went into our chest freezer- to wait for a good purpose.
Like Sierra’s birth. It was held at the Reading Birth & Women’s Center in Kenhorst/Reading. I went home with not just a beautiful new baby girl, but also her accompanying placenta. We valued it, as we did her, and it felt sacrilegious to just toss it.
At the same time that we had our first child, we were also putting in our orchard. Twenty some trees of various fruit, to feed our daughter, as well as our son, in the future, help them grow up healthy.
There is a photo of me somewhere standing with my newborn girl in one arm, cradled in my forearm like a football. A baggie sweater hung over my belly that looked like there was still a child inside. My other hand held onto a spindly peach sapling, poised to place into the hole in the ground that Todd had just dug. Alongside the gaping hole on the ground was her placenta and dad’s fish. They would both nourish the peach tree like the placenta had nourished her in utero and my father had nourished me all my childhood.
We chose a peach tree to nourish as opposed to the apple, apricot, cherry, etc trees in the orchard because it was my favorite fruit. My father grew peach trees in my childhood home’s back yard and I have fond memories of helping to harvest and freeze them when they were in season. In fact, I ate so many that day, for every meal and snacks inbetween, that my body broke out in hives from the overdose and I had to go to the doctor for a shot. I had a hard time believing back then, that you could have too much of a good thing.
In the twenty-seven years that Sierra’s yellow peach tree has graced our orchard, it has been mostly a decoration. When the spring comes, it blesses our property with exquisite pink blossoms, along with the apple trees etc. It is breathtaking to behold driving down the shale driveway in the spring. Our fruit trees are the backdrop for the biennial Father’s Day present the kids give Todd – their portrait inside the blossoms. In the winter, the peach tree cradles snow in its twisted branches, looking like an old man’s arms holding up whiteness, and once again, it moves you with its beauty. But its branches do not fill us with nourishing fruit in the summer. Todd only sprays with organic dormant oil spray in the early spring but any fruit that forms, usually turns brown and rots before they ripen. It is mostly an orchard ornament.
Until this summer, when the bees arrived.
Our neighbor, Luke Dolbin, got into bees at the remarkably young age of fifteen. Inspired by a workshop held at Harrisburg’s Farm Show that he attended with his family, he researched his new hobby, ordered the kit, put together the supers with his dad, painted them and mailed away for his bees. His parents bought him a bee suit and a bee hat for his fifteenth birthday present, an unusual gift for an unusual boy.
At that time, he knew little of the Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) and only thought it would be neat to try his hand at beekeeping. Although the more he read, the more YouTube videos he watched, he began to understand how important of a job he had. The knowledge fueled his passion.
Beekeeping today is a challenge. Every area has its sad stories of beekeepers losing their hives, their whole livelihood, to mites, CCD, poison sprayed on nearby crops. We need all the backyard hives we can get and small beekeepers like Luke are incredibly important. But starting out in a new hobby like beekeeping is not without its challenges. Luke’s challenges were ramped up however in only the second week as a beekeeper.
It happened in the middle of the day. The 500-pound black bear ambled out of the woods on Red Mountain where we live and began tearing apart the hive. They are attracted to the larvae, not the honey itself, as most would assume. Luke’s dad, Josh, chased it down the ridge as he fired his pistol. The bear was hardly phased. He ambled away, then sat down on the trail and just looked back as if to dare him. Luke was upset as he put his super/hive back together. Three hours later, as Josh was sitting on the back deck reading about bear prevention, the bear was back! Again, he wrecked the hive! This time Josh chased him long and hard down the ridge. Luke’s new hive had suffered two hits and he lost 3/4’s of his bees.
They quickly learned that an electric wire surrounding the hives is the only thing that will keep a bear away. Since that was not an immediate solution, as this bear would definitely be back and be back soon, Todd and I suggested Luke put the hives inside our llama pasture, inside two high tensile fences. The bear could still get in if he worked hard, but it might be enough to deter him.
That hive of Luke’s two is struggling now, as we’re well into the summer months. Luke isn’t sure if the queen is in there and if she is a good one. The combs are not filled with honey as they should be at this point in the summer production. He is concerned that the hive might not make it through the winter. The bees are probably suffering from PTSD! Ha.
But Todd and I gave Luke some very good news. We told him that our peach trees are so laden with fruit, that three branches on the two trees have broken off. We have never had such amazing and plentiful fruit. And our blueberries are the size of quarters. “It is all because of your bees,” we told Luke and he smiled brightly. He knew, from everything that he had read, how important and necessary bees are to pollination, but until his neighbor informed him of how his bees have actually contributed to our harvest, it was just facts that he had read. It reached home, his bees influence.
Because of Luke’s great success, despite his setback, he is also now interested in growing his own food, starting a garden, putting in a few fruit trees. He believes he will be into this new hobby for his entire life. Now that he understands that he is not only doing a great service for his neighbors, but also the surrounding countryside and the planet, he is far less discouraged.
He hasn’t told many of his buddies at school about his new hobby. Besides bees, he is into sports and runs track. The ones he did share it with just commented, “That’s cool,” not understanding the complexities, challenges, and life lessons that are coming along with keeping bees. Like not giving up despite hardship, despite challenges. Lots of life lessons are being taught from those two wooden hives.
Every two days, Todd and I go out to our peach trees and gently squeeze each peach with our thumb and index finger to see if they are ready for picking. Then we freeze them for winter cobblers like my mom did so many years ago. Under the best tree of our two, dangles an aluminum tag that was placed there twenty-seven years ago. It reads, “Sierra’s tree- Yellow Peach- 1990.” Its peaches are so juicy that liquid runs down your chin when you bite into one and you have to bend over so you don’t drench your shirt with juice. No peach bought in a store can do that. We fill up bowls, colanders, and our stretched-out cotton t-shirts with the golden fruit to carry back to the kitchen. These peaches were nourished with the help of many- Dad, Sierra, the orchard tender- Todd, Luke, and mostly his bees. Tonight, Todd is making a peach/blueberry crumb pie and delivering to Luke and his family. We value the bees and Luke for what he is doing for us all. There is nothing like positive reinforcement to reward good work and giving thanks to keep the dream going.