January 2010


I adopted our coon dog, Buck, out of a bar two weeks after Honeydew and I were married, knowing that I would want a doggie to talk to while Honeydew was busy pollinating.  I named Buck after Buchanan County, Virginia, the place where I went to law school – when I arrived in Buchanan County, the FBI had just finished up Operation Coon Dog, as a result of some of the townsfolk taking government money earmarked for rebuilding the town, which had been ravaged by floods, and instead purchasing ATVs, gun racks, trips to Myrtle Beach, and coon dogs.  Honeydew was okay with Buck’s name because he loves “Act Naturally,” by Buck Owens.  Honeydew’s thoughts on my adopting a dog out of a bar on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, where we happen to live, were a different story.  But you can see who won that skirmish.

Buck proved to be a major asset while we were butchering elk:

And as you can see from my postings, Buck and I are sympatico and where I go, he goes, whether that is to my office 70 miles from here, to Denver to see the Broncos play, or to the back 40 for a little cross country skiing.  I love Buck, though it was completely unreasonable of me to adopt him considering how much I’ve been gone from World Headquarters this past year.

Honeydew likes Buck, but as he says, “that dog has so much love for me that I don’t even need to love him back.”  So I did not expect my reasonable, sensible, and no-nonsense husband to arrive in the land of pollination, where he generally works 7 days a week, and decide to get another dawg.  Especially not a puppy-dawg.

But our dear friends had puppies from their golden retriever and black Gentleman’s lab, and those puppies were darling, and needed a home, and the next thing I knew, Honeydew had brought one of them one back to the Brokeback Shack for good.  We named him Roy Rogers.  I haven’t met him yet, but so far it is long distance love …

That’s the new paint job on the 1 ton, above.

The image quality of these puppy love photos is not so great, but we are not complaining, because Honeydew, Mr. I Don’t Believe In The Internets, broke down and got a Blackberry so that we could stay in better touch while he is pollinating.  These pictures are all from his phone.  So, my love got a new phone … and a new haircut … what do y’all say to the idea of him getting some new, non-Jeff-Gordon sunglasses?

I need your help.  So does he!

2010.  Glacier County Honey Co. All Rights Reserved.

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A week or so ago, I wrote about the start of the year for the Glacier County Honey Company – Honeydew and I traveled to California to drop off the 2 ton truck and to check on the bees, which we had shipped down to California in October.  With us, we brought our last 32 hives of bees.

The weather near Babb, Montana, is something I obsess over (you can’t escape your raising) and there are few maxims.  In fact, I would say there are just three: always windy, sunny in February, and Utopia-esque in July.  But this past year, as June melted into July, the temperatures did not soar and the rain did not abate.  Generally, rain does not fall during the last two weeks of July, which is why Honeydew and I (or to be more accurate: my mom and I) didn’t even have a backup plan for our outdoor wedding ceremony.  It rained nearly every day, sometimes several times a day.

We worried about our honey crop.  Bees are like us, they stay home in their hive and clean when it rains.  They don’t go out and pollinate and visit nectar sources and make honey.  They vacuum.

Reports from all over the country told us that beekeepers everywhere were worried about their crops … the bees simply weren’t making honey, the rain was too frequent, the temperatures too cool.  We worried some more.  In an average year, our bees make about 100 pounds of honey per colony.  We have about 1,000 hives, so you can see that a good part of our livelihood depends wholly on whether our bees go out and make Glacier County Honey.  But what might not be so obvious is that the other part of our livelihood, almond pollination in California, is also impacted by the summer’s honey crop.

The healthier the hive, the more honey produced – honey production is perhaps the easiest the way for a beekeeper to judge what shape his bees are in.  After all, the bees make honey to feed themselves with, and they store up for winter.  A good beekeeper gives the bees just a little more room than they need to make honey so the bees will make extra – it is that extra honey that we pull off the hives and harvest for your enjoyment.  So, if a hive isn’t taking care of its present and future need for food, then you know there’s a problem.  When you’re a commercial beekeeper involved in the pollination of California almonds and there’s a problem with your hive during honey flow, you worry even more.

Especially with the recent fall in almond pollination prices, you can’t take less-than-stellar-bees down to California and expect any almond orchard owner to contract for your pollination services.  And nor should you.  Unethical beekeepers who charge almond growers full price for a less-than-full colony of bees, whether diseased or not, hurt everyone in the industry by their actions.  The grower begins to distrust the beekeeper when she doesn’t get the pollination she’s expecting to get – a colony with a 4 frame average simply can’t pollinate to the extent of an 8 frame average.  The numbers don’t add up.  So the grower doesn’t harvest as many almonds as she was expecting, and doesn’t make as much money, and her daughters are mad because she won’t buy them overpriced, skanky clothes from Abercrombie & Fitch.  So then she gets mad – because teenage girls make everyone mad.  I know.  I was an especially bad one.

At any rate, the grower figures, and who can blame her, that she won’t pay as much the next year for pollination since she’s clearly not getting the numbers of bees she’s paying for.  And all the ethical beekeepers who’ve spent the entire year obsessing over the health of their colonies, taking care of them by whatever means they deem appropriate (some commercial beekeepers feed their bees, some medicate their bees with various treatments, and some probably play Mozart for their bees in an effort to further their health – beekeepers are an odd bunch, and highly opinionated about Best Beekeeping Practices), all the while thinking of their frame averages and pollination prices, to say nothing of all the backbreaking work that goes into beekeeping, those beekeepers are hurt when the price falls because some other beekeeper, whether unethical, unlucky, or simply lazy, lied to the almond grower about the health of his hives.

Whew.  Stepping down from soapbox.

At any rate, the reason that those 32 hives wouldn’t fit on the last flat bed is because after the Summer of No Summer, we experienced crazy July-like temperatures in September!  It made for miserable bow hunting, but fabulous honey flow!  In fact, some of our colonies made most of their honey after we had quit extracting for the season.  And so, when the time came to round them up and ship them to California, they weighed a heckuva lot more than we were expecting. So much more that our darling truck driver couldn’t take them all, for fear of being grossly overweight on the scales.  So that is why Honeydew and I were hauling the last of our lovely ladies with us the first week of December.

When you haul bees long distances, you throw nets over their hives to encourage them to stay inside until they reach their final destination.  While Honeydew was netting them, I had an urge to stand in front of them and give them the fasten-your-seat-belts, in-the-event-of-an-emergency-the-closest-exit-may-be-behind-you spiel.  But it was dumping snow, so I stayed in the warm, cozy two ton and let him do the work without my instructions.

Bees are very fastidious critters, and they do not defoul their homes by urinating, defecating, or presumably, passing gas, indoors.  I think this last bee rule is one that certain male members of my own household should consider.  At any rate, by the time we arrived in California, 2 1/2 days after we left Montana, those bees were all doing the Pee Dance.  They wanted OUT of the hives and the nets and RIGHT NOW so they could engage in a Cleansing Flight.  Yes, that is an actual beekeeping term.  So when we arrived at the holding yard they would be placed in, I again elected to stay in the comfy truck and let Honeydew do the dirty work of un-netting them.  He did this without veil or bee suit.  Yes, I married a crazy person.

Here are some shots I took at the holding yard:

Honeydew moving the bees off the truck.

Scurrying out of a hive and checking out their temporary home in Northern California.

Strangely, though it was the first week of December, the manzanilla was in bloom.

Checking the hive numbers.

These gals look fat and happy.  Honeydew likes that in his women.

Isn’t the view from this holding yard gorgeous?

Here’s one more for you, just because I like this shot:

Right now, Honeydew is getting ready to move these bees out of their holding yards (we have several) and into the almond orchards … more on that later.

2010.  Glacier County Honey Co. All Rights Reserved.

I have been married to Honeydew for six months.  I am almost thirty years old.

My parents have been married for thirty-four years, meaning they have been together longer than they have been without one another.  They met during the weddin’ festivities of Bull & Betsy Davis – my dad’s law school roommate married my mom’s undergrad roommate.  To say the two families were, and are, close would be an understatement.  My mom stood at Betsy’s near right on the day she was married; had my mom had non-family attendants, Betsy would have stood at hers; I stood at Betsy’s daughter’s right; Betsy’s daughter stood at mine.

On my parents’ honeymoon, they traveled to the very exotic locales of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and Williamsburg, Virginia.  My mama says that their first purchase as a married couple were the brass candlesticks at the center of this picture:

This week, the candlesticks made their maiden voyage across the county, via USPS, and arrived safely in my PO Box in actual-Babb.  Mom sent them to me to help Glacier County Honey Company get ready for its first appearance in the Made in Montana Fair – I’m going to display my beeswax candles in them at the Fair.  And hopefully get 10,000 orders and never wash another dish.  Yeah, right.

I set them up tonight, in our west facing windows, and even unpolished, they simply glowed in the sunset.  And so I thought about my parents, these people I know everything and nothing about.  Tried to picture them, at 22 and 27, picking out a pair of brass candlesticks together.  I can’t, of course.  For many of us, including me, our parents’ lives begin the moment we , or perhaps our eldest siblings, are born, and though we know our parents presumably flunked exams, flipped pick ups, and failed to floss and moisturize prior to our births, those lives before we are born are hard to comprehend.

I thought about the decisions made, big and small, over the last thirty-four years, that have brought all of us, mama, daddy, Brother Dear, Honeydew, and me, to sharing this roof we call Hillhouse.  What would my mom have said had some voice from the future murmured, as she tried to decide between brass candlesticks and pewter candlesticks, surrounded by people costumed as though they were living in 18th century Virginia, you will have a clumsy and willful daughter who will one day become a candlemaker … in Montana.

2010.  Glacier County Honey Co. All Rights Reserved.

Don’t worry, they’re just glitter tattoos!  They make me think of my friend Amy E, who glitters with positive energy. I’m trying to think of a justification for ordering these …

http://www.stumpsspirit.com/spirit/Glitter-Bee-Funtoo.cfm

Today, I learned to shoot my new pistol.

I also learned that I am cross-eyed-dominant – say that out loud and laugh at me!  Cross-eyed-dominance (I like hyphenating it, I doubt this is how it is actually written) means that I shoot with my right hand but sight with my left eye.  No big deal when shooting a pistol, as you are standing behind the pistol and you can shoot with either eye or both eyes.  But it is a big deal with a rifle, where you are sighting down the barrel with one eye closed.

This cross-eyed-dominance is apparently the reason I had such a tough time with Honeydew’s rifles this past fall, and, as Brother Dear reminded me on the phone this afternoon,  it is also the reason I never got the hang of shooting when we were kids.  He and Howard would make soooo much fun of the fact that I couldn’t hit a target.  Being the big sister, I was obviously better than them (in every way, and at everything) so I didn’t put up with their treatment.  I stomped up to my room to reread the States! series books in their entirety.  (Remember those?  Montana!  Alaska!  Texas! California!  Oh, they were a saucy read for a twelve year old.)  As  a result, I never got into guns, despite the fact that I love practically every other outdoor sport on the planet.

I’ve been going huntin’ with Honeydew despite this cross-eyed-dominance, though I’ve never pulled the trigger because I knew I couldn’t see the elk well enough to ethically shoot.  I never understood why until today, though.  Doesn’t really matter to me if I ever figure out the cross-eyed-dominance-with-a-rifle.  Hunting is like hiking, only quieter.  I’m always in if the option is going outside.  And writing that sentence makes July seem very far away.

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Shout out: I took a private firearms safety/concealed weapons permit class from certified gunsmith & firearms instructor Ed Gierbolini.  If you’re in the Cut Bank area, I highly recommend him and his wife.  I arrived knowing nada about my pistol and left quite competent, and more importantly, confident in my operation of it.  Firearms safety is nothing to mess around with.  Neither is your personal safety.  His number is 406.873.4872.

2010.  Glacier County Honey Co. All Rights Reserved.

Not long before we officially launched the Glacier County Honey Company, Honeydew announced he had bought me a wedding present.  I like presents, so this news was okay by me, except that he had already bought me quite a lovely gift to wear on our wedding day:

something new: custom made cowboy boots, with my new monogram

Of course, the boots weren’t finished yet – three months before the wedding (and in fact, three days before the wedding) they were still being held hostage by their very eccentric maker, but that is a fairly hilarious story for another blog post.

I pondered this gift.  Honeydew usually gives me hunting gear, despite the fact that I’ve yet to put lead, steel, or any other metal projected at high speeds into a living critter.  But surely he was not giving me anything printed in Mossy Oak as a wedding gift? The symbolism of wanting not to be seen marrying someone as obviously whacked as I am was not lost on me.

Perhaps it was jewelry.  I decided it had to be.  Clearly one of my Belles down South had sent Honeydew an e-mail about traditional Southern weddin’ gifts … such as canary yellow diamonds, Mikimoto pearls, and emeralds from Mt. St. Helens.  My imagination ran wild, despite the fact that I knew exactly what was in our not-yet-combined checking accounts.  And that amount was not only not sufficient for entre into Harry Winston, but clearly earmarked for the purchase of our bee biz.  And with it our livelihood.

Honeydew was, thank God, blissfully unaware of the Gulfstream V my imagination had boarded, and came right out with it.  He announced gleefully, “I bought a 1995 GMC Topkick from the Smoots!”

A 1995 GMC Topkick?  That sounded charmingly retro.  I pictured a baby blue convertible … and us perched on the cracked vinyl bench seat, top dropped, heading into a cottony pink dawn on the Going-to-the-Sun Road.

I paused.

“You know, a truck!”

I paused.

Did he mean a shiny new, lodgepole pine green Chevy 4 x 4, extended bed, extended cab, with sunroof, XM radio, and buttery leather upholstery?

He saw by the look on my face that I did not yet know that a 1995 GMC Topkick is not just any ole pick-em-up truck, but in fact a 2-ton-extended-flat-bed-truck.  A truck.  He explained: the kind that has six tires and you register with the DOT and then acquire a CDL to lawfully drive kind of truck.

Ah.  Gotcha.

“We’ll be able to haul twice as many bees with it!”  The look on his face was not unlike the look on my brothers’ faces when we came downstairs one fine Christmas morning to find that Santa had clearly gotten into the cold duck while shopping and had given us a go-cart, an extravagant gift the likes of which we’d never had before and would never see again.  Especially not after I ran over Brother Dear with it.  Twice.

At any rate.  Honeydew was kidding about the 2 ton being a wedding gift (hello, that would take away its depreciable tax status), but he wasn’t kidding about having bought one from the Smoots, our good friends who are, as I call them affectionately, “Real Commercial Beekeepers.”  They run a fantastic operation near Great Falls, Montana, and they took Honeydew in off the streets when he was a punk upstart beekeeper and gave him a job scraping frames.  I’m convinced such grunt work made him into the man he is today.  Recently, the Smoots helped me bottle honey to get my website off the ground, and even better, they all have fantastic wives who make going to a beekeeping convention sixteen times more fun than it would otherwise be.

But I digress.  We’ve been driving around in our 2 ton advertising Smoot Honey for almost a year now, and while we do love the Smoots, it was time to get our own information painted on the doors.  Which happened today:

I feel like we just pressed our hands into a cement star!

2010.  Glacier County Honey Co. All Rights Reserved.

Check out these Pabst Blue Ribbon Cuff Links … the only jewelry appropriate for all the men in my life!  Except for my Dad.  He’s more of an Alaskan Amber guy.

Random thought: y’all reckon the gal who makes these gets to deduct all (or at least part) of her PBR drinking, as she uses the bottle caps in her line of work?  Hmmm.  Smart cookie.

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