A lot has happened since last winter, to say the least.

The move down to San Jose turned out to be fatal for our bees, or at least for our ambitions of keeping them. One hive definitely died, the other we think absconded, but they’re not in our apiary anymore. It was incredibly sad and it felt too raw to write about it in the time, especially after the ebullient tone of the last entry.

We have since gotten new bees, and it’s a little easier to talk about now. This time we got a nucleus hive from Randy Oliver by way of Biofuel Oasis up in Berkeley. They have worked out extremely well. So well, in fact, that I’m pretty sure they swarmed last week. From my office window I saw a huge amount of bees flying in a cloud around my neighbors’ big orange tree. I frantically tried to reach them, calling their other neighbors to try to get a hold of them, but couldn’t in time and the bees flew off to somewhere. I wish them well but it is super sad to lose them right as I was getting to know them. When we opened the hive after a 2 week break, there were about half a dozen queen cells in various states of maturity. The first couple we took out but then as it became obvious the hive was otherwise queenless, we left a few of the better looking ones. After those hatch, a cruel battle ensues, sister against sister, the victor of which is rewarded not with a throne but with a long lifetime of servitude as the hive’s new mom. It happened at a good time when we have a lot of drones hanging out around town since it’s warm and it’s spring time and all that. I’m not worried about them long-term; they are a strong AF hive.

Meanwhile, I left a box up at my mom’s place with a few combs and some lemongrass oil in it. I had extremely low expectations for this, which were met and exceeded when my mom called me, all aflutter, to tell me she’d caught a swarm of bees in it. She sent me video and Amy and I were a little incredulous. It looked like a very small amount of hive activity. My mom said, “I’m vouching for these bees, Max. They are honest and hardworking!” I took her word for it and went up there one night the next week to pick them up. After some fumbling about in the dark, Amy and I were able to staple some hardware cloth over the entrance of the hive and bring it back to my car without incident. We continued to have a wait-and-see attitude towards the new bees, refusing even to give their queen a name until we’d seen her or otherwise confirmed her existence and fertility. After letting them establish themselves and get oriented here at the house, we opened up the hive and sure enough there she was, the newest addition to the Steelwood apiary. Since my mom was the one who caught the swarm, we gave her the privilege of naming the queen, within the constraint that her name had to start with D since she was our 4th queen.

My mom decided to name her Dorothea, after notably influential documentary photographer Dorothea Lange, responsible for the most influential and poignant photographs of the Great Depression. Despite not having any way of knowing she’s born in 2020 (though she might be), we put a blue dot on miss Dorothea and now she’s part of the family here.

As for gardening, this year is turning out pretty well so far; maybe a little too well. The pandemic happened at a crucial moment when I had just sprouted a handful of things both for my front and back yards and for gifts. Though I was still able to give my sister the sage plants I’d sprouted and grown into big seedlings for her, I decided I would keep those I’d grown for my immunocompromised mom until the heat dies down. Gardening has been a really wonderful outlet for me during this difficult time when everything seems to be falling apart everywhere. I know I’m really lucky to have that.

In addition to the excess sage and rosemary plants, which I’m sure I’ll figure out a place for over here, I had also sprouted way too many gooseberry plants. I got these seeds from gooseberries that were delivered to the office for weekly fruit delivery, months ago, then separated and dried them. It’s a process, sadly, that I’ve had to do multiple times now, because I lost my original gooseberry genetics. So I had low expectations of these seeds, which then all germinated successfully and immediately started growing aggressively. Now I have 4 giant gooseberry bushes that will (hopefully) yield enough cape gooseberries to satisfy my wife and also maybe make some jam.

I also received some feedback from Amy about last year’s harvest, and I have decided to up my tomato game a little. We’re growing the regular cherry tomatoes we usually have going on this year, as well as some maybe-roma-but-we’re-not-sure tomatoes courtesy of a friend, but we’re also growing black vernissage tomatoes which I’m pretty excited about.