Bee Prep

I lever the cement block into place with a thunk. It sits securely in the grass, and I stand on top of it for good measure. Beehives can reach upwards of 200 pounds in the fall, so the weight of one human offers some indication of how steady the block will be under a heavy hive.

I am completely focused on my task. I have been working on it for hours. I want it to be just right before my bees arrive at the end of the week.

Mary calls out to me periodically.

“I’m planting the eggplant and peppers!” she informs me.

Later, “I’m planting the arugula and scallions!”

Later still – “Do you mind if I plant these cosmos you bought by the tomatoes?”

Each is an invitation to participate. Each is a small hook for my attention. But I don’t dare let myself get distracted. As my energy flags, I know if I stop I won’t be able to return. If I don’t stay on task now, the task will not be done today.

What am I doing? I am leveling the supports for my three beehives.

Each hive must be level side to side. I give my bees foundationless frames to draw comb in. Without a foundation sheet as guide, they draw comb based on gravity. If my hive is cockeyed, their comb will be a mess – from the beekeeper’s desire for removable frames perspective, not from the bee’s perspective.

I am also leveling the hives from front to back. The back needs to be just a bit higher than the front. Over the winter, the slightly higher back combined with a properly positioned inner cover allows moisture to escape from the hive efficiently, keeping my bees dry. Bees can make their own heat in the winter, they can withstand temperatures below 0 degrees Fahrenheit. But. Bees wet from hive condensation cannot stay warm and will freeze into a giant, bee-flavored icicle.

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Stella approves of my work! Shown with just the bottom board and outer cover of each hive.

I started the task full of determination to get the supports just so, to have them be precisely level, precisely correct. That has lasted until halfway through the second hive. As my energy flags, so does my level of caring. I go from a desire and drive for excellence, to… well… good enough. Mostly level. Adequate.

The unusual thing, for me, is that brief period of expecting excellence, of demanding precision and accuracy from myself. I haven’t felt that in a long time. Years. My current life, my post-mTBI life, is about “good enough”. Good enough, actually, is the high point of what I expect. Adequate. Not a complete mess. Acceptable. These are the watchwords I live my life by.

Now, briefly, I brush against my old self, my old drive for excellence. Briefly, I live in a world where I can make exactly what I want happen. It is a foreign feeling, but also a deeply familiar one. I guess I haven’t lost that part of myself. I had thought it was gone. No, clearly it is just sleeping. Waiting until I have enough energy to live that life again.

But today, now – the only reason I am able to set up my bee hive supports at all is because of accommodations I have made for my limitations. So many accommodations. The biggest one is stretching out a task over days, weeks.

I can’t life the cement blocks – too heavy. I mean, physically I can lift them, but that is a quick trip to a painful headache that will last for days and the immediate fogging of my mind. So, I can’t pick them up. I used a cardboard box as a sled to drag them to the site a few weeks ago. A few days later, I found the energy to roll them, side over side, from where I offloaded them. It was damn slow, but it let me do the task without help. And that, my friends, is totally worth the tediousness of it all.

A week ago, I placed them in what I considered their final positions. Over the last handful of days, Mary and I have discussed their final location. This morning, I moved one of the hives to the west to reduce the chance of any interference with gardening. And that left only one task – leveling the hives – to do this afternoon.

One small job at a time, leading me to success.

It has taken me a long time to get comfortable with the small job mentality. It is not my natural track. My natural, or at least years-developed behavior, was to focus, push, and get a task done as quickly and efficiently as possible. Post mTBI, that wasn’t possible. Doing anything in one go wasn’t possible. Efficiency wasn’t possible. No, that was when breaking everything into small jobs became what worked.

The biggest, most difficult part of the change was accepting my limitations, accepting that my abilities had changed. Since I have accepted the reality that if I want to get anything done, it needs to be in little bits, I have developed the patience to let things unfold as they will. To see the long arch of a project, to accept that something I might have done over a weekend may now take me months. If I can do the task at all. It just is.

Once I accepted that, it became easier to see each step towards completion of a project as worthy of pride. Easier to celebrate my accomplishments instead of blowing them off as “nothing”. Cuz, friends, anything I spend my energy on now might be small, but it isn’t nothing.

I find satisfaction, now, in going out to the garage and pounding one hive body box together. Even though there are five to do, it’s fine if I just do the one. Sometimes I can do a second one, sometimes I can’t. I let my deeper self tell me in the moment what is best. I know that tomorrow, or maybe next week, I’ll come back again and construct another box for the bees. And another.

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These boxes eventually got built and painted, as I had hoped. The box on the bottom left is a deep hive body that I won’t be using because of it’s excessive weight when full.

I still get things done. Just in smaller bits, on a stretched out timeline. I think my small job self-management is here to stay. As I improve, what I expect will change is the size of my “bits”. As my energy increases, the amount of a task I can do increases. For example, six months ago, I would have only been able to level one of my hives on a good day. Now, today, I managed all three. It was a bit too much, a stretch, but it happened.

Beekeeping lends itself to small jobs. Each colony is an independent universe. Three or four boxes make up the hive. In each box, eight removable frames holds the honey, pollen, and brood. Bees only need to be visited a few times a month, and none at all over the winter. I’ve found it to be a good hobby for someone like me who experiences chronic fatigue. I can do as much or as little as I want. Have as many hives or as few as I want. And put together the equipment a bit at a time, on my schedule, when I have the energy.

Plus the bees. Wow, the bees. They are fascinating creatures. They are fun to watch, adaptable, and unpredictable enough that I will be entertained for years to come.

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My colony last year, busy on a nice day in July. It died over the winter, unfortunately. I hope this year’s colonies make it through.

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