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Sunday, January 02, 2005

A bee in my bonnet

After 13 years of wedded bliss (translation: 'putting up with me'), Zahava has learned to recognize the onset of one of my obsessions. They don't occur very often, but once in a while some kind of crazy project or wild idea will completely hijack my imagination and I'll be powerless to think about much else. I’ve been told that I may have inherited this unattractive personality trait from my father.

In most cases my fascination with said idea or project fades with the passage of time, or I simply realize (with some gentle arm-twisting from my wise and lovely wife) that the undertaking is just not practical to pursue.

However, over the years there have been a few isolated cases where an idea has burned in my head like a fever, and no amount of common sense or gentle prodding from Zahava has been able to convince me to put it aside. I’m now fairly certain that I’m firmly in the grips of such an obsession.

The last time I got an itch this intense I ended up joining a couple of friends in a neighborhood winemaking cooperative. Every fall we would have 3 or 4 tons of wine grapes (different varietals each time, such as Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet, Zinfendel, etc.) trucked in from California, and we would work together for months to press, rack, age and bottle some of the most wonderful wines I have ever tasted. Not only do I miss the special people with whom I satisfied this particular urge, but my dwindling cellar from this era will soon require me to rely exclusively on [shudder] store-bought wine again! >:~p

Anyway… while we were still living in Connecticut I became interested in the topic of honey. It began when a friend told us that a sure-fire way to treat Zahava’s spring allergies was to begin in late winter with a daily tablespoon of local honey. The rationale being that local honey contains pollen from most of the local flora, so a daily dose of it would be like having an allergist administer desensitization shots.

One of the farms near our house happened to carry fresh raw honey from a local apiary, and sure enough – come spring, after having a daily tablspoon of the local honey, Zahava’s allergies barely caused a sniffle! How often is the cure a simple (and tasty) as that?

However, while talking with the owner of the local farm about their honey source, he mentioned to me that there were many people in the immediate area who kept a beehive or two in their backyard for their own needs and to be able to give gifts of fresh honey to friends.

I drove home from that encounter with the beginnings of the obsession already starting to take hold. I immediately searched the Internet on the topic, and found more information than I could hope to absorb in a lifetime (apparently beekeepers are a chatty lot). However, by cross-referencing some of the books that appeared in many of the bibliographies / recommended reading lists, I noticed a few common titles that seemed to have gained wide acceptance among those involved in this ancient hobby.

I selected one or two of these books and purchased them from an online used bookstore. I was fairly certain that once I’d read the books I would be deterred by the complexity of the task and/or the expense of getting into beekeeping. To my surprise, all the sources stressed exactly the opposite.  They insisted that not only is beekeeping less demanding than keeping a dog, but the set-up costs and commitment of time is really quite minimal.

I gently broached the subject with Zahava and she was quickly able to come up with three very sound reasons why it would be impractical for me to pursue this particular interest:

1.  We lived in a suburban, rather than rural setting (translation: it was bound to piss off the neighbors)

2.  We didn’t have enough room in our backyard for even one hive (I have since read about a well-known New York publisher who keeps a hive on his upper east side apartment balcony).

3.  Beekeeping is a fairly long-term commitment, and our short-term plans included moving to Israel.

However, once we got to Israel, several random events conspired to re-ignite my interest in the topic. First we went on a family trip up to the Golan Heights, and along the way I spotted dozens of beehives in fields and near homes along the road. On another family outing to Givat HaTurmusim we noticed another group of hives near the trail leading up the hill we were about to climb.

The final spark that finally allowed this smoldering interest to reemerge into a full-fledged obsession was a chance encounter with a shop owner near Jerusalem’s Old City who casually mentioned that he kept a few hives behind his house.

Hook… line… sinker!

I am now reading a wonderful book by Sue Hubbel, a professional Beekeeper in Missouri’s Ozarks called ‘A Book of Bees’. Unlike some of the more technical books I’ve read on the topic, this one speaks directly to the heart of my obsession. She talks about how fun, easy, inexpensive, inoffensive, and good for the surrounding environment beekeeping can be. The honey is just sort of a side benefit.

I honestly can’t tell you if I’ll actually go through with this, but I have to admit that this particular obsession has thus far demonstrated some real staying power.

Needless to say, I'll keep you informed.


Posted by David Bogner on January 2, 2005 | Permalink


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I have to say that I have felt the sting of some obsessions too. ;)

Posted by: Jack | Jan 2, 2005 8:27:24 AM

That's great! It's important to have side projects for diversion, as long as our long-suffering spouses agree. I say run with it, and keep us posted. (Unless Zahava is opposed, in which case forget the whole thing and find another project.)

I'm a bit of a recreational math geek (except for the "a bit" part). After begging my wife for years to let me tile one of the rooms in the house nonperiodically (that is with a pattern that does not repeat) she finally relented and gave me a wall that I may have my way with. I am currently in the middle of covering it with a pattern discovered by the British physicist Roger Penrose which tiles nonperiodically with pentagonal symmetry! Yipeee!

I know your readers will be as excited for me as I am. (If I just killed your visit statistics I'm sorry.) Anyway, good luck getting your honey to let you raise bees.

Posted by: Doctor Bean | Jan 2, 2005 8:54:16 AM

I never thought I would feel lucky to have my husband drawing on the wall, but bees?! Yikes!! Hope no-one is allergic. If we ever do move to Israel, we should probably live down the street from you, that way Zahava and I would have someone to talk to while you and the good doctor are in the thrall of an obsession.

Posted by: Ball-and-chain | Jan 2, 2005 8:58:19 AM

BTW, when did you get married? Doctor Bean and I just celebrated our 13th anniversary in December. Better hurry up, though, you're one kid behind. Ha Ha.

Posted by: Ball-and-chain | Jan 2, 2005 8:59:24 AM

Jack... Ouch!

Doctor Bean & Ball-and-chain... The whole allergy thing seems ot be everyone's first reaction. The fact remains that honey bees are everywhere there are flowers and trees, so having a hive nearby doesn't increase the risk to people one bit. Only the area immediately in front of the entrance to the hive is considered unwise to stand since it annoys the bees to have thier access and egress blocked. Otherwise they are quite docile. As I mentioned, there is a growing sub-culture of urban beekeepers who have hives on apartment roofs and balconies and nobody is the wiser.

Our anniversary is in September (we got married on the Sunday between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur so that all my musician friends would be free to attend).

Posted by: David | Jan 2, 2005 11:21:45 AM

Wow. You and my husband have got to be related. You don't have any kin in Sweden do you?

Posted by: Alice | Jan 2, 2005 4:49:52 PM

we only did a ton and a half of grape

Posted by: dave | Jan 2, 2005 7:56:55 PM

Very amusng post. But, ouch! Bee stings really hurt!

Please keep us updated so that I remember to stay far away from any Succah on your street next year!

You live on Netzach, don't you?

Posted by: Andy | Jan 2, 2005 10:18:46 PM

Alice... no, but from some of the e-mail I've gotten I am coming to realize that this obsession thing may be international in scope.

Dave... I stand corrected. I was never around when the truck arrived at your place. :-)

Andy... Those striped things flying around your sukkah are yellow jackets, not honey bees. You need to forget everything you've heard about these docile creatures. And in answer to your question... I love off of Netzach right near Tiferet Avot.

Posted by: David | Jan 2, 2005 10:26:23 PM

I am so sorry this page is not available in English. Hope you enjoy it a little anyway. It is not our best, but no doubt Germany's most famous honey.
And I learned a lot about making honey during the last 10 minutes. http://www.langnese-honig.de/webgate/langnese/DE/WG_Langnese.nsf/vwFiles/index_de/$FILE/index.htm

Posted by: Sandra | Jan 2, 2005 11:36:18 PM

Hey, whats a hobby? Whats an obsession? Whats the difference? Hmmm,part time music making? Bread Baking? its all fun and productive... just ask the Mrs..

Posted by: Shmiel | Jan 3, 2005 6:27:20 AM

Well, what's not perfect in this? A marketing guy settling for making honey on the side and an 'inhouse' graphic designer -- I see a brandnew line sweeping the neighbourhood: "dvash achla"!
[do you think that would infringe on copy rights?]

Posted by: mademoiselle a. | Jan 3, 2005 1:51:58 PM

Bee Cool.... ( ughhh..did I actually write that ...sorry)

Posted by: shabtai | Jan 3, 2005 2:39:07 PM

Sandra... Thanks for the link... it looks yummy. When I have a few minutes I may put the google translator to work on it.

Shmiel... I've heard that the difference between being nuts and being eccentric is all in how much money you have. I guess the same can be said about hobbies vs obsessions.

Mademoiselle a. ... I don't think we'll use that name (if and when I actually go through with this), but I'll bet the labels end up being really pretty. :-)

Shabtai... As I said to Jack; 'Ouch!' Thanks for sharing.

Posted by: David | Jan 3, 2005 9:07:44 PM

...I forgot to add the ;) emoticon. I was not being serious. Not at all. No. No. :)

Posted by: mademoiselle a. | Jan 4, 2005 12:47:47 AM

As someone whose loving wife has put up with several of my obsessions (including the current Scrabble lunacy... reading the post, the one thought going through my head is that I've played "apiarist" once against the computer), Zehava has my sympathies... then again, The Lovely Wife(tm) has never gotten any medical benefits from any of my obsessions, so looks like you're ahead on that score.

Posted by: Efrex | Jan 4, 2005 2:58:44 AM

Yes, David, your penchant for the occasional and irraional obsession derives from me. Don't bother to fight it; just be strong enough to curb the really nasty ones so that they don't cost you your job or your marriage or too much of your dignity; and enjoy the others.
As your U.S. custodian-of-the-cellars, I can vouch for the red, which (at least to my peasant taste) compares favorably to anything in the store under $20 a bottle.
So, why not beekeeping? What could be more wholesome? And Ariella, who is probably going to be some kind of biologist anyway, could specialize in the little suckers. My only concern is for little Yonah, who probably won't understand why it's imperative he not grab the hive until it's much too late. It might be a lesson he has to learn more than once--to really understand the cause and effect. And, if he's as curious and willful and adventurous as his father was as a child, there might be many lessons, indeed!
Your mother hasn't read this blog yet. Beekeeping! Oh, Yeah! Raight! David, your ride to work has kept you in the sun too long. etc.
Good luck. I'd like to know how you go about setting up a hive.........

Posted by: Delmar Bogner | Jan 4, 2005 5:59:15 AM

Mademoiselle a. ... I assumed that. No worries.

Efrex... I wouldn't say your wife hasn't gotten any benefits. I mean, when she has trouble with the Sunday NY Times crossword puzzle, there you are! Right?

Dad... Don't worry about Yonah. If and when I actually go through with this, the hives will be in a part of the back yard to which neither the kids nor the dog will have easy access. From everything I've read, both kids and animals learn quickly not to bother the bees, but I'd like to shorten the learning curve if I can.

Posted by: David | Jan 4, 2005 10:42:01 AM

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