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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 | Comments (20) | TrackBack