Archive for April, 2012

Bee Man

Is there any more miraculous creature than the honeybee?  They have long been an object of fascination for me, since I was a schoolgirl in 4th grade and we had to learn about workers, drones, the queen, combs, hives, and honey.  Back in the day, I could stand for hours in front of the 4-H club honeybee exhibit at the annual State Fair, looking for the queen bee (which was always marked with a white dot, for the benefit of the fair-goers), and I’d always line up for free tastes of different types of honey pollinated with buckwheat, blueberry, orange or clover.  (I even have a granddaughter who was named after my mother-in-law and mother, whose name Devorah Malka translates from the Hebrew as “Queen Bee,” but I assure you this is only a coincidence.)

From a religious perspective, there is much discussion about honeybees in the Talmud.   How can honey be kosher, if it is the product of an insect which is in itself a non-kosher being?

Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman of Ohr Somayach answers this question:

“The Mishna in Tractate Bechorot states:

“That which comes from something which is tameh [non-kosher] is tameh, and that which comes of that which is tahor [kosher] is tahor.” So you are right, Balint — the product of a non-kosher animal is not kosher. So why is bee-honey kosher?

The Talmud in the same Tractate quotes a beraita (a halachic teaching from the time of the Mishna) which says: “Why is bee-honey permitted? Because even though bees bring honey into their bodies, it is not produced by their bodies”. What does this mean? How do bees make honey?

Honeybees use nectar from flowers to make honey. With long, tube-like tongues they suck the nectar out of flowers and they store it in special “honey stomachs”. This honey stomach serves as a nectar backpack in which the honeybees transport the nectar back to the hive.

There, the honeybees pass the nectar on to worker bees. These bees suck the nectar from the honeybee’s special honey stomach, process it and then spread the nectar throughout the honeycombs where water evaporates from it, making it a thick syrup. The honey is then stored until it is eaten. [In one year, a colony of bees eats between 120 and 200 pounds of honey!]

Therefore, since honey does not come from the body, but rather through the body of the bee, Maimonides codifies bee-honey as being kosher, as does the Shulchan Aruch.

You may wonder: How could one even think that bee-honey is not kosher? The Torah refers to the Land of Israel as “a Land flowing with milk and honey”! Certainly the Torah would not choose a non-kosher product as a means for describing the beauty of the Land of Israel! This may come as a surprise, but the honey mentioned in the verse about “milk and honey” is not bee-honey, rather it is fig-honey. Another excerpt from the Talmud Tractate Berachot interprets the verse, “It is a Land of wheat, barley, grapes, figs and pomegranates, a Land of olives and honey” — as referring to date-honey.”

  • Tractate Bechorot, pages 5b, 7b.
  • The Codes of Maimonides, Laws of Forbidden Foods 3:3.
  • Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah, 81:8.
  • Tractate Megillah, page 6a, Rashi.
  • Chumash, Book of Devarim, 8:8.
  • Tractate Berachot, page 41b, Rashi.

I thought it might be a nice idea to learn about beekeeping, with the goal of maintaining an apiary (bee hives) on our property in Maine.  Not only would they pollinate my apple trees and produce honey, they would provide a wonderful educational experience for my grandchildren when they would come to visit.  I checked out as many books as I could find from the library.  I even signed up for a beekeeping course in the early Spring.  I was sorely disappointed when unfortunately the class was cancelled due to lack of interest.

Then I found out that I could have the best of all worlds without the labor or expense:  I could have a Bee Yard.  By allowing a beekeeper  access to my property, and having him set up and maintain his own hives there, my trees would get pollinated, I would be able to observe bee activity and learn about beekeeping from an expert on an ongoing basis, yet I wouldn’t have to do any of the heavy lifting (each “super,” or tray of honeycomb, can weigh 50 – 60 lbs and must be lifted out of the hive to be harvested; there are 8 to 10 supers per hive).  I wouldn’t have to worry about the expense of buying the hive or the equipment (about a $500 minimum investment for 2 hives, plus a smoker, bee suit, honey extractor, etc. etc).  I need not be concerned with whether the bees would survive the cold of winter, disease, or attacks from rival invading colonies.  I would get at least a few jars of honey in exchange for use of my property.  It seemed like a win-win situation.

So I put an ad in Craigslist:

We are offering space for your hives next to our newly planted apple orchard. No pesticides. A seasonal stream is adjacent, and a large pond is 300′ away.  Southern exposure.  Easy vehicle access, yet away from traffic in pristine area. Located 30 min. from No. Conway. Call 207-928-xxxx.

Within 3 days I received a call from Josh Perry, an elderly man who lives 8 miles up the road, on the New Hampshire side of the border in Chatham.  He keeps about 50 hives all around the area, and has been doing so for the past 13 years.  His bright red pickup truck’s vanity plate says “BEEMAN.”

“Ayuh,” he began in his strong New Hampshire accent, “I’ve been doing this for the past 13 yee-ahs (years) and I’m still lahning (learning),” he said.  His plan was to put 4 hives on our property initially, and if they would do well, to add an additional 2 hives the following yee-ah (I mean, year).  Not only would I get a few jars of honey, he would invite me and my grandchildren back to his house in August when, after harvesting the honey, he would use the extractor and process the honey and bottle it.

“Why, the othaday (other day) the bees were positively singing,” he said.  Apparently weather affects their disposition.  On a nice sunny day, they are happy, and they buzz with happy sounds.  On cloudy days, especially before a thunderstorm, “oh, no, they are not happy, not happy at all,” the BeeMan says.  “You can actually hear them growling.  You’ll see:  you’ll get to know their sounds, their voice.”

He told me that as long as I didn’t disturb the hives, I would not get stung, but that I might want to wear a bee suit if I decided to do any weed-whacking in my orchard.  “But I will weed-whack the area directly surrounding the hives,” he assured me.

These pallets will serve as the base for the beehives. Although they are within the confines of my wire-fenced apple orchard, they will need their own electrified fencing to keep marauding bears away.

He was planning on encircling the hives with a solar-powered electrified wire fence to defeat bears attempting to disrupt the hive.  “You’d be amazed at what bears will do to get to honey,” he said, describing the hundreds of painful stings they were willing to endure on the sensitive areas of their bellies, noses, eyes, paws and ears.  “Do you have a problem with my shooting a bear that gets into a hive?” he asked.  “I would take care of removal, so no worries there.”

Yikes! The electrified fence.

The BeeMan installs the ground wire and solar panel which will provide electricity for the high-voltage fence.

A close-up of the grounded solar panel that creates enough power to electrify the high-voltage fence.

“Isn’t it illegal to shoot a bear outside of hunting season?” I asked.   The last thing I wanted was a heavy fine or jail time from my local  State Game Warden.

“As long as it’s on your personal property, and you can prove that you made an effort to keep bears out with a fence, then you are considered to be defending your property,” the BeeMan said. (He’s right.  I checked with the State Game Warden just to be sure.)  “I’ll come again in mid-May when I bring over the hives.”

I see that we will be in for a unique adventure . . .


More Visitors

We don’t know why, but this past winter, despite the unusually mild temperatures, we didn’t see a single wild turkey on our property.  So were were quite surprised when our webcam caught these two visiting our house today in Maine in our absence.  I did expect the webcam to capture all sorts of interesting birds pecking away at the bird feeder, but I certainly didn’t think I would see wild turkeys enjoying the seeds that spilled onto the ground just outside our window!  Dinner, anyone?

Two tom turkeys waddling their way up our driveway.

Hmm . . .that bird feeder looks interesting . . .

How convenient that heavy winds knocked some of the seeds to the ground!

Passover Outing: Kilgore Falls

The grandkids at the top of Kilgore Falls (click to enlarge)

Today I took my oldest daughter (expecting her seventh child in 6 weeks) and her children (ages 2 1/2 – 11) on a hike to a State Park an hour from our home (in our home town).  First you must drive many miles of paved country roads that pass a reservoir and rolling, fertile farmlands and horse pastures.  The fields were a lush, deep emerald green; the sky was a brilliant blue; the trees full of pink and white  blossoms:  a gorgeous day.  The area we visited has a short hiking trail right off the parking lot, leading to the state’s second-highest waterfall, Kilgore Falls.  (I’m surprised Al Gore didn’t lobby to have the falls’ name changed!)

My daughter and her children cross Falling Branch, a tributary stream of Kilgore Falls.

One of my grandsons hikes to the top of Kilgore Falls

We managed to survive a stream crossing with only a few wet shoes and socks, but later one of my grandsons tried to jump across a stream near a beaver dam and didn’t quite make it.  As he clambered to the other side, he realized he was missing a shoe!  It was at the bottom of the shallow stream, sucked into the mud.  He felt around with a stick but couldn’t find it.  I took off my shoes and socks, and waded in the water along the muddy bottom, trying to find the shoe, but it was nowhere to be found!  My grandson hopped back to the car with only one shoe.

looking downstream from Kilgore Falls along Falling Branch

My daughter could have been annoyed – she had just bought my grandson this pair of shoes a mere three weeks ago – – but instead, we looked at one another and burst out laughing.  This misadventure brought back memories for both of us from about 20 years ago, when my children were small.  We were hiking near Cucumber Falls in Ohiopyle State Park in Pennsylvania, and were forced to hike across a very muddy, mucky trail.  When my son, then about 9 years old, looked down at his feet, he noticed his shoes were missing!

This photo dates waaay back to 1992! That is me (younger and thinner!) and my daughter, who has just fished my son's shoe out of the mud.

We had to backtrack quite a ways until we could figure out the most likely spot the shoes had been lost.  As we fished around with sticks in the bog, other random hikers passing by were curious as to what we were looking for, and soon they too joined in the search for the missing shoes.  We did find them –  – one of them was quite deeply submerged in the mud – – but it was a memorable adventure nonetheless.


I guess history repeats itself!

The intrepid hikers, ages 2 1/2 - 11. (My nachas!)

Fresh evidence of beavers - - the dam was only a few feet away.

Backyard Safari

We’re back in our home town, which is a city of several hundred thousand people.  That said, the area we live in is heavily blanketed with mature trees 50+ feet in height, lots of bushes, grass, and flowers. My plain-Jane ca. 1960 house backs onto a former quarry that is now a brand-new exclusive condominium development.  The bad news is, when they built the condos, the wildlife migrated . . . to our backyard.  While this doesn’t sound like a bad thing for a nature lover like myself, it’s one thing to see a deer or two – – it’s quite another to see twenty-four deer at one time on a daily basis.  Without natural predators (unless you count moving vehicles driven by humans), the herd grows every year.  Our yard is fenced but our next-door neighbor’s is not, and they have so much poop on their lawn they can’t even sit out there.  And the yard is full of deer ticks, which can carry Lyme disease.  Plus, deer are voracious.  So unless you have a fence, don’t expect to have any leaves left on the trees or shrubs or flowers unmolested.  No, our city deer are not the cute fuzzy Bambis of your childhood.

This past Fall during rutting (mating) season on a Friday night I heard a clicking noise.  When I went outside I was treated to a show of  two bucks sparring with their antlers in a not-too-serious battle of dominance to see who would get the doe (I couldn’t take pictures because it was Shabbos but if you want to see an example from the wilds of Colorado, click here.)  It sometimes happen that the antlers lock and the deer cannot extricate themselves – –  a death sentence for both of them.  I just find it amazing that we are witness to such things in a big city, and due to overcrowding, easy winters, a constant food supply and no hunting, we are more likely to see deer in the big city that is our home town, rather than in the wilds of Maine!

Sometime between February and March, the bucks “drop” (lose) their antlers.  They regrow in the Spring, first coming in as buds covered in “velvet.”  Eventually the deer rubs the velvet off on a tree, and this promotes growth of the antlers until they grow bigger and bigger each year.  The more impressive the “rack” the more desirable they are to the does, not to mention to trophy hunters.

What happens to the dropped antlers?  They are actually a form of bone, so usually they get gnawed and chewed up by possums and foxes, until there is nothing left.  G-d recycles!

So today I set out with my dog, Spencer, on a backyard safari.  There is a “no man’s land” of woods between the back of my house and the quarry condos where the deer hang out, and I thought I might find some dropped antlers on the ground.  Usually the buck loses both his antlers within hours of each other, but it can take up to a week (which makes for a comical looking, lop-sided deer).  That said, it’s unusual to find a matched pair next to one another, but that was my goal.

I didn’t find a matched pair; but I did find a large single antler with several “points” (branches).  With my “trophy” in hand I started to walk back to my house when I saw Spencer up ahead, rolling in something.  I yelled at him:  “Spencer, leave it!  Go home!  Stop!  Get away!” because I had visions of him rolling in some animal’s poop (besides the deer there are plenty of foxes in those woods, too).  Unfortunately, it was much worse than I anticipated.  Much, much worse.

Spencer was rolling in the carcass of a very dead and decomposing raccoon!

I forced myself to look.  The raccoon had a snarling expression and his teeth were clenched tightly.  Uh-oh.  Could it have been rabid?

I wasn’t worried about Spencer getting rabies, since his shots are up to date.  But I had heard that if the saliva of a rabid animal touches your dog and then you touch the dog, it is possible for the rabies to be transmitted to the human.  While obviously a long-dead raccoon does not have saliva, I wasn’t sure if it was possibly infected.  So I brought Spencer inside, never touching him, donned some disposable rubber gloves, gave him a thorough shampoo and bath, and then called my vet.

“You did the right thing, and we understand Spencer is up to date on his shots, but we’d like to give your dog a booster shot,” the office staff explained.

“Do I need an appointment, or can I just walk in when convenient?”

“Unfortunately, once a domestic animal comes in contact with a suspicious animal, by law your dog cannot be seen by our vet technician, he has to be seen by the vet.”  Translation:  be prepared to pay big bucks.

We might have bears, coyotes, skunks and moose in our backyard in Maine, and things that growl, scream and hoot  in the night, but somehow it feels safer in Maine than in our city backyard!

And now a postscript:  I showed the antler to someone I know, who happened to be with her child.  This person’s reaction:  “GROSS!”  First, let me just say that the antler is completely clean and odorless.  While I respect that the woman may not have been as enchanted as I  was by a deer antler, to exclaim so negatively in front of her child was a huge misstep, in my opinion.  She missed a golden opportunity to educate her child about the wonders of HaShem, because when you think about the life cycle of an antler, it is really nothing short of miraculous.  Few city kids will ever have a chance to see an antler up close in their lifetime.  Yes, we have 613 mitzvos and they don’t have to include deer antlers, but when we truly appreciate the amazing art and perfection of HaShem’s creations, we develop a love and awe of G-d that strengthens our emuna (belief in the uniqueness of G-d).  In these trying times when our faith is constantly being tested, an increase in our emuna cannot be a bad thing.  Her reaction just made me feel very sad but not surprised – –  I frequently  see it in the way many religious children treat and relate to animals, with ignorance, antipathy, and fear.

Guess where they learned that? (hint:  not from  the Torah)

Here is the large single antler I found in the woods in my backyard. With the assistance of one of my grandsons, my dog Spencer becomes a "deerhound."

Kosher L’Pesach

For those who live in large Jewish communities, Pesach food seems to get less “Pesach-like” from year to year.  In the old days, one was stuck with beets, potatoes, onions, chicken and eggs.  Now there are kosher l’Pesach donuts, bagels, pizza, noodles, and breakfast cereal.  I thought I had seen everything but then I came across this article . . .

Showing You Care

This is one of the most touching videos I’ve ever seen.  Such a little idea, yet so grand.  It could change the world.

Am I Really That Old?

I remember as a small child overhearing my parents and grandparents reminisce about the “good old days.”  I was always amazed both by their stories and the cheap prices for anything from ice cream to movies to cars and houses. I also loved hearing about how “you had to do everything by hand.”  I remember wondering if some of their tales could really be true, as I couldn’t imagine life without a washing machine or a school bus or a calculator or a ballpoint pen.

Today two of our grandsons came over for a visit, and we all had a grand time.  After a few hours one of them picked up the phone in the kitchen to call their  father to come and take them home.

This telephone is a corded turquoise “princess” land-line phone from the ’70s (remember those?).  It was given to us by the seller of our house.  I have to say it is better made and will outlast any of today’s newer cordless phones.  In its day it must have been quite revolutionary because it has a touch-tone dial instead of the old rotary dials that were still common then.

My grandson picked up the phone to make the call and seemed paralyzed, just staring at the phone but not dialing.  After awhile the phone started beeping, signifying that it had been off the hook too long without his dialing.

“Uh… how do you make a call on this phone?”  he asked.  “There is no “TALK” button!”

My husband and I had a good laugh!

My grandson asked his father to pick him up, and then once again he was stymied.  “How do I disconnect?”  he asked.  “There is no “OFF” button!