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Wednesday, 04 July 2012 00:00

A dip in the Tuck beats bee suits in this heat

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op quintinI slept downstairs on a futon last night, trying to escape some of the intense heat that, chimney-like, turned the upstairs of the cabin I live in into a furnace. Even so I lay in bed sweating and dozing fitfully.

Heat like this demands adjustments. Sleeping downstairs instead of upstairs. And taking care of all outside chores in the morning — it is simply too hot in the afternoon.

Heat or no heat, this is the time of year to dig garlic. It isn’t something you can postpone for long, because if you do the tops break off and you are left scraping around in the dirt for the garlic head. The garlic won’t keep well without the tops, either.

So Sunday morning found me, along with a friend, out in the garden digging. Weeds, those symbols of garden neglect, had grown up thickly along with the garlic, making the task more onerous than it would have been normally.

I figure we were in the garden digging by 8 a.m. Even at that hour I found myself sweating great bullets.

“It’s going to be a scorcher,” I imagined in my head the television broadcasters saying as I dug another row of garlic. “Next up, how to beat the heat.”

The day before I beat the heat by fleeing to East LaPorte to sit in the Tuckasegee River. This is a wide, relatively shallow section of the Tuckasegee along N.C. 107. There’s a county park there but the attraction is the river. Lots of people had the same idea that we did — I counted more than 40 people wading, fishing, tubing or, like us, simply sitting in the water.

The serenity of it all soon set me to musing. I thought about how many decades this section of the river has been visited and enjoyed like this. Generations have come here, I imagine, with perhaps many of the people there that day retracing the activities of their grandparents and great-grandparents. And of course, if we go back far enough, the Cherokee were here. There were villages in this area. I wondered if the Cherokee, too, once sat in the river to beat the heat.

The garlic was dug in about 45 minutes. Next on the list was feeding and watering the goats and chickens, plus milking. In the relative coolness of the morning the animals were frisky, the goats head-butting one another and generally having a good time. But before long I knew they’d head into the shade and settle down to endure this hot day.

We, on the other hand, had more tasks to do. Back at the house I lit the smoker and put on a bee suit. I cannot find the words to describe how hot a bee suit is, but suffice it to say my scorcher of a day immediately intensified.

First we checked for honey in several of the hives. The bees clearly have been working hard in this dry, hot weather — the frames of wax were full of honey, most of it capped. Bees cap the honey at a particular moisture level, one that’s low enough that the honey will keep. Capped honey means it’s ready to be extracted.

We weren’t ready to extract all the honey, but a few days earlier I’d put a bee escape under one super. That one we were ready to tackle. The super, the box that the bees put honey in, was chock full. I know intellectually that a full super of honey weighs 45 pounds, but this one felt much heavier than that as I strained to carry it into the garage.

(An aside: A bee escape is a nifty thing. Some nerdy beekeeper figured out that bees only make right (or is it left?) turns. He built a board that has a sort of maze on it that you put under the super. The bees, or most of them anyway, come out in a 48-hour period and they can’t get back in. This beats the heck out of other ways of getting bees out of the super, such as brushing them off the frames or, as I used to do, using a leaf blower to blow them out. A bee escape is friendlier to the bees and the beekeeper.)

By the time we were finished with the bees the sun was shining hot and bright. I was relieved to strip the bee suit off in the garage. It was about 11 a.m., and outside work was at an end. It was time to move indoors and try to find inside ways to beat the heat.

(Quintin Ellison can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .)

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