Monthly Archives: May 2012

Dandelions

Are you looking out at your lawn and seeing a few hundred yellow flowers trying to poke through?  Does this frustrate you?  I understand. 

For many years I have tried to keep the dandelions back in the pastures and off of our lawn.  I would try to be wholistic and chemical free, digging away for hours at their roots in an attempt to eliminate them all.  There’s a lot of lawn here, and this was more of a workout than I was looking for.  I tried mowing them, only to turn around and find they had grown about 8 inches overnight, and now were waving their little seed heads at me, mocking my attempt at destroying them.  I tried fertilizing the lawn and letting it grow long and lush in an attempt to allow very healthy grass to overtake the dandelions.  Of course this never worked, but I did get some very beautiful, nicely fertilized dandelions.  Eventually, every three or four years I would give up on all of my chemical free ideas, buy a big jug of funny smelling herbicide and spend the day showing those dandelions who was boss. 

I have found a new and fun way to reduce the dandelion stress level.  Bees.  Have I mentioned that we have started raising bees?

After a few weeks of topping up the nectar feeder, making sure there is a pollen substitute available for our bees to eat, and generally treating them as though they are pets, we are finally witness to the signs that they are very capable of taking care of themselves.

A bee entering the hive carrying pollen pellets on her back legs.

We are so excited to see them returning to the hive with their pollen baskets absolutely stuffed full of pollen.  This began at the very beginning of the ‘dandelion season’.  The pollen basket or ‘corbiculum’ is a flattened, concave depression surrounded by curved spines which are located on the bee’s hind lets.  It is a space that has been adapted for carrying pollen that they gather from flowers back into the hive.  They use this pollen as a protein source for themselves and for the brood of new developing bees. 

Looking down into the hive for a place to put her pollen.

Now we have new flowers blooming.  The saskatoons and apple trees, the plums and the maydays are all full of the very aromatic and colorful signs of spring.  I wander around the yard peeking in the flowers and calling everyone around to come and look at ‘my bees’.  Most of the bees in our yard aren’t mine, but I feel a sense of ownership anyways.

So, with the arrival of the dandelions, our bees have become quite self-sufficient.  Now, when I see a big patch of dandelions, it’s exciting to think that this is what is feeding our bees, and won’t it be great some day to get a taste of that fabulous dandelion honey! 

The yellow combs are being filled with pollen, the white ones are capped honey.

“Bless the flowers and the weeds, my birds and my bees.”  – Unknown

<Terra>

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Making Babies

Five days had passed, and the time had come to inspect our newly established hive.  There were a few important things to check on.

1. Were our bees still there?  As we approached the hive, it didn’t look too good.  The night before had been windy, rainy and generally not the kind of weather that is conducive to welcoming little newcomers from the warmer climate of New Zealand.  Outwardly, the news was not good.  There were two dead bees laying right outside the hive door.  There was no sound coming from the box, and there was no activity in or out.  Putting on our super cool bee suits, we tentatively opened the hive, hoping that there would be some sign of life inside. 

A lively looking bee hive!

It seems that bees have the same reaction to cold, wet weather as the rest of us.  They had decided to stay in their nice warm house to clean up, visit, and eat potato chips.  OK, maybe I like potato chips more than my bees do, but they were lying around, visiting and eating from the bee feeder.  No point in trying to be too productive on a cool May morning. 

So the good news was that the bees were still there.  The dead bees outside the door were probably some of the casualties of having to travel such a distance, followed by being exposed to the lovely climate which we like to call Spring in Western Canada.  One minute you are wearing your parka, and the next you’re sunburned from exposing your pearly white forehead to a blast of spring sunshine. 

One of the many jobs of a worker bee is to clean the hive.  We watched as the little workers struggled to drag a dead bee out of the hive door, then jump off and fly a short distance away to drop it in the grass.  The book says that bees are meticulously clean, and that they quickly carry their dead away from the hive to keep things tidy.  This had us a bit confused about the two dead bees right on their doorstep, but we decided that somewhere in the hive there’s probably a worker bee who just doesn’t enjoy her domestic duties, so she feels that throwing the trash outside front door is good enough.  Some days I can relate.

 2.  Were they eating from the feeder?  Since there still aren’t any flowers blooming in our area, we need to supplement the bees with a 50%  sugar/water solution.  It appeared that they had figured out how to use the feeder, and half of the solution was gone.  We topped it up with more syrup, and avoided drowning the bees who were currently feeding by pouring very slowly into the hole that had fewer bees clinging to the sides.  The bees seemed to be smart enough to move upward as the water level was rising.

Another part of the bees’ diet is pollen.  Pollen is their protein source.  Again, with few to no flowers blooming at this time of year, we had placed a pollen patty into the hive as a supplement.  The bees were eating the pollen well, but with a lot of the sticky product exposed, some of them were getting stuck to the patty.  They were alive, so we did what we could to release them from their sticky and precarious situation.  Having learned a lesson on the downside of feeding too large of a pollen patty at one time, we downsized our feeding plan a little.  Ripping it into little pieces, we took the main patty away, and left a square of pollen that was about 3 inches square.  This worked much better, and we have never found any more stuck bees.

This would be kind of like falling into a big lake of peanut butter…except stickier.

 3. Were the bees building comb?  Comb is an arrangement of wax from the bees’ bodies into cells that hold eggs, brood, pollen and honey.  The worker bees have eight glands that secrete beeswax, which are located on the last four visible ventral abdominal segments.

Comb is starting to be built, and pollen has been gathered on day 5 in the hive.

You can see in this picture that comb is being built.  The new frames are black when we put them into the hive, so all of the white wax hexagons that you can see have been built by the bees in the five days since their arrival in Canada.  The orange combs are filled with pollen.  At this time of year, the pollen will have come from the patty we were feeding, as well as the pollen that you can see hanging on willow trees in the spring time.

4.  Has the queen been accepted by the colony?  This one is highly important.  If the queen hasn’t been accepted by the rest of the colony, they will be unsettled.  It would be necessary to ‘requeen’ the hive, which would involve ordering a new queen and slowly releasing her to her new ‘subjects’.  Thankfully, our queen had been accepted, as was clear by the presence of …

The teeny tiny white flecks that you can see in the centre of the combs which are to the left and underneath the uppermost group of bees are bee eggs. You may need glasses to see this!

Bee eggs!  It was very, very exciting when we found the bee eggs.  Especially because we actually left the hive feeling a little disheartened at the fact that we couldn’t see any eggs.  It wasn’t until we looked at our pictures….and blew them up larger….that we could see the little white specks of evidence that our queen had been accepted.  There’s a lesson to be learned here, and that is to remember to wear one’s glasses when checking on the bees.  Bee things are quite small, and it seems that viewing small things is not something I am particularly good at.

5.  Are there any signs of disease?  Because we are beginner beekeepers with very little idea of what we are doing, it’s hard to say if there are signs of disease in the hive.  I can say that the overall well-being of the colony seemed intact.  Now that we had disturbed the bees, they were flying in and out of the hive, and they appeared to be eating and doing bee things.  That was good enough for me to note that there appeared to be no signs of disease in the hive today.

We are happy to report that our first five days of bee keeping seem to be successful.  The bees appear to be leaving the hive and returning, they are supplementing their limited food source by using the feeders that we have left available for them.  They are building combs and filling them with the nectar and pollen that they find.  Baby bees are on the way.  There appears to be no sign of disease after five days.  Phew!

As of today, we are 17 days into bee keeping.  The book ‘Beekeeping in Western Canada’, published by Alberta Agriculture, recommends checking on your bees 5 days after they’ve been hived and again 10 to 14 days later.  This would mean that by now we should have checked our bees twice.  I think we have checked our bees at least 8 times.  It’s just so fun to see what is happening inside the hive and to check on how the brood is developing.  Here are some pictures that we have taken of the new bee babies with their nurse bees.

At the top of the newly built comb there are large larva, with by younger, smaller larva beneath them. Eggs are present below the small larva.

Beekeeping is such an interesting thing to do.  Their social structure and interactions are fascinating to watch.  I highly recommend making friends with an apiarist in your area.  Maybe you can go and spend some time visiting with the bees.

Nurse bees feeding the young larva, and putting wax caps on the older larva. Other bees can be seen fanning their wings over honey combs at the top of the frame.

“So work with the honey bee, creatures that by a rule of nature, teach the art of order to mankind.”  – William Shakespeare

<Terra>

The two weekend and a few nights project

Well, it is finally done. Not the landscaping of the entire yard, but the latest project on our t0-do list. A month or so ago, I said to the big guy, ” All I really want is some grass around our house.” But he so patiently explained to me that there were a few things that had to happen before we could spread the black dirt back and seed grass.

One of these was the patio and firepit, and maybe a walkway. Then was the debate over what material to use. After much discussion, internet surfing and some touring, we decided on paving stone. Our house has a rustic, timber and stone look so we wanted to stay with something that worked with that style. I should point out that my husband and I have distinctly different methods for diy projects.  Our visions of what is involved to complete said project are seldom even remotely close. It takes some work to try and get on the same page. Let’s just say he is more of a perfectionist than I. That is all that needs to be said.  So after much, much, much prep work.  Did I mention there was a lot of prep work to get the base just right?

Then we could lay the paving stones. That was the fun part. It is quick and easy. For the most part. Not when you  are trying to make curves in the pathway though. And it turns out there are some other unplanned for benefits. Like a work out. Sometime ago I went to boot camp. I am not sure what I was thinking, other than to prove that I could. And I feel like I have been to boot camp again. Lots of sore, stiff muscles. Also, some fun family bonding time. Not that our helpers were around the whole time,  it being Maylong and all. But the project turned out fabulously. The boys even had a fire last night.

-Kelly

“It takes half your life before you discover life is a do-it-yourself project.” Napoleon Hill

Hiving the Bees

 

One bee asking another for directions to the hive.

 

We had set up our hive, and the day had come for us to pick up our bees.  It was really exciting, mostly because with no idea of what we were doing, we had no idea of what to expect. 

How difficult could it be though?  We would be making a 6 hour round trip, half of which would be with a large number of jet lagged bees in the back of our Jeep.  No problem. 

There are not enough bee producers in Canada to supply all of our new bee requirements in the spring, so the bees arrive on an airplane from New Zealand.  With this knowledge, I plan to avoid travelling between New Zealand and Canada in the springtime.  Can you imagine what could happen on that airplane if Canada’s spring supply of bees somehow got loose? Kind of makes me want to wear my super cool bee suit on my next flight…you never know!

The bees are sorted into 2.2 pound groupings, (which I am told equals anywhere from 6,000 to 10,000 bees), and packaged into cardboard tubes for easy transport.

 

Each tube holds 2.2 pounds of honeybees. Enough to start one hive.

 

We picked them up at the Bee Maid bee supply store in Spruce Grove, Alberta.  This is the same place that we got our hives and equipment from a few weeks before.

Lots of honey storage!

This warehouse has all of the bee keeping supplies you need, as well as being the place that honey is stored until it is packaged and transported for sale in grocery stores.

Warehouse full of honey

We loaded our tube of bees into the jeep, and after checking to make sure that both ends of the cardboard tube were secure, we headed home.  I wondered if anyone had ever gotten into an accident while transporting bees, and if so did they receive adequate emergency care?

A car load of bees. I can’t think of anything that could go wrong.

It was surprising how quiet 6 to 10,000 bees are while driving in the car.  They stayed clung together in their ‘swarm’ and rarely made any type of sound.  There would be a faint buzzing when a door was slammed, but it wouldn’t last long.  We took this as a good sign that they were either very content or very drowsy from their long flight.  Hopefully their release into the hive would be uneventful.

While we were at the supply store, I picked up a book called ‘Beekeeping in Western Canada’.  This was one of the resources that my friend recommended I read before getting bees.  Of course, I didn’t do that.  It made for very good reading on our way home to release or ‘hive’ the bees.  By the time we arrived at the hive I was pretty sure that I was an expert on the topic of beekeeping.  This book is highly recommended for anyone from Western Canada who is interested in starting a hive.  You may even want to consider reading it before purchasing your bees. 

At the hive, we went over our procedure and made sure that we had all of our equipment readily available.  The kids were curious and came along to watch the bees move into their new home.  One produced the video, and the other two moved to watch from an area of safety.  Being ranch raised kids who are used to keeping themselves safe from larger livestock, they watched from the other side of a barbed wire fence…..because that will stop bees. 

Lots of help!

After giving the bees a few puffs from the smoker, and removing the middle three frames to give them room to be poured into the hive, the first step in hiving your bees is to ‘break the swarm’.  Apparently when bees have swarmed from their hive, they find a place to all cling together until they decide what to do next.  Inside this cardboard tube there was a swarm of bees, all clinging together in a big strand.  You need to bang the tube on the ground so that most of the bees fall to the bottom and you can safely take off the lid without losing your bees.  I’m sure this doesn’t upset them at all.

A good view of the top of the swarm waiting to be released.

Hanging from the outside of the lid is a strand of green ribbon.  On this green ribbon hangs the queen in her separate cage.  Holding the ribbon, we removed the lid and began to lift it out so that the queen could be moved into the hive before we released the bees.

That ribbon was quite heavy.  There were a lot of bees clinging to it.  This freaked me out a little, and it was at this point that I considered dropping the whole thing and making a run for it. Thankfully, my nerves of steel kicked in just in time and we finished the job. You can imagine why there are no photos of this…I was going to take pictures, but I got a little distracted!  We have video instead.

Holding onto the queen cage, I used a knife to pry the cork out of the hole that forms the doorway to her cage.  With thumb over the hole so she can’t escape, I inserted a mini marshmallow into the hole.  This took two tries because with my shaky nerves of steel being affected by an upset queen bee, the first marshmallow got dropped into the bottom of the hive.  It’s always good to have extra marshmallows in your pocket.  When the bees decide that this is their queen and they accept her, they will eat the marshmallow and release her into the hive.  It’s a good thing that I’m not a bee; I would probably just eat the marshmallow without going through the proper process of swearing-in the new queen.

The queen’s cage after she has been released by her attendants.

Now with the queen cage hanging in between two frames, we once again banged the tube on the ground to knock the bees to the bottom and inverted it over the hive.  We poured ½ of the bees over the queen cage and the other ½ over the rest of the frames.  At this point they were all a little excited and we thought a few puffs of smoke would be a good idea.  The smoker was out and the lighter was over on the other side of the fence.  That was bad planning, but it went just fine without the smoker.

We placed a pollen patty on the frames for the bees to use until there is more pollen available to them, and replaced the frames that had been removed.  We put the cover and the lid on the hive, and congratulated ourselves on a job well done.  With the bees safely in the hive, all we can do is hope that they accept their queen and their new home.  We will come back and check in with them in 4 to 5 days.

 

Some pollen showing on willow trees.

 

It was truly the most exciting thing that I’ve experienced in a really long time.  Scary, but very exciting too! 

The tube was left facing the hive door in case any stragglers still need to make their way home.

 

“Do one thing every day that scares you”  – Eleanor Roosevelt 

 <Terra>

 

 

Walk with me

Creating A Buzz

When I was a little girl, my mom invited my friend from across the street to our house.  She set us up in the backyard with a nice little tea party, right near our beautifully blooming lilac bush.  I know that there was a little table, something to drink, and a banana…but that’s all that I really remember about the whole set up.  What does stand out so vividly in my memory is a deep, low buzzing sound coming from that lilac bush, and what happened next…which really irritated my mom.

The deep, low buzzing sound produced the biggest and the meanest bee ever known to mankind.  It attacked our tea party relentlessly, pointing its 4 inch long stinger at me and diving again and again at my face and my eyes, until I couldn’t be brave any longer and had to calmly and slowly move our tea party into the house in an effort to protect myself and my guest.

My mom tells the story a little differently.  According to mom, a bee flew by and I ran screaming and crying into the house, abandoning my friend, never to return to the outdoors again.

A little worker bee. She does everything, and that’s how we know she’s female.

I think the truth lies somewhere in the middle of our two stories.

With that story began a sad trail of other ‘Terra is afraid of bugs’ stories that have haunted me.  There was the time that I put my hand into my grandpa’s huge wooden fish that hung outside of his cabin and got stung by something.  The funny thing about this memory is that I can’t actually be sure that it happened to me.  It is likely that it happened to my sister and it traumatized me so badly that I have taken ownership of the fear that really should be hers.

Don’t even get me started on how scary spiders are!

When our children came along, it was decided that these fears of mine would not be passed down to them.  So I became brave.  I was totally faking it so that I wouldn’t freak out the kids when a bee flew by, but somewhere in there I forgot that I was just faking it.  Now I have nerves of steel when I see a bug….unless it’s a spider. 

A few years ago, I picked up a book called ‘The Secret Life of Bees’ by Sue Monk Kidd.  The book is not really about bees at all, but it is a story about a young girl who is trying to seek out a connection to her mother who had passed away when she was very small.  At the beginning of every new chapter, there is a reference to bees and how they interact in their hives.  The chapter will go on to tell the story of ‘Lily’ and the women she meets up with, reminding the reader of the bee fact at the beginning of the chapter.  My curiosity about beekeeping began there.

Here we are 3 or 4 years later, and I have started my first bee hive on our farm.  No one is more surprised at this than my mom…and my childhood friend Nicole…and my sister…and all of my aunties…and me. 

I made friends with a beekeeper, and visited her bee farm.  She showed me her bee yard, and recommended various books for me to read.  She also suggested that I attend a bee keeping course, and possibly take in some of the gatherings that are put on by the beekeeping club inEdmonton.  All very good ideas, and I did none of them.

What I did do, is mention to my husband that he should stop and pick up some bee hives one day when he was passing through the town with the Beemaid outlet.  I was mostly kidding.  I was also pretty sure that he would say no.  However, I had forgotten that he has never said no to any of my fun new ideas, so now we had bee stuff.

Bee keeping has a very, very steep learning curve.  All of the reading in the world will not prepare you for the buzzing sound of 2.2 pounds (6,000 to 10,000) of unhappy bees as they are transported from New Zealand, to Edmonton, to your vehicle and into their little ‘starter home’ hive.

In an attempt to inform and encourage anyone who is interested in bee keeping, let me share some info on the necessary start up items required and the lessons I have learned so far….which are many.  I have learned A LOT, and I still know nothing.  A good first step is to find someone knowledgeable and make them your friend.  Having done that, I barged ahead.

Before your bees arrive, you need to set up their hive.  We got our hive equipment from the BeeMaid outlet in Spruce Grove, Alberta.

You will need to have at least three ‘supers’.  These are the boxes that will hold the frames.  The supers come in pieces, and you get to assemble and paint them.

There are handles carved into all four sides.  Make sure that these are all facing the right way, (outward).  It’s pretty simple, kind of like putting a puzzle together.  We used glue in the joins as well as screws.  We screwed two of the pre drilled holes on each side of every join.  It frustrates my farmer to watch me use a drill, so he did that part and I did the gluing part.  He’s not easily frustrated, but watching a left handed person with very little woodworking experience try to work with an electric drill is just a bit much for him.

This is not me, but I promise that I did the gluing part.

You need to paint these supers.  There is no real recommendation on color, except to to say that light colors help the hives to stay cooler in hot climates.  I have seen blue, green, but most of the ones I’ve seen are white.

If you’re lucky you might find a cowboy who needs to make some money because it’s Friday. Get him to paint your supers for you.

You need a hive bottom.  Thankfully, it is pre made and covered in beeswax so there’s no assembly or painting required.

You need an inner cover.  We weren’t sure if we should paint this or not, so we just painted the outside edge, knowing that the bees will cover the inside with wax and the outside will be covered by the hive lid.

You need a hive lid.  This is covered in beeswax, and then again with tin, so once again no need to paint.  It also comes assembled.

You will need frames to hang in the supers.  These come in many different forms, but because this is our first adventure with beekeeping, we kept it simple and bought the pre-fabricated plastic frames.  Ten frames fit into our style of super, but it can vary depending on which type of hive you are building.

This is a stack of black frames for brooding new little bees. On top of them lies a frame feeder.

You will need a ‘pollen patty’ to feed your bees when they first arrive.  There may be some pollen available for them to find, but this will help to make their transition smoother.

You will also need a feeder of some type.  There are many, but we are using a one gallon ‘frame feeder’.  You hang this feeder in the place of one frame in your hive.  Fill it with a syrup mixture of ½ water and ½ granulated sugar.  You can throw sticks into this syrup to help prevent bees drowning, but we also got what is called a ‘ladder’.  The ladder lowers into the syrup so the bees can climb in and out, as well as covering the rest of the opening so they don’t fall in.

Filling the frame feeder with a 50% sugar/water solution. Also happens to be what mint juleps are made of. Just add mint…and booze.

You will need a brush to help convince the bees that they should move when you are checking the frames for honey and larva. 

You will need a ‘hive tool’.  This isn’t your college aged son who likes to help out with the bees after a late night of socializing.  This is a metal piece that you can wedge in between lids and supers when opening the hive to check on your bees.  Apparently they all get stuck together with ‘propolis’ which is a waxy substance that the bees cover their hives with.  It’s a very good preservative and sealant, but it makes lifting the supers apart somewhat difficult.

You should have a smoker.  This is the piece of equipment that will provide you with a false sense of security when working with your bees.  There are many different kinds of smokers.  One beekeeper has said that he just uses a coffee can full of old grass.  My friend the beekeeper told me that she rarely to never uses hers because she’s afraid of dropping embers into the grass and starting a prairie fire.  However, my reading tells me that it helps to keep the bees calm, and it impairs their ability to communicate.  For me, calm and uncommunicative bees seem like a good thing.  I want them to be calm, and if there happens to be one crazy bee who yells ‘attack’, it’s going to benefit me if the other bees can’t pick up his message.  Practice with your smoker ahead of time.  Ours has a habit of smoking right up until you get to the hive.  This is when it goes out completely, leaving us with lively and very communicative bees. Thankfully, so far they haven’t been too opposed to our hive checks.

Our smoker. Notice the total lack of smoke coming from it. This is a good sign that we are near the hive.

The last, but possibly most important piece of equipment is your bee suit.  We have one that is a full suit, covering you from the top of your head to your ankles.  Gloves go over your hands and in my case; big heavy cowboy boots go on your feet.

This is me in the suit I wear when I’m really going to stir things up.

We also bought a second suit, initially because my husband became interested in what was happening, so wanted a suit so he could come and have a look.  Ultimately you should probably have two suits, because it is really nice to have someone who will be able to help you hive your bees; and you can show other interested people what is going on inside the hive.  Our other suit is a half suit.  If you have jeans and boots on, this will keep you as safe as the full suit will…provided the jacket doesn’t ride up too much when you bend over.

The half suit. For when you don’t care if the bees sting your butt.

Find an old pallet to set your hive onto and you are ready to set up your bee yard.

We set ours up on the south side of a large patch of willow and poplar trees.  It is facing south towards an open grassy field.  There is pasture on the west side of them, and there they will have access to dandelion, cicer milk vetch, and clover.  On the east side there is a grain field which will likely grow canola this year.  Bees generally work within a 3 km radius to find nectar, and here there will be an abundance of canola, dandelion, apple trees, willow, clover and alfalfa.   Behind the hive to the north, there is a large pond that will always be a good source of water for the bees. 

A little starter home all ready for the bees to move in.

With the bee yard all set and ready to go, we felt fully prepared to bring our bees home and let them get settled in their new starter home.

“The honey bee colony is a family consisting of a single mother, the queen; thousands of daughters, the workers; and a varying number of sons, the drones.”  – Beekeeping inWestern Canada

<Terra>

Aside

The bees are coming! The bees are coming! Stay tuned for the adventures of the Queen Bee and her apiary.

Happy 50th!!

I have a friend who turns 50 years old today.  Many of you know her as well.  Her name is Kelly and we write this blog together.

50 is a very, very long time to be alive, so to congratulate Kelly on achieving this level of success, I have a few Kelly facts to share.

Kelly owns and operates two ranches in partnership with her Dad and her brother.  They work together grazing cattle, planning all kind of things ranging from their future goals for the ranch to where the cattle will be moved tomorrow, and generally managing the assets that they have accumulated as a result of many years of hard work.

Kelly is also an educator.  As a certified Holistic educator and practitioner, she has enjoyed many years of leading various groups of people. Some of her students’ business is farming, and others run companies that are not related to agriculture. Using her expertise, she is able to guide them through the necessary planning and goal setting that is required to make their companies grow and prosper.  Complementing her role as a Holistic Management educator, she holds a position on the Holistic Management International Board of Directors.  Holistic Management International spreads itself between Canada, the U.S.A., Central and South America, Europe, Africa, Australia and New Zealand.

Kelly can write.  She writes interesting and informative articles for various magazines that range from personal stories about farm families to highlighting new and progressive techniques that are being used in Agriculture today. 

She is a devoted wife and mom.  Family and community are important to her.  She keeps a healthy balance of work and play, and is lucky enough to be able to combine the two often. 

An accomplished horseback rider, she enjoys taking the time to ride “Checkers the wonder horse” (some are a bit skeptical about just how wonderful he is). She enjoys encouraging her kids to ride as well, and now there are three more accomplished riders in her family.

These are only a few of the reasons that I used to think of her as a mentor, someone who I could strive to be like one day.  Growing up as a ‘town kid’ I had a few lessons to learn when I married my farmer.  When I heard stories about this cool lady who could manage a ranch, check and process cattle, ride horse back and fix fence I thought she must be truly amazing. I should try and be just a little like her.

When my husband and I decided to take a Holistic Management course, Kelly was one of our instructors.  We knew each other a little at this time, but I think that after spending time helping us to develop everything from grazing plans to goal setting, Kelly couldn’t resist wanting to know us better.  After all, we’re pretty cool too.

When you were little, did you ever have a friend offer to push you on the swing?  Did that friend ever push you on the swing way higher than you wanted to go? Did she giggle when she saw how uncomfortable you were, but knowing you would be fine, she kept pushing?  Did you ever find that after you let go of the fear of falling, you actually liked flying that high?  Did you find yourself grateful to that friend for pushing you past your limits and encouraging you to try something that you wouldn’t have done without them encouraging you?

Kelly is the adult version of that friend. She has pushed me outside of my limits and has encouraged me to try things that I would have been happy to watch, but am happier to be part of. 

Now that our families have spent all of these years together, I no longer think of Kelly only as a mentor.  She is still someone who I respect and admire, but I no longer put her on a pedestal like I used to.  It’s her own fault too.     

Kelly has a tendency to raise people up.  She is intelligent enough to listen to people and not only hear their stories, but asks questions in an attempt to learn more.  She has an infectious laugh, (half the time I’m laughing at her laugh and I don’t even know what was so funny), which puts everyone at ease and encourages us to relax and be ourselves.  She gets a kick out of seeing people reach their potential, and is an active supporter of our local producers, artists and entrepreneurs. 

Have a really great 50th Birthday Kelly!  Congratulations on living for so very very long; and for encouraging the rest of us to do what we can, with what we have, where we are.

I’ll close off with a version of Kelly’s current favorite quote.  I can’t remember exactly how it goes, but the message is this:

‘The best thing that women can do for each other is to help each to achieve her full potential.’ 

You’re doing a great job of that Kelly.  Thanks and Happy Birthday!

<Terra>