A Giant Arrow to Point the Way and Other Updates

We recently spent a long weekend in Illinois. A former work colleague of The Engineer was getting married, and after the wedding we invited ourselves to some friends’ house for a visit. As always, it was delightful to see them. They are also recently retired, and much of the conversation focused on how we are endeavoring to enjoy and make use of the time we have left while we are still in good health.

Not having to rush home to be up for work the next day is a part of that mindset. We planned to stop at HillCo Bee Supply to pick up a frame feeder. Our local supplier was out, and since we’d split Hive #1 by moving the queen and several frames of brood, bees, honey and food, we were a little concerned we’d left them with too few foragers to bring in the nectar they needed. A frame feeder seemed the only means of providing that extra layer of security we like for our girls.

Thus, we strolled into a business in a small Illinois town, only to discover it was more warehouse than shop. Apparently most customers order online for shipping or pick-up. At least, it seemed that way by employees’ surprise at having us walk in off the street.

Still, they found a few feeders for us and couldn’t have been nicer. If you’re looking for bee supplies in that area of Illinois (or by mail), you might want to give them a try.

Anyway, because this side trip had sent us a different direction than our usual route, our friend (an avid pilot, airplane mechanic, and former United pilot) encouraged us to continue on to see a local landmark.

41°47’11.4″N 89°01’14.2″W Air mail route concrete arrow

So, what, you’re probably thinking, it’s an arrow in a field. Big deal, right?

Well, look again. I think this second picture better shows the scale of things.

If you want to visit, make sure you come before the corn’s planted, or you probably won’t find it!

I bet you’re wondering why anyone would put a big concrete arrow in what is clearly a corn field.

As it happens, this arrow — and other like it — played an important role in the development of our country, specifically in how air mail service was able to function in the early days of aviation when pilots depended visual markings.

A better method was needed, and thus began the concrete arrow and airmail beacon system, with arrows placed every 3-5 miles to be used by aviators flying the mail.

I’m sure the owner of this farm gets tired of having people pull up to gawk at their field, but there aren’t many arrow left these days, and we were glad we made the effort to see this one.

If you’d like to read more about this topic, check out the following:

Concrete Arrows and the U.S. Airmail Beacon System on the “Sometimes Interesting” blog

Airmail Arrow, Reno, Nevada on the Atlas Obscura site

The True Story Behind Those Giant Concrete Arrows from “Saving Places” by the National Trust for Historic Preservation

America’s Mysterious Concrete Arrows on the CNN Travel Website

And now, on a completely different subject, but one that’s rarely far from our minds, we will turn our attention to the bees.

The dandelions are in full blossom, and things are buzzing. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist!)

Honey bees in our area rely heavily on this bright yellow flower for their spring buildup. If you have them in your yard — and I hope you do because otherwise you are using some kind of herbicide, which makes you no friend of pollinators — please consider not mowing until they are finished blooming. You don’t have to let them go to seed; just wait until their blossoms shut before mowing.

Since we’ve been home, our hardworking girls have been out foraging whenever the sun is out, and sometimes even between the rain showers. Hives #1A, #2A, #4, and #5 have been particularly active, and even #3, the little one, and #1 and #2 (the splits) have been getting in on the act.

Last week, we checked all of them except #2A and #1A who are (fingers crossed) in the middle of raising queens. We saw all the queens and brood in every stage of development.

This is the best possible news, although as beekeepers, we’ve learned not to get too confident because some kind of disaster is usually just around the corner.

However, judging by the amount of brood in a few of the hives, we’ll probably need to make more splits. The next week is going to be somewhat cool, keeping the bees mostly close to home. If the weather warms after next weekeend as expected, there’s a distinct possibility they’ll be feeling crowded and possibly swarming.

If we get a sunny day toward the end of this week, we’ll have a look, checking for queen cells and, if we’re lucky, a new queen in #2A and perhaps even #1A. It may be too early for any concrete evidence of new mother bees, but if we find queen cells, we’ll have to act quickly to prevent swarming.

In related news, my friend Kate, master quilter and blogger from Tall Tales of Chiconia, asked if we would name our long hive.

Honestly, we hadn’t thought about it. We gave up on naming the others when it got too confusing due to their many incarnations, but Kate was right. This new step in beekeeping, this experiment with a new type of equipment, deserved to stand out.

But, we were both fresh out of inspiration until one night last week, as I was falling asleep (the very best time for creative thinking, I’ve found), I had a flash of inspiration, a weasel, if you will.

Our Long Langstroth hive shall from herein be call LoLa.

What do you think? I find it completely appropriate, and The Engineer, who is (so) over naming hives didn’t care, so that’s what she will be.

Lastly, under bee-related news, we had the opportunity this week to assist with/witness a hive cut-out. The bees had already absconded, rendering moot the beekeeping jackets, veils and gloves we’d worn, but I eventually decided this was probably for the best, especially for our first such experience.

The chance came via our beekeeping club, offered by one of the leading beekeepers in the state, who stressed how important it was to completely clear out any detritus from a hive, and then seal every possible entrance to the area.

The hive removal took place at one of our local parks in an outbuilding that had played home to a series of hives from swarms settling there. As a result, the park had already been through a series of hive cut-outs.

Because honey bee behavior is strongly influenced by pheromones, swarms had been drawn again and again to the same spot by the scent of the previous hives.

Our job was to clear it out and seal it once and for all.

There was a lot of comb, with the range in color telling us the hive had been there for a while (darker comb), but also recently (light comb).

We all had a turn at scraping out the comb and thick propolis the bees had left behind. There was even honey, but no bees, eggs, larvae, or capped brood.

Because there’s no way of knowing why the bees absconded from their home, our leader told us she planned to be very careful in handling the wax to avoid contaminating her own hives with any possible virus.

There was still life in the hive, however, as two of our members discovered. The wax and debris at the bottom of this picture wasn’t left by bees.

Several of the other creatures who’d made a nest in the same cavity leapt for freedom as their home was being scraped out.

It seems mice eat pollen, and a female had chosen to have her young near a ready supply.

One would think that would be enough to drive out the bees, but our leader said that is not the case. They can coexist in the same space without either leaving.

In the end, it probably doesn’t matter. The bees were gone. We could only hope we’d done a good enough job cleaning out their leavings so other swarms wouldn’t settle in their previous home.

Lastly, since so many of you are kind enough to inquire about Mom, I thought I’d share a photo I took yesterday. She is much the same, and I can’t tell you if that’s good news or bad. It’s good because she’s still with us, and bad because she continues to be absolutely sure she’s capable of walking on her own. As a result, she’s fallen twice in the last week or so, although fortunately she only incurred a scrape and some bruises. Of course, at ninety-two, that’s quite bad enough!

Even when we’ve just spoken about how she needs to wait for help — or rather, I’ve reiterated once again that she needs to — the next minute I turn around, and she’s struggling to get to her feet.

Although she already has a camera in her room, obviously the nursing staff can’t watch it every minute of every night. And despite her staying in the common area during the day where they can keep an eye on her, they do have other residents to tend to and can’t be there all the time.

After the last two falls, the director of nursing called and mentioned she was going to get a personal alarm for my mother. The director said she hates to use them, and I know this is true. I’ve only ever heard one person who had one, and that was in the last three weeks. That resident is in quite a similar situation — still convinced she can walk alone and falling whenever she tries.

Like the nursing staff, I hate to resort to this action, but I can’t think of anything else.

Oh, well, Mom still enjoys milkshakes, and thankfully she’s not diabetic. I know they’re not part of a healthy diet, but honestly, at this point, who cares? If bringing her one as an occasional (or even regular) treat gives her a half-hour of happiness, my brother and I will keep doing it unless it becomes a problem.

Well, it’s time for me to turn my attention to at least organizing my to-do list of all the things I let slide while we’ve been busy with trips and bees. I’ll write again when I have something new(ish) to say.

Thanks for reading!

3 thoughts on “A Giant Arrow to Point the Way and Other Updates

  1. LoLa! Wonderful name and perfectly chosen. Is any of the honey in that comb you cut out edible, or is it a) too old or b) potentially contaminated? I suppose it’s probably not safe, it just seems a shame for all that bee-labour to go to waste. Thanks for the shout-out, and I’ll return the favour on the 15th!

    Liked by 1 person

    • The comb we took out was probably not fit for anything except melting down, straining, and perhaps then using for candles or something, both because it’s old and because there had to be some reason the bees left the hive. Plus, the mice.

      What would be interesting is if there was some way to find out what caused them to abscond. It could probably be done by a bee lab or something, but in truth, they tend to be very busy already, and I don’t know what all they can do for sure anyway.

      You’re quite welcome for the shout-out. Maybe someone who reads my blog will enjoy seeing your wonderful quilting and reading your other tales of adventure and crafting. 🙂


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