A swarm of bees in May
Is worth a load of hay;
A swarm of bees in June
Is worth a silver spoon;
A swarm of bees in July
Is not worth a fly.
From: The Original Mother Goose
It is true! I have lived among the beehives
up in Grandpa Friesch's orchard, climbed over
the rail fences enclosing it on three sides,
romped up and down the isles of fruit trees,
and observed the delicate and interesting life
of the bees. Today through the rosy mist of
remembrance I still see it all with a sense
Grandpa kept one of the largest apiaries in
Jefferson County, Wisconsin. As the keeper of
bees, he turned his attention and his life to
the fountainhead of nature - insects, flowers
and birds. The happiness and contentment he
enjoyed was something personal; his own possession.
The large orchard, the home of his hives,
was located in the center of the 120 acre
family homestead, part of which was cultivated
and sown with small grains, alsike clover, and buckwheat. Nature
planted the roadsides with blossoming shrubs - plum, chokeberry,
honeysuckle - and edged them with red clover, daisies and wild roses.
The meadow below the hillside was carpeted
with fireweed, sticktights and wild mustard; the pasture was covered
with white Dutch Clover interspersed with blue corn flowers, blackeyed
Susans and the soft waving beards of purple wild barley.
The forty acres of virgin timber, which still
stands undisturbed today, was a bower of wild
flowers, a tangle of blackberry bushes, large
clumps of Monarda, a mint, also called bee
balm, and was fringed around its damp edges
with occasional clumps of rare and beautiful
Ladyslippers. These, along with the flowers
which gave bloom in Grandma's garden, provided most of the nectar for
Grandpa's bees. He learned through the years that his bees
also traveled a distance of 15 miles to procure some of their food.
I can only speculate as to where Grandpa
gained his knowledge of beekeeping. He was
the youngest of three brothers in a family who
emigrated to America where he was born five
months after his father's death. Their home
in Ohio was located near a large orchard, and
I somehow picture Grandpa's early life and
his knowledge of beekeeping was nurtured in
When Grandpa was nine years old, he, his
widowed mother, step-father, two brothers and
a half-sister, moved to Jefferson County,
leaving one brother in the "Buckeye State."
Wisconsin in the early 19th century was a virgin country with lush growths of vegetation
to provide a rich supply of food for mankind
as well as nectar for the bees.
Up in the orchard among the blossoms of fruit
trees, with birds nesting in the lilacs, and
roses climbing over the rail fence. Grandpa
lived a simple, quiet, yet a busy and well
regulated life. We loved to be around him because he radiated a kind
of love that was contageous. The times we followed him while he
was capturing an escaped swarm of bees settled
on one of the stately old trees on the neatly
manicured lawn, or from a tree in the virgin
timber across the meadow, all come back vividly after these many
It was here where we gained our knowledge of
beekeeping. We listened to Grandpa as he explained how a colony of
bees can be recognized by the difference in size for there are
three kinds of bees. The longest, largest and most slender is the
Queen bee. She is an inch or longer in size, has small wings
and a large oblong body. The Drone is wide, short and broad of body,
with very large gossamer wings. The smallest of the three is the
worker who can easily be recognized by the flimsy, medium sized wings,
and definite striped markings on the body.
We listened attentively as he explained the
beautiful, romantic story of the life of the
bees; the death of the Queen bee, and the short
life of the colony. Their membership increases
during the Spring and Summer so there will be
a larger number of workers when the busy season arrives. Thus their population is the
largest at the time of year when there is the
greatest flow of nectar from shrubs, trees
and a multitude of blooming flowers.
Our interest in the
life of the bees increased throughout the season as we watched
Grandpa handle the brood, change the frames,
clean and refill the hives, and remove the honey
when they were full. Best of all we enjoyed the
work back in the summer kitchen where,
with Grandma's help some of the honey was
Honey, sometimes described as "The Food of
The Gods," was one of the staples of our every-
day diet. Our grandparents collected and saved
empty shoe boxes and never visited any of their
nine children without taking a shoe box of partially filled, unsalable
sections of comb honey. It was also their gift to the Minister, the
mailman, needy neighbors or friends in dis tress. I am certain
they gave away more than a tenth of the harvest of the bees, which God
so generously provided!
With so much honey available we naturally
had a choice of flavors.There was the light
colored honey from white clover, dark honey
from sticktights, or the special flavor of buckwheat honey. Our
grandparents tried to please individual tastes and never failed to
remind us how fortunate we were to make a choice.
In their home the oval, black walnut dining
table was of ten stretched out with extra boards
added in the middle to accommodate the large
family and grandchildren. A plate of comb
honey and a jar of strained honey always graced
each end of the long table.
"It's good for you," Grandpa would remark at
the Sunday night supper table. "Eat children, eat," Grandma urged as she
spread the golden honey on hot biscuits or
freshly baked bread.
Raw sugar was seldom purchased for the household
for honey was used in baking cakes, pies,
cookies, for making lemonade, jams and jellies
and even found its way into dandelion wine.
It must have played an important part in our
diet, for several of the grandchildren still
retain their natural teeth and good health.
Back in the summer kitchen on a cool Summer
morning, we found extracting honey to be an
interesting but a sticky procedure. Grandpa
used a long, sharp butcher knife to slice the
wax from the top of the six-sided cells before
the combs were placed in the extractor. As he
turned the handle of the machine its whirling
action separated the wax from the pure golden
liquid and poured it out of
the spout. After the honey was
strained several times to remove particles of wax, it was
placed in a tank and allowed
to stand for 24 hours to settle
the last fine particles
on the bottom. Then it was
funneled into clean glass jars
or metal containers ready to
be taken to the market.
While watching, or giving
Grandpa a hand by an occasional chance to turn the handle of the
extractor, we listened and learned more about the
bees, their culture and their value. Our reward was gaining the
same inner happiness Grandpa enjoyed, and though our fingers and
lips were often sticky from the frequent dipping and tasting the honey,
we kept our pinafores spotless lest we be deprived of the
pleasure of "working for Grandpa."
Marketing the honey once or twice each year
was another exciting experience. Dexter and
Flossie, the orange colored team of horses,
with their flowing manes and furry boots at
their hooves, were hitched to the milk wagon
ready for the trip to deliver honey to the
railroad station. The wagon had been loaded
with honey the previous day, pushed into the
wagonshed, and covered with canvas to protect
it from the hot Summer sun, or apossible rainstorm.
Early the next morning Grandpa and Grandma
donned their best "bib and tucker," as Grandpa called their apparel. Grandma wore a full,
long black skirt, a white blouse with vertical
rows of tucks and insertion down the front, a
ruffle of lace gathered at her sagging neck
line, and her favorite round gold pin placed
at the center front.
At the last minute, as
she stepped off the porch, she threw a small
black wool cape around her shoulders and se
cured her horsehair hat with a glass hatpin.
The hat was trimmed with georgeous red roses
which matched the color of her rosy cheeks.
The flowers looked so natural that when she
bent down to kiss us goodbye, we almost be
lieved they had been freshly picked from the
garden that morning.
Grandpa wore a clean white shirt, open at
the neckline, sans the usual celluoid collar
for he resented being "dressed to kill," as he
termed it. His head was covered with a wide-brimmed straw hat, showing only the fringes of
hair which encircled his bald head. His flowing brown beard had some
of its straying edges trimmed for the occasion, giving him a neat,
Perched atop the spring seat of the wagon
they made a pretty picture. Grandma tucked
her little black "bumbershoot," as Grandpa
called her parasol, under the seat for it was
a cloudy day. With one hand she clutched her
handbag, and with the other she clung to the
side of the seat to keep her balance. Grandpa carefully covered her knees with a lap robe
to protect her clothing from the dust kicked
up by the horses' feet while they traveled
along the gravel road.
Bending forward. Grandpa reached for the
reins, grasped them firmly in both hands, and
spoke a gentle "gid-e'ap" to the team as he
touched them lightly with the whip before
placing it back into the whipsocket. With one
strong pull the wagon began to roll away. As
they drove down the road toward the
railroad station to ship the honey, we waved
goodbye and settled back for another day of
our simple and quiet life.
Upon returning home, the horses were fed and
brushed down carefully before Grandpa and
Grandma had their evening meal, and related
the day's experience to their eager young lis
teners. The next morning Grandpa would wander up to
the orchard to settle his thoughts and ponder
the next harvest.
Left to right: Papa, Grandpa, Uncle Herman, Uncle Norman
During these years. Grandpa, in the pursuit
of beekeeping, achieved not only a source of
livelihood, but filled his life with golden
hours of contentment and a kinship with all
of God's creation. In his orchard among the
bees he acquired and applied knowledge gained
through the years and obtained the kind of
serenity few people enjoy in the busy world
Grandpa's "Golden Harvest" was a part of my
heritage I fondly remember as I look back on
those "Days of Yesteryear."
"Change My Heart"