Holland: Tuesday and Wednesday Adventures



Bear with me beeloveds: I worked until midnight again on a lovely post, hit the “publish” button, and it all went out into the cosmos, never to be seen again, so I am needing to put two days of adventures here. This might be a bit long…

Tuesday morning I awoke at 6am and darted into Ferry’s weaving studio. I was eager to start another skep, because the first coils of a new skep are the most important, and the most challenging. The circles you form are very small, and the grass wants to poke out everywhere and resists your most forceful efforts to make it go round. Also, I know from experience that I will not remember what I am taught of this until my hands remember it, and Ferry’s way of weaving (sublime!) is completely different from anything I’ve done, so there is much to teach my hands.

I sat with the shafts of straw, and tried to mentally channel Ferry and his instructions. Hmmm, which way do I put the binding cane? How do I hold and twist the straw while trying to keep an even circle, and push the binding cane through. Aggghhhh! Says me to myself, “Susan, quit overthinking this. Just do it.” Blessedly, my hands are smarter than I am. In no time, I had this lovely circle–the only good one I’ve ever made! Ferry is a gifted, patient teacher, and his are the only skeps I’ve ever seen that are “fat” enough for me. I like them woven very, very thick, and that takes a certain skill and very strong hands. I’m learning from a master!

Then, we needed to have a quick breakfast and head out of Haarlem to meet with Ferry’s bee friend, Jan. “Jan is a very special person,” Ferry told us. “And he speaks very direct!” Jan’s place is a wonderful place where he has put together a small bee museum, apiary, cafe, miniature train room, and pancake house. In Holland as in the states, you need to cobble together a lot of different “bee things” to make it into a living. Jan’s creativity has enabled him to do so! So, we packed a picnic lunch of luscious cheeses, breads, and fruits (all organic, of course!) and off we went. After an hour’s drive through beautiful rural countryside, we came to Jan’s place…

“Why the wooden shoes,” asked Jacqueline. Ferry answered, “Because Holland is in many places below sea level. The ground was wet and boggy.” We’d later learn how the dikes and later the windmills were developed to drain the swamp lands and open the land for farming. But more about the windmills later. We had come to see bees! Here are the hives that enchanted us in the bee museum and small apiary…

St. Aambrose, patron saint of bees and candle making, was there to greet us. I just love a guy with a good mustache!

Here is Jesus on a small log hive. Or maybe it was BigFoot, or? You be the judge!

Hives with painted faces were meant to scare away nasty spirits…

The hive on the left was especially scary, with bees pouring out of its mouth. If I were a nasty spirit, I’d certainly stay away! Now, note the curious hive in the center. Yes, there are bees living in the cone-shaped crown, in the box, and dangling on three big combs from the bottom of the hive. This would make many beekeepers crazy, but I say, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it, and the bees in this hive were roaring strong—all hives treatment free, of course. Note, too, that all the hives I’m taking photos of are UNDER COVER. No one we’ve met has a hive sitting on the ground in an open field. All are in sheds or under eves, or in bee houses. 

These hives, and many we see, are made of reeds. I’m not sure what kind, but the weaving is thick.

Look at this one! Twigs, mud, straw: Thick and warm and tall!

Here we have the ancient rocket-phallus hive, for colonies wanting to explore their inner masculine. Erect all the way to the tip! Now, for all those who say, “We can’t have skeps because they don’t have removable frames!” Well, have a look at this beauty, (the hive, not me) made with rounded top frames. The hive is open on the bottom and worked from the bottom, the frames held in place by removable pins…

Yet the hive that most excited us was this one below: An observation hive with glass (covered with removable boards) on all four sides, with a large covered glass-topped sluice-box leading outside. This colony has been here for 15 years. Ferry suggested a few modifications, such as a Warre’ style quilt box atop, and only making two sides of glass (double paned old windows maybe?). Jacqueline and I begged her husband Joseph to make us each one!

Finally, we got to meet Jan. The introduction was memorable! Ferry told him our names and that we were from the states. Jan looked us all in the eye, took a step back, and said, “You Americans! You destroy everything you touch! First, you kill all your Indians, then you kill all your bees!”

I said, “Boy, you’ve got that right! And we’ve been doing it a long time. We’re great at fouling our nests.” How could I possibly argue with him? Ferry chimed in, “Not these people. They are making good changes. They teach people how to care for bees the natural, organic way.” Jan calmed down, shook our hands, and we conversed in the mutual language of love for bees.

Jan told us most of the beekeepers around him were conventional keepers, who can lose up to 75{a0044d79276f57e03325ff4c7c7b28a47f4399726e87a9019d337b4d23e4fc05} of their hives each year. Jan loses between 10-15{a0044d79276f57e03325ff4c7c7b28a47f4399726e87a9019d337b4d23e4fc05}. “But not the last few years,” Jan said. “The conventional keepers have been losing less bees in just the past few years. I ask myself, why should this be? Their methods do not change? I believe this is because in the past few years, the pesticides–neonics–were banned here. And the bees are recovering.”

This made me excited and frustrated: Excited because the bees were telling us in no uncertain terms that they could recover if the pesticide loads dropped. Frustrated because I can’t imagine the U.S. every getting out of bed with Monsanto and Bayer.

Too soon it was time to leave, but Ferry had other adventures planned for us. He took us to a delightful Windmill museum, all thatched with straw!

So, does this look like a Dutch Renaissance painting? But there were more wonders in store for me. The Spirit of the Bees was watching me as I dashed, awestruck, from one skep to another on my Holland journeys. Said the Spirit of the Bees to her cherished and hardworking daughters, “Boy, she really likes these skeps, huh? Let’s toss her down another…” And so they did!

We have no idea who or what placed that old skep inside of the windmill. Coincidence, or divine mystery? You be the judge! We had many more adventures on Tuesday: Trips to the local organic market (croissants to die for…), a picnic on a windmill-created lake, and much good bee talk. Ferry shared with me that the colony in a skep will arrange itself differently, depending on where you site the opening. I’m keep that secret. You’ll have to come to my skep classes this winter to learn more!


I had planned to write and weave all day, but how could I when Ferry wanted to show Jacqueline and me a close-by “bee paradise.” In the states, we’d call this a bee sanctuary.  It is currently in the making, not far from Ferry’s home. Actually, in the place he first began keeping bees more than three decades ago. It is the residence of a lovely artist/gardener who is transforming her property into a bee education center for children. Here, you can open such a center without needing all the permits and upgrades of handicapped access and paved pathways. And business licenses. And commercial permits. And and and…

So, off we went to the enchanted Bee Paradise. And indeed, enchanted it was, don’t you think?

Jacqueline admires a busy Freedom Hive. In the background is a bee-tree!

This tree has a lovely story: A week after this lovely woman called Ferry about turning her property into a Bee Paradise, he got a call from her saying a big swarm was hanging from this huge old tree. Ferry came by to take a look. “When I was younger, I could have climbed up and taken it, but not now. It was too high. A few days later, the swarm was gone. Then, a few weeks later, we suddenly noticed bees coming out of this large crevice. The swarm had moved into the tree!” The little bucket and long pulley are there to feed the bees, who moved in later in the season. They must have heard about the Bee Paradise in the making!

It is evident an artist lives here. The entire place is a palette of color, texture, and design. Just stepping through the front gate, you can feel your heart melt, your breath deepen…

A beautiful bee house for teaching.

These are some of Ferry’s older hives. We spent a few moments hefting them to assess the strength of the colonies inside. No need to open them. You can feel the vigor of the colonies in your hands and shoulders in the weight—or lack of it.

Beauty and bees at every turn.

This beautiful top bar hive is traveling soon to live with the Director of the Railroads. It will be the bees’ job to make the director fall in love with bees, because the rail lines are on the new Bee Highway being developed here. We’ll be learning more about this exciting project at the conference. The director, with a signature or two, can open railroad lands to bee flower plantings along the bee highway. The bees have a big PR job to do, but we bet they are up for it. Who could help but fall in love with these sweet, gentle souls?

And how about this for a bee watering station?

Above, vegetable gardens have been removed to make room for more bee forage. Ferry tells us that next year, all this will be glorious flowers. “We had a bad summer this year. Not so much in bloom. But next year, this will be beautiful.” Ferry, it is already beautiful. What a wonderful local project for bees and people. Needless to say, Jacqueline and I are fairly buzzing with ideas for crafting such a place in our own home towns.

I will leave you now with these lovely, shining sunflower faces to brighten your day. Tomorrow, Ferry heads to the conference with his van packed with skeps and bee tools. And Friday, I join them!