Wednesday, April 15, 2009

My bees and my picks in the Stanley Cup playoffs

Whenever I think of the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs I think of my bees. I am a backyard beekeeper, and in Massachusetts, where I live, the NHL playoffs always begin just when I have to get to work on my hives. There is not a lot of work to beekeeping, at least not the way I practice it, but there are certain things you have to do and certain times you have to do them, and if you fail to hold up your end of the bargain, you will pay the price.
....I learned that lesson yesterday, when I was cleaning out my hive bodies, or supers, in anticipation of my two new colonies, which are arriving on Friday from Georgia. My bees died over the winter, you see, which was a harsh one here in Boston. Actually, one colony died over the winter, sometime in February, and the other collapsed late last summer. Not sure why. In any event, I left that empty hive body where it was, outside, putting a mouse guard over the entrance to protect it from invasion. But that wasn't enough. Not near enough. Some time during the fall wax moths invaded and absolutely decimated the empty supers, laying waste to all the honey that had been stored inside, the wretched caterpillars eating all the combs. I had to throw all twenty frames out. They were entombed in webbing and unsalvageable. It was a preventable disaster. What I should have done was take the frames inside once I'd discovered the bees had vacated the hive last summer. They would have stored nicely and been ready to house my new colony when I picked it up on Friday. Instead, the new bees will have to build out combs and store honey from scratch, which they will do uncomplainingly. But it means that next fall I won't have a honey harvest for the first time in ten years.

....Live and learn. It's a wonderful hobby, beekeeping, and I encourage any of you with the remotest interest to pursue it. The honey my bees produce is unlike any I have ever tasted, complex and slightly spicy, the result of gathering nectar from apple blossoms, clover, garlic chives, dandelions, roses, goldenrod, and whatever else manages to catch their fancy, depending on the season. Interestingly, they don't like lilac blossoms. The stronger a flower's fragrance to the human nose, the less the bees seem to like it. (Here at Breakwind Farm,my bees only go to the roses when nothing else is in bloom.) It's fascinating to me to see what appeals to bees. Garlic chives? Who knew? I recently visited a stunningly beautiful herb garden in Los Angeles at the Getty Villa . With hundreds of blooming plants and trees to choose from, about 30 bees--the only ones I saw as I strolled the grounds--were buzzing around a rather unassuming, weed-like plant with blue, bellshaped flowers called Borage

I determined then and there I would plant the weedy borage in my flower garden, eyesore though it may be. If bees like it, I like it.
....Anyhoo, I'll periodically post more updates on my bees, and perhaps will share some snapshots with you when I pick my two new colonies up on Friday. It's pretty colorful, a cage of 5000 bees. But this blog entry started with the Stanley Cup playoffs, which begin tonight, and the first round, for my money, is the best, most entertaining, least predictable two weeks of hockey of the year. If you have access to Versus, have HD TV and at least a 42 inch screen, you are in for a viewing treat. But don't plan on getting a full night's sleep. Two, three, even four overtime games await you. If I could make one change in the NHL, it would be to remove a player from each team every ten minutes of sudden death overtime. 5 on 5. Then 4 on 4. Then 3 on 3. Then 2 on 2...until someone scores. For god's sake, let us get some shut eye!
Here are my first round picks: Eastern Conference.

1) Washington over the Rangers in 7. Too much Ovechkin, but the Rangers and Washington's suspect defense will make it interesting.
2) Carolina over the Devils in 6. Scotty Bowman used to tell me that it isn't where you are as you enter the playoffs (Hurricanes are in 6th, Devils in 3rd.) It's how you're playing. The Devils won only four of their last eleven. The 'Canes won 9 of their last 11.
3)Boston over Montreal in 5. The Bruins are the real deal this year, and the Habs are a mess.
4) Pittsburgh over the Flyers in 7. I look for this one to be very close and very physical. But the Pens have been a new team under coach Dan Bylsma, and ultimately their power play will be the difference.
Western Conference

1) Detroit over Columbus in 5
Columbus is a fine defensive team under coach Ken Hitchcock, and this series is not a mismatch. But the Red Wings, defending Stanley Cup champs, have the best defenseman in the game in Nik Lidstrom, and an underrated coach in Mike Babcock. If their goaltending doesn't let them down--and it could with Chris Osgood coming off an off year--they'll prevail.
2) San Jose over Anaheim in five.
The Sharks are perennial underachievers in the post season. But they were the NHL's best team in the regular season, and under first year coach Todd McLellan this could be their year.
3) St. Louis over Vancouver in 7. Both teams won 17 of their last 25 games. Goaltending will decide it. Hell, goaltending always decides it!
4) Chicago over Calgary in 5. If this series goes the distance, I look for Calgary to win it over the inexperienced Hawks, whose best chance is an early knockout punch. This pick is a sentimental one for me: I grew up with season tix to the Black Hawks in the heyday of Bobby Hull, Stan Mikita and Glenn Hall. It's only the second time in eleven years they've made it to the post season. I HAVE to pick them. Who knows when I'll get another chance! (Actually, this is a good young team that has laid the foundation for years of success.) They need a taste of playoff success now to build on.

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