lessons in propogation: an interview with cheyenne serene

Cheyenne texted me earlier today saying she just finished some homemade bacon-infused vodka and asked if I would like to have some Bloody Marys with her on the porch on a gorgeous Chicago afternoon. Obviously this was the perfect setting to interview one of my very best friends who is an avid biker, bar-keep and recent bee-keepers apprentice. To see her pages, click back here.

Cheyenne Serene: I just got some jade pieces that I propagated. It’s like a woody branch with succulent type leaves on it. I guess you can just put the fallen leaves in dirt and it grows another plant.

CoateRak: Cool.

CS: Yeah, Jana [Kinsman, founder of Bike-a-Bee] had a bunch of these old seeds that she didn’t know what to do with and these 5 gallon buckets of dirt so she was like, let’s just plant these and see what happens. So we did. And then they started to grow! So we have a ton of sunflowers and squash and collards and mint. Lots of mint. Oh, and milkweed.

CR: What is milkweed?

CS: It’s like a type of flower plant. It’s good for monarch butterflies.

CR: That’s lovely. How many miles did you bike yesterday for work?

CS: Um, about 25. Also a lot of walking and carrying things. It was good, it was nice out and hot. So hot. But the bees like it, so.

CR: The bees like heat?

CS: Yeah. I guess there’s about to be a nectar flow. Because all the black locust’s are about to bloom.

CR: What’s a nectar flow?

CS: A nectar flow just means when a bunch of things bloom at once. Or one particular species just blooms all at once and there’s just a shit ton of nectar out. So they just make a lot of honey all at once. So the black locusts are about to bloom so there’s gonna be a huge nectar flow. We have to give all the bees more boxes so they have more space for the honey.

CR: That’s so cool. And how long have you been doing this for now?

CS: Just since March. So like, two months.

CR: Yeah, like a couple months and you’re a fucking bee queen. I’m so impressed by how much you’re retaining and learning.

CS: Well it’s so fascinating. And it makes it easier that I’m actually doing it. It’s how I learn better anyways - just doing it. Hands on.

CR: When did you start thinking about bees? Specifically?

CS: I think - remember when I was talking about wanting to buy property in Detroit?

CR: Oh yes. That was it.

CS: And then I was thinking New Orleans property. And then I found that weird article that was like - guess what? Celebrities get around property taxes by keeping bees on their property….

CR: Oh yeah! And registering as a farm. Sneaky.

CS: And I was like wow. That could be an easy way to get out of property taxes. And I was like - I should keep bees. But now, I mostly just really like keeping bees. I mean, I’ll probably get some property at some point, too.

CR: I have a feeling you will.

CS: Yeah, I wanna buy property and have a little garden space and bees. Perfect.

CR: Are you still excited about moving to New Orleans?

CS: Yeeesss…..

CR: Hm, you don’t sound super excited….

CS: Ok, well. Yes and no. I’m very excited, but I also am super nervous. Because I don’t really know a lot of people down there. And beekeeping is way different in the north than it is in the south.

CR: Oh…Have you been researching that? Or talking to Jana about it?

CS: It’s just that, in the north, in the midwest, you have to worry about hives over-wintering. Because most hives can’t survive the winters. it’s pretty common that they die because it’s too cold. But in the south you don’t have to deal with that problem so it’s beekeeping all year round. And there’s probably, not constantly, but for most of the year, there’s more nectar sources and pollen sources so there’s a lot more work.

CR: Because they’re producing so much more?

CS: They’re producing way more. Like, in San Diego, I follow this beekeeper named Hillary who does this thing called “Girl Next Door Honey” and she is constantly catching swarms, and, that’s another big thing, swarming…

CR: What’s that?

CS: Well when hives get too big for them to maintain themselves as one giant colony, they realize that and so they create a new queen. They raise a new queen in the colony and the old queen leaves with about 200-300 of her worker bees and they just leave the hive and post up in a tree or on a wall or on somebody’s porch and they just hang out there for a while. And a few worker bees, maybe a dozen, scout out places nearby for them to find a new home and settle into. So they constantly split off. So because it’s constantly warm and you don’t have to worry about hives dying, there are just constant swarms and they’re constantly splitting off into new hives. And swarms aren’t actually dangerous but there’s a lot of them and beekeepers usually have to deal with them. There’s that and then in the south there’s “africanized bees”. You know that thing when you’re a kid and they would talk about “killer bees”? It was like a big deal. That’s basically what africanized bees are. And they’re just way more aggressive or defensive. There’s laws in place. I was reading up on the laws for beekeeping in New Orleans and one of the laws is if you discover that the hive you have is africanized you have to immediately re-queen it. So it’s just all these other little practices and things that I probably won’t learn about as much up here because it’s not as relevant. And finding beekeepers in New Orleans isn’t super easy, actually. And I’d have to get there by car, but I don’t have a car. I’m thinking about getting a truck once I get down there.

CR: Oh yeah. A good dirty pickup truck. I can totally see you in that.

CS: Ha. Yeah. I want that so bad. So if I got a truck it’d be easier. I need to do more research. There’s a horticulture association down there and they have a little beekeeping department, so I’ll email them about that. Because I want to start with someone who’s already established down there and learn from them for at least a year. But on the other hand, Jana did a beekeeping apprenticeship in Seattle for 5 weeks, then moved to Chicago and started Bike-a-Bee by herself.

CR: I have full confidence that you’d be able to do that, but it would be nice to have some type of mentor.

CS: Yeah, and that’s another thing with Jana. Yeah she did that and that’s super cool, but Chicago has so many beekeepers. There’s the Chicago Honey Co-op, Westside Bee Boys, there’s just so many beekeepers here. And they all help each other and exchange information and stuff. So, it’s easier to do here, than going to New Orleans and figuring it out for myself. It’ll work out though. I’m not too worried about it. But it’d be nice to know people who also do beekeeping down there.

CR: This is just a whole different world I never really thought to think about.

CS: And the more I learn about agriculture in Chicago and the amount of urban farming and urban beekeeping that goes on here., the more I’m like - maybe I should just stay here for another year, learn more and meet more people. But then….I don’t really want to. I’d rather just go to New Orleans and figure it out. I know I can do it.

CR: Also, New Orleans.

CS: Ah, New Orleans. And Chicago winters suck.

CR: Yes.

CS: I would much rather just go down there and do everything I can and just work really hard for it. But the thought of doing it by myself is a little intimidating. I feel like there are community gardens, and the potential for some. Some that could be really perfect for bees. And if they have a horticulture association I have to image they’d be able to point me in the right direction. I’ll just pay them in honey.

CR: Exactly. That’s pretty good payment. And what’s awesome is you’re going to be able to trade your honey for other awesome shit. Like fresh veggies and whatever.

CS: Oh, yes. Like, so much cool shit. Jana just does bartering with her honey all day. We’ll be at the Plant and there’s so many people there who do so many different things and she’ll be like, “Oh, I need this piece of wood cut and plexiglass and have no way of doing it. Can you do it?” And they do it and she’ll pay them in honey. We have these massive wooden beams that go up to the roof and we needed someone to cut it for us and this guy there just cut if for us and it was perfect. And we gave him honey.

CR: Ah. So good.

CS: Jana’s also looking to work with this super fancy bar and sell them her honey and they’ll make drinks exclusively with her honey. Which is what I want to do. I wanna be like - hey, here’s a partnership with a really high end bar in New Orleans and say- hey, use this honey for your cocktails and they’ll pay me for it.

CR: Girl, so many opportunities.

CS: So many. I’m excited.

CR: I'm excited for you.