October 17, 2013
Little did I know when I called last week's column "Rain" how prophetic that would be. I expected a little pause from the extracting, a couple of days of rain, some badly needed moisture and then a return to the honey harvest. There have been several years when we've had a few inches of snow at about this time in September, there's a break in the extracting, the snow melts off, the warm September days return and we're back in business. No big deal, I've learned to adjust. How little we knew what was coming this time. Mother Nature can be a cruel mistress.
I sent the column in last Wednesday morning and at that point we'd had 1.75-inches of rain, nice, I thought, that will bring us a green fall and maybe some late bloom. It continued to rain through the day, softly for the most part, but the skies opened up that evening. At about 8:00 or 8:30 I was in the kitchen doing up the dishes when I heard a distinct change in the rain sounds, from a soft patter to a pounding downpour. By morning we'd had 5 more inches on top of what had fallen earlier and we were in trouble.
The Honey House sits on a side hill that has a high water table even during dry periods. During the early years there was a live spring about half way to the top that George Hay used as the water source for his horses.
The Honey House was a milking parlor on the Bader homestead in an earlier life, big enough for half a dozen cows. They entered on the north side through a wide door that has remained locked and unused in all the time I've been here. The Honey House is a cinder block building on a slab, and if the water level rises above the level of the floor, water will begin to creep in under that north door.
I learned that lesson long ago, probably during one of our spring rains, and my solution was to dig a trench along the north side and around on the west, downhill. This simple solution solved the problem, diverting the water coming out of the hill and channeling it away. But this has been a dry, hot season and it's been a number of years since the trench was necessary, it had grown over with grass and I knew it probably wasn't clear enough to divert the water from the heavy overnight rain.
The Honey House is about two miles from the house, on the north side of Left Hand Creek, and when I got to Oxford Road I found that flood waters were coming across the road from the south, the creek had broken out about a mile and a half upstream and the flood waters were circling around from the south and then seeking the old channel. I drove through about a quarter of a mile of flooded roadway, because the flow wasn't high enough to float me and I knew from hundreds of trips across the road that it was a solid road base. It wasn't quite so good when I turned the corner. Left Hand Creek had broken out above the bridge and there was 100 feet of fast moving water coming over the road at the bridge approach. This time I elected to be more cautious and I turned around and went back home to reconsider.
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I found that downstream the bridge at Airport Road was still open, so with my friend Cathryn I was able to cross the creek there and come back around to the Honey House from the north. As I suspected, a little water had come in under the north door, but with an hour of trenching the two of us got the water diverted and a little mopping inside took care or the water.
That secured the Honey House, and the next concern was the status of the beeyards, I knew that I had at least two at risk, one south of the Honey House, south of Left hand Creek, in what we call The Old Tree Farm. It was on the south edge of the flood waters coming across Oxford Road I had encountered in the morning, but whether it was in the moving water or not couldn't be determined from a distance. Cathryn and I work that yard on shares, so she took it upon herself to drive as close as she could get and then walk in. The beeyard was in standing water, but not moving water, and the level wasn't above the entrances, so for the time being at least those bees were OK.
My next concern was my beeyard out west near the foothills, located on the north side of Left Hand Creek. The creek had broken out on the north side a half mile above and 3 feet of turbulent water and strong current swept across the beeyard. A week later I still can't get close enough to get a clear view, but through the trees with binoculars I can see that there is nothing left. It had several producing colonies, a portion of this year's crop (it was on the schedule to be the next pull) and enough equipment for several more colonies. Yesterday afternoon I found two empty hive bodies with my brand, TCT77, a mile downstream at the 49th Street bridge, lodged in the debris and in surprisingly good shape considering the ride that got them there. Those two boxes are all that's left of the beeyard.
This was a massive storm, something the grand children will tell their grand children. The talking heads have characterized it as a once in a hundred year, once in 500 year, even a once in a thousand year event. When I went out last week to see if I had a beeyard left Don Getman was there. Don has lived there all his life, he's just a little older than me, and I asked him if he had ever seen anything like this before at that spot. "Yes I have," was his reply, so that particular kind of flooding had happened before.
What distinguished this storm was the size. It isn't rare for a thunderstorm to park over a foothills drainage and cause flooding, but this storm covered a 150 mile front and the size and the amount of water it dumped is almost beyond comprehension. I'm told that meteorologists thought their models were wrong when they began to see what was coming after the first day, they couldn't believe what the data was showing them.
Niwot sits on a low divide between Left Hand Creek on the north and Dry Creek on the south and I didn't have any water problems here at the house. While the beeyard is a significant loss, I don't have to look too far to see the tragedy that has befallen others and I feel fortunate to have gotten off as easy as I did. I'm not sure what this means for the bee business. I'll probably try to rebuild, but I have the winter to consider that. Other beekeeping friends were hit much harder than I was. I was talking with a fellow beekeeper yesterday who told me a Brighton operation he buys honey from lost 190 of 200 colonies.
We think we've brought nature under control, we can be warm when it's cold, cool when it's hot, dry when it's wet, secure in our comfortable homes, but in the long span of time we really aren't the masters of the universe we would like to think we are, and every once in a while Mother Nature says "Are you listening?" She can be a cruel mistress indeed. ❖