Thursday, April 14, 2011

For so work the honey bees ...

The queen comes separately from the package - she's the largest bee in the very middle of this small cage, surrounded by her attendants.

There is a low humming out back of the vegetable garden.  It's mesmerizing.

I'm a beekeeper now which amuses me.  I never thought about bees.  Keeping bees, that is.  I like bees and don't flip out if one flies near me which is a plus for a beekeeper I suppose.  But, I never once thought to myself, "I'd like to have a bee hive."  I did say that I wanted to grow vegetables, however, and bees are an absolute necessity for that to be successful.  If bees don't visit your cucumber flowers you do not get many cucumbers, end of story.  

And so it happened that I found myself taking a course on beekeeping through the local agriculture extension office.  Over the course of 8 weeks I learned all about bee anatomy, how to put together a hive, how to harvest honey, and how to spot and treat bee parasites and diseases.  It was fascinating.  Unfortunately, the class did NOT teach me how to get past the fear of being stung.  In fact, there was an entire class on the dangers of stings which did nothing to lessen my apprehension.  It's not a fear of the bee itself, it's a fear of the pain. I'm not a fan of pain.  

Trying not to think about it, I ordered my bees.  You can have them delivered by mail although the post office will not leave them in your mailbox.  Apparently if you order them by mail you can expect to receive a call from the post office asking you to come down and pick up your buzzing package immediately, please!  I decided to order mine from a local apiary so that I could pick them up in person and not have them go through the trauma of the USPS.  

We put the hive together and selected a site just behind the small vegetable garden for the bee yard.  It's far enough away from where the children play that I won't worry but close enough to view them and allow them easy access to the vegetables for pollination.  You can see that set up was a family affair - and Ironman joined us as well.  

As the pick up date grew closer, I became more and more nervous.  Reading the instructions for installing the bees did not help.  "Slam the box down sharply, so that all the bees fall to the bottom of the box.  Remove the lid from the box.  Turn the box upside down and shake vigorously, pouring the bees into the hive."  Right.  I had pictures from a horror movie playing inside my head.   

It didn't help that the day the bees arrived was unusually cool and rainy.  Cold isn't good for bees so I had to wait until the next day to move them into their new home, giving me even more time to stew.  I made the mistake of telling Brendan I was really nervous about it.  He, being the gentleman he is, offered to do it himself so I wouldn't have to.  You'd think he'd know by now that I absolutely cannot allow someone to take over a task from me.  I am stubborn and strong willed and would rather go down in the swarm of bees than be a  chicken, or worse, a quitter.  You know, it just dawned on me that perhaps he DOES know me that well and knew exactly what his offer would do.  I can't believe he tricked me!  

So, I donned the beekeeper jacket and veil and headed down to the hive with Brendan close by, taking pictures for posterity - or the insurance company, depending.  And it really wasn't bad at all.  It was really strange to have bees crawling all over me.  I couldn't feel them through the jacket and veil but I could see and hear them.  I could feel them on my hands and it was incredibly weird to have them crawling between my fingers.  They weren't aggressive at all.  It was more like they were curious, checking me out.  The most difficult part was that a certain contingent of the bees refused to come out of the box despite the fact that I was shaking it as hard as I could.  I finally gave up and left the stragglers in the box next to the hive.  They eventually found their way out and into their cozy new house.  

Sharply jarring the box of bees!

I was so proud of myself and I didn't receive even one sting.  Brendan was not so lucky.  Because the new hive of bees have no honey stores, we have to feed them sugar syrup (as for hummingbirds) until they start making their own honey.  I had Brendan help me carry jugs of syrup down to the hive and a bee flew up his shirt.  When it couldn't get out, it panicked and stung him on the stomach.  It's a good thing our neighbors are fairly far away because he came out of his clothes pretty darn quickly.  I'm sure this makes me a bad person, but I'm glad it was him and not me!  He's tough.  

And now I love to go down to the hive.  At night, when they're all inside, you can hear the soft hum that lets you know the box is alive.  During the day, I watch the bees fly out and am thrilled when I see the bees returning home with their pollen baskets full.  Those of you who know me well know that I am a Shakespeare junkie and I can't help but quote Henry V.  "For so work the honey-bees, Creatures that by a rule in nature teach The act of order to a peopled kingdom."

I already love my girls.  I'm a beekeeper now.  


  1. Very brave! I am fascinated by bees, but I don't know that I could work with them like that.

  2. gloves!! omg, please, where are the gloves? you're freakin' me out. ;)

  3. Tell Brendan to tuck in his shirttails next time (advice from Uncle Rob, master of the obvious)