“Better Safe than Sorry”
“Always be prepare for the worse.”
I’m not talking about dance school management. I’m talking about bees.
Today, I went to check on my bees for the first time. It was to be a maintenance check to be sure the bees are still there, building up their home appropriately. I figured I’d go out there in jeans and long sleeve shirt, maybe with my gloves and veil, because I was planning only a quick peek. I ordered a few additional things from the bee company after my class, and they arrived yesterday, so this morning, I spent an hour putting together a cedar hive stand and preparing another style of feeder with sugar syrup “just in case”. I would set these up too.
I put on shorts this morning, but didn’t feel comfortable dressing that lightly. As I go to change, I think it’ll be just as easy to slip on the bee suit. While this makes me seem like a nervous weenie, I figure it can’t hurt to suit up and pretend I’m a big time beekeeper (not as if anyone was around to make fun of me.)
I load up the car with the stuff I need, because the beehive is far from the house. I bring a second hive box with ten wax frames to expand living quarters. I also bring my bee brush to sweep bees out of the way, my hive tool to open the box just in case it is sealed shut with sticky goo, and my smoker, thinking I might as well light ‘er up just to practice. I’m convinced none of this is necessary, but it is fun to play with new toys.
I’m disappointed that no one is around so I can shout, “I’m going in . . .” like they did in the movie Tornado when the heroes bravely ventured into the path of danger.
I’m feeling like Rambo.
However, I’m also feeling silly; because I know I will probably do a spot check for five minutes, throw the new hive box on top, and be good to go. No big deal.
I light up the smoker using pine needles for fuel. It is oozing smoke rapidly, and I laugh because I feel like this is true overkill. I mean, I only have a few bees to peek in on this early in the game. No need to act so concerned about controlling them.
When I pick up the hive top feeder (remember, it had ants in it last week and was full of syrup) I see only dead ants and not a spec of sugar water. That’s good. My bees have eaten my entire starter snack. Sure didn’t take long.
I’m surprised because I actually do have to pry the top unit off. Wow, they’ve already begun sealing things shut. Good work. This almost feels like a real beehive check.
I lift up the top.
Holly Shit! There are about a million bees inside and every one of them stops what they are doing to turn around to stare at me with distain and an expression that reveals their intent to do me in. (Well, that is what it felt like to this beginner.)
I slam the lid back on and reach for the smoker. I puff little whiffs of smoke inside under the lid and stand back to wait a few seconds the way my teacher demonstrated. When I go back in, the bees have all crawled down into the hive, making it easy for me to maneuver about the top. OK. Smoke is good. I love smoke.
I see that Aunt Bea has been making lots of babies and they are growing fast and working hard, because many of the inner frames are filled with comb. I want to lift one up, but can’t figure out how to wedge it out, especially since every inch of the surface is swarming with bees. I grab my trusty hive tool and use the edge to pry up a corner, then gingerly lift the piece. It has about 2000 bees on it, and thankfully, they are busy working and eating their honey (which is a natural reaction to smoke). The frame is heavy, dripping with honey. Remarkable! I wish I could dip a finger in and get a taste, but now is not the time for sampling. I set it aside carefully. Now, with the space made by removing one frame, I can shift things about to look at the others. Each frame is filled with a gazillion bees. I know I should lift each one to inspect it, and look for the queen, but decide not to, because I’m concerned I’ll crush her like many dopey inexperienced beginners do.
I then remember I came to put the new hive stand under the box, so I move the entire unit to the ground, crushing a handful of bees. Opps. Sorry. Then, when I try to set up the stand, it doesn’t fit on the concrete blocks supporting the hive. Mark promised to build me a stable, outdoor table for the hive, but he was called to Sarasota unexpectedly the day after I set up the hive, and face it, hobby projects are very low on our priority list right now. I decide to wait for another day to set up the stand and put the box back the way it was, crushed bees and all. I next try to put the new feeder in place. It leaks all over making a huge mess. It will be empty in a few minutes at this rate. For the first time, I notice my hive is on a slant, and clearly, this feeder only works when balanced straight. Crap. So I pour the sugar water (which I can tell is unnecessary anyway, but what the heck, I have it with me now) into the hive top feeder. I’ve been in here about ten minutes now, and opening a hive for fifteen minutes is the suggested max. I’m clumsy and slow.
Lastly, I want to put an entrance block in the front of the hive to keep out hive robbers, since now it is now clear my bee family is making something worth robbing. However, the entrance is swarming with active, annoyed bees. I try to put the device in place, but two bees land on me and try to sting my arm (love that bee suit and I’m glad I wore it now!) Then, I remember the smoke. I grab the smoker and puff at it, but it has burned out. Eeek. I can hear the bees buzzing, as if they are spreading the word that I am without my weapon. Quickly, I bend down and stuff some pine straw inside, squeeze the air vent and smoke rears up. OK, now I’ve learned to keep on top of the smoker status and keep it full of fuel “just in case”.
Finally, I get the hive put back in order and I load my car with my tools. I take off my veil and gloves, pausing to say good-by to the bees. They are swarming all over in the air now, obviously agitated over my tampering with their home. They are probably evaluating the new changes and this puts them in a bad mood. Sorry, friends.
I am not afraid, but only because I’m standing ten feet away now and out of their flying path. It is comforting having some textbook knowledge of bee behavior, but at the same time, I imagine how I will soon have two boxes stacked together and both will be filled with bees outnumbering me by the thousands. It is intimidating and I think perhaps I’ll do some more reading. Clearly, this bee project is going to get harder and more involved as things progress.
Wildflowers have been blooming all week. Usually I pick them for my centerpieces, but this year, I’ve let them be, thinking the bees will make better use of them than I. Glancing around, I see blackberry bushes in bloom, daisies, dandelion, and some other colorful wild blooms. I imagine my bees flying in a two-mile range, returning to this very box to do their dance to communicate where each flower is. Those that were out foraging today will come home to a taller house and hear the gossip about the big redhead who moved things around for no reason and how everybody is hoping she won’t be back. She will be, of course, but not for a few weeks. You can bet, when she comes, she will be fully suited with a full smoker blasting. She learns fast.
Today, while I wasn’t too graceful or brave about it, I was a beekeeper. It was exhilarating. Fascinating. And most importantly, it made me feel like I can do anything if I am willing to face my fears. Last but not least, it never hurts to go into something new prepared for the worse.
Now, I must go get ready for orientation at the Campbell school. This weekend is my home wine making course. Gee, I hope we get lots of samples. I could use a glass of wine after my harrowing bee adventure. With my first glass, you can bet I’ll make a silent toast. . . “Here’s to the fact that grapes don’t sting!”