There are certain pursuits which, if not wholly poetic and true, do at least suggest a nobler and finer relation to nature than we know. The keeping of bees, for instance.
Henry David Thoreau
I can’t remember how long ago I became infatuated with bees. I do remember asking my Dad if he would consider a couple of hives on the farm. He scowled and shook his head as he told me there was no room for him and bees on the place (I’ve discovered that many folks agree with his view). At the time, I worked a lot and spent many days away from home. I didn’t have time to water a plant much less have bee hives. My infatuation waned due to other responsibilities, but with the promise to revisit.
With retirement on the horizon, I took the beginners bee class offered by the regional beekeeping club. I took notes, asked questions, paid a membership, wrote down member’s numbers, and bought numerous books. I’ve watched more YouTube videos than I can count. As the instructor said in class, ask 10 different beekeepers, get 10 different answers (not what I was hoping for). Pine hives versus cypress hives. Painted or varnished finishes for the hive. Do I buy Italian bees or Carniola, Russian bees or Buckfast? Negatives include varroa and tracheal mites, brood disease, beetles, viruses, pesticides, and colony collapse disorder. The bees in the colony are the workers, drones and the queen (sounds like a workplace). Have a grumpy queen and the whole colony is moody (sort of like people). Every bee has a purpose and a role (also sort of like people). Face the hives to the south, ensure a wind break, and have water within a quarter mile. If providing a water supply, add a piece of wood so the bees don’t drown. Wow, who knew a bee could drown?
After a couple of months of reading and studying, the romanticized visions of beekeeping vanished. In addition, it isn’t a cheap endeavor. Just to name a few of the necessities; tools, a smoker, beetle busters, wood bleach, and a bee suit. In the early phase of this adventure, I told listeners that I wanted bees because they let themselves out in the morning and they were home by dark. Unlike my neighbor that has sheep that she moves around day to day, and chickens that have to be guarded and thinned out occasionally, I thought bees were the ultimate low maintenance contribution to nature. The joke is on me. I told the hubby that a dog would be easier.
I didn’t chicken out. I picked up two nucs of Italian bees (Benventuo!) on Saturday from a local beekeeper. A nuc is short for nucleus. It means there is an established queen and all the bees have formed a working relationship. If a package of bees is ordered, the queen is foreign to the colony and it takes a little more time for the colony to build (sort of like starting a new job and figuring out how the team works). Bringing home the nucs reminded me of when we brought our newborn babies home. I stood and starred at them. I tried to recall the YouTube videos (Dr. Spoke books for the newborns) telling me what to do.
On Saturday afternoon, I pulled on my white bee suit (looked like the Michelin tire guy) and got to it. I did make the mistake of peeking in at the bees before zipping my veil. Bad idea…..sting directly to the right temple (I’d be mad too if I had been bouncing around in a box). The first hive was torqued. I may have riled them a bit much with the new smoker. Pine needles make great fire material by the way. The second colony was kinder and calmer. I spotted the queen on the second frame. I used less smoke and was calmer myself since the burning pain in the right temple had stopped. I put the top on the hives, added a concrete block, and walked away.
A bit later, I sat in a chair (safe distance)and watched them come and go. Pollen on their legs, buzzing with activity, devoted to their role in the colony, fulfilling a role in our own agriculture cycle, and creating honey that goes on a hot biscuit. I found it peaceful and fascinating. I know the easiest part is over. Now it comes to monitoring for disease, mites, and keeping the queens healthy. The low maintenance thing went out the window, but then again, anything worth doing probably isn’t low maintenance.
Stay tuned. We will learn more about bees together here on Windy Hill.