2 days ago we saw the fulfillment of a dream I’ve had most of my life. We have a hive of bees living at BLD farm. We (read this as LEAH) found a place, Red Sky Apiary, just south of Cleveland, that sells tiny starter hives for roughly the same cost as commercially sold bees. I mentioned that we got bees to a friend and he said, “oh, you mean where you get a queen in a steel cage surrounded by other bees in a box?” Well, no. What we got is shown above. An active functioning hive on 5 frames. I stood in the presence of a queen bee for the first time in my life. She was right there. Nose down, about her business. All busy. It was awesome.
Now, I’m no stranger to bees. Only once before have I been the one in the goofy hat, but some of my earliest memories are of being around either my parents or grandparents working on their hives. My Dzeda, my mother’s father, was a hive master. At least to a 4 year old me he was. Prying the frames apart obscured in a swirl of burlap smoke. No hood, no gloves. Awesome. I remember my parents opening the hive by the side door of our first stand alone house and them finding a mother mouse with a mischief of pinkies still hanging from her teats. My mom tells me they were removed with a spoon, into a shoe box, into the woods behind the house. Mostly though, I remember thinking the bees were angry because they had opened their box. I can still see their bright red tongues. I remember walking across the yard behind my grandfather’s house (across the street from our farm) and suddenly the big toe on my bare right foot was on fire. I sat and watched the stinger pumping it’s package into my skin. I can actually see it. This was 41 years ago and I can see the skin starting to redden and swell. Just at the very edge of panic from this world crushing moment. She had been crawling on some white clover that couldn’t have been taller than 2″. I stepped on her not knowing. She did what she knew. STRIKE. Knowing that she would die by doing it, she did it anyway. Defend. Protect. Sacrifice. Powerful lesson for one so young.
Jo did get stung while she was moving the hive. Actually it was afterwards. One of the bees had landed on her hand and had gotten wedged under her ring or something and nailed her. Too much threat. Everything had gone smoothly to that point. They were otherwise so amazingly calm that we just stayed at the hive for almost an hour. Once everyone was moved into the hive box and the lid placed. Then, the bees did what they do best. In my minds eye, I saw them crawling all over the inside of their new home, now with 10 frames preset with wax foundation sheets (or whatever they are called). Once the exact dimensions of the new space is realized, they began pushing out the front door. All the while, the ones who flew off the frames as Jo was moving them, were finding the front door and going into the hive and telling what they saw.
Then something amazing happened. I don’t know if they were the ones from inside, or those from without, but we then watched as they bees would land, stand still, facing the door, lower their heads to the floor, raise their back end and flap their wings like mad. At times nearly a dozed of them were just standing there doing that. Jo said it was partly about mixing the air in the box with outside air. What I saw was these little balls of gold, set alight by the sun, bowing their heads in thanks. Who or what they were thanking is one of the great mysteries. Greater even then the bees themselves. Or corn. The word in anthropomorphism. Who am I to say what they are doing? Jo said it several times, “the books mostly get bees wrong. THEY know what they are doing. WE are just guessing.” And we just sat there and watched them orient.
Leah and I have tangled with a nest of ground hornets that had taken up residence in some old hay bales a few years ago. After the 3rd sting, I had realized my error and basically ran for my life with Leah coming to the same realization at roughly the same moment.There is absolutely no way you could pay me to sit this close to one of their hives. Even with the goofy hat. These girls were just all about getting things done. No threat. No danger. Their closed, secret world had just been ripped into the sunlight. Suddenly, shockingly. And they did nothing. Jo was surgically careful about all of it. Gently encouraging them to move when they were in the way. Brushing them off with a goldenrod top. Smoke unnecessary. To think that these magical being have lived among us 2-legs for so many years. Much like chickens or goats and yet entirely alien. Even among their own kind, to my mind. Hymenopterans are all around us. Minding their business. And it’s only these, Honey bees:
Apis nigrocincta that just PUMP OUT honey, one of the most singular materials ever. And they pump it out in such profusion that humans have build a Bee-Industrial-Complex that is doing these bugs no real favors. Factory bees spend an awful lot of their lives being moved from field to field in semis, getting sprayed with all the things meant to kill off everything else. It just gets murky then. Ugly. Sad. Nothing like the little box that rolled up our drive and now rests over there. Quietly humming to itself. Working its way through its tiny rituals. About it’s own business.