Friday, April 16, 2010

Birds and Bees

Bee Mistress

Last weekend, we drove down to GloryBee Foods in Eugene, OR to pick up our box o' bees.  When we arrived, a demonstration was just about to begin, and I am very glad we managed to participate.  The thing is, we have been interested in keeping bees for years, but Mike has been more motivated.  He took the Master Beekeeper classes, read the books, and watches the videos.  I felt that I had enough responsibility, and couldn't take on one more thing.  But then, we came across a 2nd-hand suit and hat in a size small.  And Mike couldn't squeeze into it.  Now I am the Bee Mistress, and I was very happy to see, in person, how to introduce the bees to their new home.

At home, I removed a little box containing the queen, but was alarmed to see that she was just rolling around in there.  She appeared to be barely alive.  We removed the cork from one end and Mike stuck a gummy bear in the hole, and I placed the queen box in the hive.  Then I put the rest of the bees, in their opened box, into the empty top story of the hive and replaced the lid. 

Then I went inside and called my friend Damian, who keeps bees.  (Look up Taborhood Honey to see how he has been putting hives all around his Portland neighborhood, spreading the bee love.)  He reassured me that the hive would be ok, but that I needed to replace the queen asap.  Since it was Saturday evening, I had to wait until Monday morning to call GloryBee.

GloryBee was great about immediately sending a new queen, no questions asked.  Damian explained that I needed to locate the original queen (if she survived) and assassinate her before introducing the new queen.  So, on Wednesday morning, I put on my gear and opened the hive.  I used my smoker, though it seemed only to irritate the bees.  It is a very unique experience to deliberately disturb a swarm of 13,000 (or so) bees who are otherwise minding their own business.  I removed one frame after another and searched for the tiny blue dot that would indicate the queen.  The bees were not thrilled with this.  I used a soft brush to push them around in more clustered areas.  I turned over dead bees laying in the bottom of the box. But I never found the blue dot.  I felt pretty sure she had died, or that they had eaten the gummy bear, stormed her box, and killed her for being a poor excuse for a queen.

When the new queen was delivered later that day, I just tacked her box between two frames and left it.  I haven't checked back (though I've called and emailed Damian to make sure I'm doing everything right.)

I was impressed by the comb that is already growing on the frames.  When I'm tending the hive, I move slowly, gently, and I feel supremely calm and focused.  I expect to be stung, but it hasn't happened yet.  Despite the original plan for me to serve only as moral support on this beekeeping enterprise, I am comfortable with my lead role.  I feel a strong attachment for, and gratitude toward the hive, and I'm looking forward to a life with bees.