Now for the girls that I have kept secret from you.
The Honey bees.
As many of you may know, I have been taking bee-keeping classes since January of this year. I think my interest peaked when I visited a honey house and spent time talking with the owners. I have always loved honey, and I found it interesting to listen to them talk about their business, and then to watch them bottle honey. Not to mention, the tasting of the honey.
I really love honey.
I began attending some monthly meetings at a nearby Bee Keepers Association, and it just went from there. I don't really think that I had expectations when I began, other than the desire to have my own honey. It didn't take long though, and I was completely hooked.
Honey bees are fascinating.
They are so smart, and the way their little world works is very intriguing to me. There were a lot of lectures and reading involved in the beginning of my class sessions, and I soaked it all in. Then we went over all of the equipment needed and placed orders for our supplies. As homework, we had to assemble our wooden ware. That included sealing and painting our hives. I wrote a little about that already, and you can read that post here. It wasn't too bad. Just the usual things that happen with wood, glue and nails. It's not like there were any broken bones or anything.
The interesting moments came as it was time to bring our hives home. Where do we want to put them? How can I make sure that my horses aren't trying to scratch their rumps on them?
Horses do that, you know?
I have seen them really give a tree the once over. Probably not good for anyone involved if they knock over bee hives. Not to mention that the Man in Charge is a Safety Guru. Literally. A big part of the living that he makes comes from Safety. It was easy enough to make sure the animals were covered. I even have a vial of the horse equivalent to Benadryl - just in case. Always the one to err on the side of caution, I was instructed to go to my Doctor and explain to him what I was doing and request an Epi-Pen. My Doctor agreed that it probably was a good idea to have one on hand. Once I had all of my safety plans and procedures in place and approved, we were good to go.
There was still some anxiety to deal with. After having one class a month, we were scheduled to work in the bee yard for the first time, the very same day that we were scheduled to bring our hives home. I knew this schedule. I was not really concerned about this schedule, until the week of the class. To say that I was starting to feel a little anxious is an understatement. I was feeling grossly unprepared for what was about to happen. I tried a number of things to calm myself. I even called my oldest sister for some moral support.
Public Service Announcement: Sometimes older sisters aren't the best place to look for moral support. That phone call ended up just being funny. After explaining my predicament, she said,
"But you haven't even met them yet! What if you don't get along?"
As the time grew closer, we all gathered for class. We had about twenty minutes of class time to go over the events of the day, then we were all off to get our safety equipment on. There were about fifteen of us in the afternoon class, and it was a little comforting to know that I was not the only one feeling inadequate. The tensions were pretty high, and finally I just said something about being nervous. It didn't take long for every one to chime in. We were all on the same page. The misery-loves-company theory is alive and well, and we all started laughing a little. It was a nervous laugh, but a laugh none-the-less. As we donned our gear, we moved on to getting our smokers lit.
It became even funnier.
Funnier because you can't look totally cool in bee garb. It just isn't possible. Then, on top of that, we had fifteen smokers lit. That became comical all on it's own.
I quit smoking a long time ago, but on that day, I inhaled a lot of smoke.
Personally, my biggest fear is that I will be in the bee yard and my smoker will go out. It may seem more sensible to be worried about a sting, but without your smoker, you have no way of calming down the hive if you do get stung. This could lead to more stings. I had practiced with my smoker a few days before class, but I was still worried. Apparently, I was not alone in this concern...
1. Being around one smoker, you will walk away with a faint hint of smoke smell.
2. Being around fifteen smokers, you will smell like you have been hanging around a bonfire for three days.
Once we were all geared up, I had to start cracking jokes. We were all so nervous, and it did lighten the mood a little. My instructor was laughing at me because he walked by me in my gear, and didn't recognize me with my glasses on.
Never mind the safari looking bee hat and veil?
This led to more laughs because I had to explain to him that I was wearing my reading glasses because I was afraid that if I didn't, I would not be able to see my queen when I inspected my hive. This led to the lady next to me going into a full on panic because she hadn't thought of that. She ran to her car to see if she had any reading glasses, and when she returned without any, she was very upset. Turning to her husband and saying, "How will I see my queen?" He reassured her that he would look for her for the both of them.
Once I was ready...I was ready. I proclaimed to my instructor that we should move it along. Actually, I think I said,
"Let's go now before I run from this place screaming!"
He thought this was very funny. He said he felt certain that I was not the type of person to run from things. This may be true, and I realize that feeling uncertain about things - occasionally - may be healthy in a weird, O.C.D. sort of way, but I sort of meant it.
Now or Never!
Sink or Swim!
Do or Die!
You get the idea...
Then before we knew it, we were standing in a bee yard with about 100 hives. Bees flying all around us. Not one bee paying a bit of attention to us. They were just going about their business. Then we divided into two groups and went to work. Now you know that I would have to be the only girl in my group. It just is the way my world turns sometimes. I will give credit to all they guys in the group. They were all gentlemen. Especially considering that I had a million questions, and sometimes I tend to rapid fire ask them. Even my instructor was trying to put the breaks on me. He didn't mind the questions, but requested gaps between them that would allow for answers. We saw a lot of things that we had seen in pictures and video, but they did not look the same in real life. We even saw a bee hatching out. Once I realized what it was, I wanted to sing Happy Birthday.
No takers in my group.
One key thing we were all looking for...the Queen. There has to be one in every hive. After watching our instructor work through about four hives, we saw everything but a Queen. They seemed to be hiding on this day. He wasn't worried, but it made me all the more anxious about finding my own Queens. He asked if we were ready to work our own hives, and then he turned us loose. We were to inspect them, noting what we were seeing, and we were to find our queen. Once we found our queen, we had the option of having her marked to aid in our future search of her once we were on our own at home.
I had already decided that I was going to have one Queen marked and leave the other one unmarked. This would give me a point of reference and I could use her as a learning tool. My first hive, found her right away. I was so excited and I chose to have that one marked. There was a nice young man that placed a bright yellow dot on her back. This definitely makes her easy to see. Second hive, not as easy to find my Queen. I had already marked the other one. In hind sight, I probably should have done this in reverse. I still have trouble finding her, and I am not so sure that it is because she isn't marked. I think she is just sneaky like that.
After everyone inspected their hives, we headed back inside to the classroom. It was amazing how relaxed everyone was. It had been completely different than any of us had expected. We were all confident and acting like old pros. We then were given instructions to take a break, leave, and return at dusk. Once we came back, we were to attach our brood boxes to our bottom boards, insert a screen into the hive opening, put the lid on our hives and load them into our vehicles to bring home.
Sounds easy enough, right?
Want to guess how many people were driving cars or SUV's?
You have to understand that the guy that teaches this class is really calm. He has a very laid back demeanor, and doesn't seem to get rattled by much. I am sure he has taught these classes so many times that he could do it in his sleep. He probably secretly chuckles at the nerves people try to hide before entering the bee yard for the first time. I know he gets a kick out of all the silly questions that we ask.
Loading up bee hives in the back seat of a car...no problem.
He has seen it all.
Done it all.
One guy even took his hives home in a convertible once.
At dusk, we all returned. Even the people from the morning class. The bees were all still pretty active, and it didn't take me long to realize that I did not want to be first in line here. Once you put the screen in the hive opening, that is it. No one else in or out. I paid a considerable amount of money for my bees, and thinking with my wallet, I was not leaving any of them behind. So, I graciously stepped back and waited. This is where the real fun began. As each hive was prepared and loaded, some in the back seat, some in the trunk, one by one, the cars pulled away. Drivers in full safety gear...hats, veils, gloves, suits, you name it, with strained faces full of concern behind the wheels. It was quite a site. You have to wonder,
How many of them were stared down at every red light?
How many had bees flying around the vehicle?
Were there any wrecks?
I hope not.
Finally, I couldn't wait any longer. It was my turn. My hives were prepared and loaded. Loaded into the back of my truck, thank you very much. This made me nervous enough. Not for myself, but...
What if I had to break hard?
What if I got pulled over?
Would a cop let me go once he realized what he was standing next to?
Could I go through a drive-thru to get something to drink?
All of those things happened, except for the getting pulled over part. Luckily there were no problems.
When I got to my side of the world, the Man in Charge and my Full-Timer met me at a local BBQ joint to grab something to eat. It was late by the time I got there. I was still so excited. I know I was rambling on and on about bees. I had to explain to my Full-Timer that I would be needing her help getting my hives to their new home.
"Whatever," she said.
I told her that she would have to get her gear on, and help me carry them. Not that they are extremely heavy, but it is sort of an awkward size box for one person.
"Okay," she said.
I had prepared a place in the back of our property that was a considerable distance away. Not to mention that we would have to cross a creek with them. She seemed to be a good sport about the idea, or she was just agreeing because she was already tired of hearing about bees. We hurried through dinner and got home. She ran in and got her gear. Once outside, we both dressed in our protective equipment and then drove out to the creek. It was here that I explained that I was not going to light the smoker. She seemed okay with that. Then as we were sliding the boxes to the tailgate of the truck, I explained that we were not going to be able to use a flashlight.
It was already around 11:00, and very dark. I explained that the bees don't like a light shined at them. Then I had to tell her to get ready for the hum.
I had been told that the noise level picks up inside the hive when you move it. I didn't want her to freak out and drop it. She agreed that it was good information to know, but I could tell that we better get on with it before she backed out. I picked up the first box, and started across the creek with it. I felt like it was better to try to get across by myself, so that we wouldn't trip on each other. Then, when we got to the other side, we both grabbed an end, and started our hike. It was at this point that I explained to her that the lids were not attached to the hives. Under no circumstance were we allowed to trip or drop these boxes. If that happened, there would be no saving us.
No pressure or anything.
All we had to do was make the long walk back there, twice. Then once they had settled down a bit, I pulled the screens blocking the hive entrances out, and we slowly backed away.
More to come -