Archive for April 5th, 2012

Into the Hive

My bee classes are over.  The last get together included learning how to light and use the smoker, how to use our hive tools to get to the bees, and a short lesson in the history and manufacture of mead.  There’s a push to start a mead makers group within the club at large, which might help me get over the fact that producing my own honey wine is such a distant proposition.  Yes, I could buy honey from a store and make it that way, but there’s something about having it be such a from-scratch proposition that I’ve harvested my own local honey as step one.

Then this past weekend we moved from theory into practice.  That’s quite a moment.  The theory I’m fantastic at.  Building woodware I’m good enough at.  But there’s something about sitting in a stranger’s sun room tying on a bee vail and looking across at a hive that has bees actively milling around the entrance.  We got some instruction from our mentors, who walked us through their own experiences in handling bees, let us handle frames of wax heavy with honey, and even showed us how much damage the wax and foundation of a frame can take and still be repaired by the bees.  They’re amazing little creatures.  That doesn’t make them any less intimidating when they’re buzzing around your head.  Or smashing straight into your vail.  Or deciding they’re going to be a hero, and no amount of smoke or distance is going to deter them.

That’s the bee that stung me.  Unfortunately she gave her life for nothing, and she stung the thickest part of my glove.  I didn’t even notice until I was getting out of my bee equipment later and saw a perfect little stinger sticking out of the glove’s wrist.

Beekeeping involves getting over certain base instincts.  Like that instinct about not wanting to be surrounded by a swarm of bees.  That’s the hardest part of my transition from theory to practice, but one I’m going to have to get over the next few months, especially as there are going to be times late in the season where tending the bees is a one-man job.  Baby steps.  At first I’m going to be in charge of the smoker and notebook, and I’ll slowly build up to pulling a hive apart without flinching.  I actually quite liked it whenever a bee landed on me.  They’re about as close to cute as insects can get.  They have over-sized eyes, fuzzy little abdomens, and constantly throbbing butts like they’re dancing to a techno beat only they can hear.  It’s when they swoop past, buzzing…  Yeah, okay, it’s a slight phobia, but not one I can’t get over.

Opening a hive is just like on television.  What I mean is whenever I saw people beekeeping on television (why did I ever see this…must have been something I watched, but I can’t remember what) there was an immediate hum from an opened hive.  I always assumed the mics on the hives were mixed hot to exaggerate the noise.  No.  You open a healthy hive and there is an audible hum from about 10-15 feet away.  It’s quite impressive.  As is the structure and order of a hive as strong as the one we saw.  Even as I was a little freaked out by the occasional dive bomber or head butt, I kept getting closer and closer in to see what they were doing.  That’s going to be the antidote to my fear: my fascination.

Our bees will arrive as early as the end of the month.  Probably no bee updates until then.

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