For the first half of this story: Honey Bees Arrive Part One
The house was located on a hilly road. When I saw the beehives lining the yard I knew we were in the right place. The owner came out to greet us and took us to the barn. I could hear the buzzing before she even opened the door. It was the kind of sound you hear in horror movies, right before the deadly attack. What in the world were we getting ourselves into?
She had a room full of bees. FULL OF BEES. Hundreds of thousands of them, packed into neat little boxes stacked innocently on shelves. I couldn’t help but imagine what would happen if the shelves gave out.
She handed our package of bees over and as they buzzed away in their little screened container, I felt the full weight of this decision to become a beekeeper.
A million questions later we were on the way home with the bees secured into the backseat. I looked back at least every 20 seconds to make sure they hadn’t escaped and were flying around in a mob of bee fury. I imagined total mayhem every time I turned around, but alas, all was well and we arrived home with no incident.
We only had an hour of daylight left to get the whole hive installed in the back corner of our lot. We rushed to put all the pieces together and carried the bees to the back fence. Our neighbors were all outside doing various things in their yard.
I held the package of bees in my hands and I realized I just couldn’t do it. Not because I was scared (I was) but because it just didn’t feel right.
We had majorly rushed into this setup and hadn’t thought about the issues that come with keeping bees in the city. The thoughts started swirling around my head. I was imagining the neighbor kids throwing rocks at our hive. What if they got stung? We would be to blame. What If the bees decided to swarm in a city neighborhood? It would cause panic, and again, we would be to blame. What if Nico knocked over the hive and they stung her incessantly then swarmed the neighborhood? We’d be really screwed. What if the neighbors are upset about us keeping bees and it ruins our great relationship with them?
The what-ifs wouldn’t stop. These same what-ifs were swirling around my husband’s head as well. We decided to leave the bee installation to tomorrow and take tonight to consider our options.
We talked about building a fence around the hive with a gate, to eliminate the chance of it getting knocked over or bothered by kids. This option would be quite a lot of work to do in one day when both of us work full time. In the end we decided it really wouldn’t be the best idea to keep the hive on our property. We didn’t know what we were doing and what honeybees were like, and the unknown was feeling too risky this time around.
I asked my parents if we could put the bees on their country property where they would have access to miles of flowers, water, and best of all, privacy. They said it would be fine and we made plans to head out there after work.
I spent the whole next day mentally preparing myself to open that box and dump all those live bees into their new home.
We chose the perfect location for the hive, sitting in dappled sunshine in the woods, a good distance away from any people but still close enough to be workable. The whole hive was set up in less than 20 minutes and there was only one thing left to do.
I suited up and took a deep breath. I knew I had to remain calm no matter what. I’d read that when you’re stressed you release pheromones that upset the bees. The last thing I wanted to do was upset the bees.
I began working meticulously through the steps. I sprayed the bees all down with sugar water so they’d be distracted licking it off themselves while I disrupted their entire lives as they knew it. I bumped the package on the ground so they’d all fall to the bottom of it, away from their precious can of sugar water. This really pissed them off.
They started buzzing like crazy and trying to climb back up. I sprayed them with more sugar water. Probably unnecessary but I was still pretty sure they were plotting to kill me as soon as they got out.
I used the hive tool to pry off the stapled down board that formed the top of the package. The video we’d watched made it look so easy, you just take off the board, slip out the can, take out the queen in her cage, then put the board back down to keep the bees inside. If you know me at all I’m sure you can guess it didn’t quite work out that way.
The second I lifted the board up half an inch, a bee wiggled its way out and flew over to check me out. Bees were not supposed to be coming out, the can of sugar water was supposed to be sealed around the edge to keep them inside with their friends. I tried not to lose my cool and lifted up the board only to find 20 more of the little buggers on top of the sugar can.
This was when I realized I’d forgotten the bee brush. I had nothing to sweep them off the top of the can so I could lift it out. Luckily we were surrounded by natures brush, tree branches. I grabbed one and used it to push the angry bees off the top of the can. They flew right back. I fought them off while I tried to grab the slippery can with my fingers. Every time I would bring it up an inch I would lose my hold and it would slide back down.
This happened over and over. I was beginning to lose my cool and get frustrated. Imagining the stress pheromones wafting out of my body, I took some more deep breaths and finally lifted it out. I could see them all squirming around through the now open hole. I stuck my hand in the box of bees and felt around for the queen box. Luckily I found it right away and once it slipped out, the board could go back on top. More deep breaths.
I had to take the tiny cork out of the queen box, secure her to a frame with a rubber band, and slide the frame into the hive. I was glad to see that she was alive and well and made sure to take a minute to study her so I’d know her later on.
It was going to be pretty easy, someone had painted her back with a big white dot. She had two “attendants” in the box with her. What they’re for I could only guess… dressing her in beautiful garments? Polishing her crown? Feeding her delectable chocolates while fanning her with a leaf? Who knows?
I tried to wrap my brain around what I had to do next. Take the board off the box and dump the bees into the hive.
My heart was racing as I picked up the box. The bees were going crazy inside, probably sensing the fear pheromones streaming out of my bee suit. I took a deep breath and in one motion whipped the top off and turned it over. Thousands upon thousands of tiny bodies poured out of the hole and fell into the depths of the hive. Several were clinging steadfastly to the sides of the box and wouldn’t come out for anything.
Once the box was as empty as it could be, I set it down on the ground next to entrance and carefully put the top of the hive back on, thinking any second they would be flying out the top for revenge. The feeder was promptly filled with sugar water to hold them over for the week, and I stepped away from the hive. A few of my new friends were clinging to my jacket but the rest were contained in their new home.
It had all happened so fast I barely had time to register what was happening. Was it really over? Had I really just installed 10,000 honey bees into a hive? Was I still alive?
Not only was I still alive, I hadn’t even been stung once. My husband and I exchanged high fives and stepped back to marvel at our bees. I wondered what they were doing in there. I imagined them hanging pictures on the walls and sweeping the floors. The confused stragglers outside were making their way to the entrance of the hive, drawn in by the glorious scent of their queen.
I felt immensely proud and accomplished. It was over and I had survived.