Anyone who knows me knows I love bees. It’s obvious. But I have moments when I wonder if I like beekeeping. Today, for example.
Queens in the underwear drawer
I have queen bees living in my underwear drawer. I do this every year because, if new queens cannot be installed immediately, they need to be kept in a warm, dark, dry, draft-free environment. The underwear drawer fits the bill and I’ve done it every spring for the past four or five years. But now they’ve been there nearly a week.
Trouble is, the weather is nasty. It is rainy, windy, thundery, and cold. Every time I think it might clear, it just gets worse. I’m tired of queens living in my underwear and they’re tired of it too. So today, I decided to take a chance and work in the apiary between downpours. (Okay, not so bright.)
Everything went well until it didn’t
Everything went fine for a while—maybe five minutes. The hives I want to re-queen are populous and weather-bound. Scads of bees live there. Nearly right away I could see this wasn’t going to work.
At the first hive, I sorted through frame after frame after frame searching for the overwintered queen, but I found nothing. Too many bees. The odor of alarm pheromone was enough to make me swoon. I got stung a few times, spilled sugar syrup down the front of me, and accidentally pulled the top bar off an old frame. I was trying to pry the rest of the frame out of the hive when the downpour came.
Remind me why I do this
By then I felt hot, sticky, irritated, drenched, stung, and grumpy. Remind me why I do this? On the third hive, I finally found a queen and snatched her up. I put the hive back together but couldn’t get ten frames into a space where ten frames just came out. How does that work?
I decided to scrape wax, but when I reached into my pocket to change tools I realized it was brimming with bees. That’s right—bees in my pocket. I had caught the queen with a queen catcher and stashed the entire thing in my pocket. Apparently, dozens of her loyal subjects followed her in.
The hive tool clung to my hand
Intent on clearing the pocket, I set down my hive tool. Only I didn’t really because it stuck to my hand. Really stuck. I shook it loose and it went flying into the brush where I couldn’t find it. Salmonberry vines clung to my clothes and ripped the back of my hand, but I finally spied the tool. When I bent down for it, I immediately got stung in the thigh by the pocket brigade. I uttered words I had only ever read.
That was the moment when I wondered if being a beekeeper is something I really want to do. Maybe I should just admire bees from afar and settle for bee art up close. I could learn to like bee art.
The queens are still in the drawer
Long story short, I got everything put away—that is, everything that’s not headed for the wash. I got the hives back together just as a clap of thunder warned me back to the house. There are only a few bees left in the pocket. The rain and wind continue and, yes, the queens are still in my underwear.
Honey Bee Suite