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.
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 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 a top-bar off an old frame. I was trying to pry the rest of the frame out of the hive when the downpour came.
I was then 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 in 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.
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 in to 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 get 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.
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’s only a few bees left in the pocket. The rain and wind continue and, yes, the queens are still in my underwear.