bee stories miscellaneous musings

I love bees, but beekeeping? Not so much

I love bees, but beekeeping can be tough.

I adore honey bees. But sometimes beekeeping feels like a chore and I wonder why I do it.

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


  • Yea, we all have days like that. I’m a naturally clumsy person with big, not very agile hands. Have you ever noticed that even with your most gentle hives, there comes a point when they just have to run you out? Their “cut off point”?


    Thanks for the laugh…at myself!

  • Oh Rusty, I feel your pain. Honest, I do. Our backyard is flooding and it threatens to consume our hive. Nights I’ve sat awake thinking beekeeping is more work than its worth. I too love the bees but some days are just a mess and I start wondering if I’m really cut out for it. Then the other day the hubby and I did a partial reversal and it went so smoothly and the bees were calm. I felt good because they all looked good. Now we are back to cold and raining, more flooding and the queen isn’t layihg because of the cold (our queen doesn’t seem to care for weather under 50). It is nice to know that there are others beeks out there sharing the same experiences, frustrations, uncertainties. We are good beekeepers afterall 🙂

  • Michelle,

    I hope you don’t get washed away. The weather reports across the country are so miserable. I often think about the readers of this site and I wonder how they are doing and how many of them have had their bees washed away by floods or blown away by tornadoes. It is discouraging.

    Then I think about being here in the soggy Northwest and realize I don’t have much to worry about, unless Mt. Rainier erupts like Mt. St. Helens did. I do wonder about that sometimes, but you’ve got to live somewhere and every place has its challenges.

    Yes, beekeeping is frustrating sometimes but it sounds like you two are doing great. Keep me posted.

  • I used to think Newfoundland had to be one of the hardest places on the planet to care for bees. Well, I still do. Our hives are coated in ice at this moment, with more hail on the way tonight. None of the natural wild flowers seem anywhere close to blooming yet. It’s a bummer. But I think you might have all that beat, at least for the time being. You win. By which I mean, you have my sympathies. What a lousy rotten frustrating day.

    I’m curious what words you uttered that you had only ever read.

  • Rusty,

    If it weren’t for beekeeping you wouldn’t have such wonderful stories as this to share. Beekeeping is an adventure and adventure stories are the most entertaining both to hear and to have lived.


  • I love your stories, this one is great, would love to put it in our bee club magazine because Im sure lots of beekeepers relate to this.

  • Queens in the underwear drawer? You lost me. How do you feed them, how long do you keep them there? Never heard of having queens anywhere except in a hive or nuc. Well, yes, in a queen cage in a pocket. (Bet that woke you up when you stuck your hand in there.)

    • Terry,

      The cages normally have a candy plug on one end. If it starts to get used up, I replace it with a marshmallow wadded up and forced into the hole. Also, twice I day I run my finger under tap water and brush it along the screen. The screen will hold enough water for the queen to drink without getting her wet.

  • I love your blog. I love bees but wish that I could just feed and house them and leave it at that. I am so afraid of pulling up the frames and killing the queen. This is especially stressful as I cannot even find my queens. I only know she is there because she makes a lot of baby bees. As soon as the weather is better I need to go out and look for extra queens…..Make sure the bees aren’t planning a revolt.

  • It’s the times like these that may seem so miserable when they happen, but you followed through & did the job, that you will remember fondly in the future. A good day when everything goes well will be forgotten.

  • Rusty,

    Your stories continually make me laugh and encourage me. Like Rochelle, I am so afraid of smashing my queens. I need to go in and inspect near July. I too only know when I see larvae. It’s my second season with my bees, this second season is interesting, with swarms! I probably need to requeen but need to sit down and educate myself before I go forward. Because I can’t find the queen. I have only seen her once the beginning of spring. The bees built comb all over the inside cover and I had to dump them off at their front door. There she was little big butt her self, parading up the ramp with her entourage.

  • I saw this post after an eventful day yesterday. I got my first ever two nucs at the end of June, so I’ve been feeding them. I went out in the field to change the jar feeders, and didn’t wear any protective clothing because I was just going to change the jars. Once I got there I thought I’d just see if I could see eggs (to be sure the queens were alive). The bees seemed really mellow, and everyone seems to say you don’t really need gloves, etc.. I pulled apart the frames and checked each one and did see eggs. One hive consistently goes through about twice as much sugar as the other (??); I noticed the top entrance is smaller so I thought I’d swap the tops. When I opened the top of the other hive (both opened at once) all hell broke lose. They went crazy. They flew into my hair and got stuck, buzzing on my ears. I tried to get them out with my hands – my hands stuck in my hair. I tried to squash them with my forearms – they stung my scalp. I was running, flailing,… I tried to look through my hair so that I didn’t stumble on the rocky ground, but the stings seemed to have affected my vision and I could hardly see! I finally got into the garage and got them squished and extracted my hands and a lot of hair. Then realized my lens had popped out of my glasses! I suited up, put the lids on, and eventually found my lens! Whew! I’m all for suiting up now!! (My husband said he would’ve helped, but he was trying to find the camera. 😀 )

  • Thank you for sharing your seemingly endless font of knowledge. Any time I have a bee issue, I find myself scrolling through the Google results until I see your site. I am a second year beek, and I also find myself wondering if it is all worth it. But when all is going smooth, I could stand and marvel at them for hours.

    • Rylan,

      Thanks for the thoughtful compliment. I still go through the “is it worth it” days, if it’s any consolation.

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