Sultry July afternoon. Windless. Melty. Chickens bury themselves in the dirt beneath a grape vine. The cat stretches to twice her normal length. The hives smell of raw meat, like a string of butcher shops on a city street.
As a kid, I spent days like these with Nancy Drew, folded into the crook of a sugar maple, hiding from my brother. But today—a rare occasion without a schedule or to-do list—I sneak out to my shed and play with bee stuff.
What is the best part of beekeeping? I like bees and their honey, of course, but it’s much more than that. I like fiddling with pieces of wood and tools I never had a use for. I like being outside on a summer day, inhaling the hive scent and watching the bees dart and soar. But I also love bees on blustery fall days, and snowy winter days, and earthy spring ones. I love the whole outsideness of beekeeping.
I like photographing the bees, sketching a garden for next year, planning a better way to raise queens, designing a new honey super. I like the sight of perfectly straight and compulsively symmetrical comb, but I marvel at comb doggedly erected in odd places and small spaces.
I love pouring over seed catalogs, reading honey recipes, finding ideas for rendering beeswax, and dreaming up new ways to use comb honey. My interest in honey bees has segued into a fascination with all bees, and that, in turn, has led to an interest in wasps and other insects.
No matter what you think beekeeping is about when you start, it is bigger, more challenging, and more enlightening than you ever thought possible. You can keep bees in a box, but you can’t keep beekeeping in a box: it flows in unexpected directions and leads you to places you never thought of going.
Sitting here beneath the trees, I reflect on how bees have changed me. I watch them firing into the sky with innate urgency. I see them seeking a drop from the hose bibb, intimidating my dog, and pooping on my truck. Everything about them leads to something else. I am indescribably happy to have bees in my life, and I hope you feel the same.