This is the hive journal for the first hive of the Germantown Honeyhound, the hopeful start to an urban apiary in Louisville, Kentucky.
The Convincing Day
Happy Miller ,Jessica Fey and I drove to Clarkson Kentucky on an unseasonably warm April day. The drive was beautiful, and took me through an unexpected route of welcome nostalgia.
In the early ninties, my grand parents moved to Lebanon Junction, which was once a busy stop on the L&N railroad. My Granny would take me on grand adventures to the surrounding counties. We would go craw dad hunting, (which comprises of getting a little net and a bucket and standing around in a creek peering under rocks hoping you don't get your toes pinched by an angry decapod.) I was guided through our ancestral hollers and the cemetery where her infant brother was buried. Those drives from her home to the middle-of-nowhere history lessons always set an easy rhythm in my mind.
Many high ways in Kentucky look alike; cutting through verdant mountainsides or rolling fields of farm land. Only a few miles along a highway tucked between the trees brings my worried thoughts to a quiet, settled place.
Thank you, Granny.
Patches of rouge poppies had sprung up along 1-65 south, which sparked a game of poppy-spotting out of Happy, while Jessica was busy heaving sighs that I was only going ten miles over the speed limit. I'm lucky she was too hot to pull me from the driver's seat by my collar and take over.
As soon as we arrived at Walter T. Kelly, Jessica busied herself taking pictures of practically every thing, while I eavesdropped on an entertaining conversation about how, if Earl don't like sittin' in my truck he don't get to sit in my truck. A very self conscious and freckly young farm boy kept glancing back at me while his father and uncle exchanged unpleasantires about Earl.
The room was a curious marriage of kitchen, office space, and work room. Parallel to the line was this poster that Jessica made me pose in front of because she knows how much I love holding a smile indefinitely. The queen looks like she's laying an egg in my head. Draw your own conclusions.
My own queen would come in an identical box, except I would have to extract her from an almost impossible space.
We chose to walk the short distance to the warehouse where the bees were kept. Powdery gravel crunched under my impatient feet, driven by five years of longing.
A friendly woman in a checkered shirt was waiting for customers behind a table. The garage door to the building was open wide but only a sliver of sunlight reflected in the smooth concrete floor.
Waiting in the shade were rows and rows of boxes full of tens and thousands of humming bees.
I handed her my invoice, and she directed her assistant to the "J" row. He strolled into the shadows, and emerged holding a box firmly by the ends. He sat the box on the table in front of me and reminded me not to pick them up by the screen as they would sting me right through them holes.
That was it. They were mine.... at least they were as much mine as a cluster of insects that pledge allegiance to an aromatic demi-goddess can belong to anyone. To say that I am responsible for them doesn't seem quite right either, since none of these creatures really need me for anything.
Honey bees, in their healthiest state, want for nothing. Ever practical, they will likely make use of the things I situate near them, such as water and the occasional jar of honey. We beekeepers can manipulate their living quarters to suit our intrusions and encapsulate their queen to get them to stay put, but they manage their own meals, procreation and hive pests much better than us (again, in their healthiest state.) I am quite sure that they have more to teach me than I have ways to help them.
The package of bees vibrated as I gripped its sides and stepped out into the sunshine.
Aside from the birth of my children, this may be the most emotional I've been in a while. Jessica usually has to work to get a smile out of me, but I don't think I stopped smiling for at least an hour.
Kelly was providing an opportunity to see the new state apiarist, Sean Burgess, install a package in their apiary. Seeing as at the time I had only a theoretical knowledge of how to get the bees in the hive, I thought I would be useful. I don't know if it was, but through no fault of Mr. Burgess, I assure you. It's a standard, straight forward process. There wasn't anything he said that I hadn't read in a book or seen online. It could have been that I was holding a box of bees and watching my friends melt in the sun. It could have also been that I was very distracted by the urge to pelt the Amish family behind me with questions like "Why's your beard so fantastic?" "Can you teach me to make that dress?" "Is that an iPhone?" "Apron!"
Typically the bees aren't quite so tornadic. He was installing these bees in the middle of an apiary with several active hives and all of the residents were trying to check out the new queen's digs.
Happy held the bees on her lap during the drive home. Not preferring to accidentally chill the little darlings, we opted for the keeping the AC off and the windows down.
Back at home, Robert was busy widening the holes on my feeder board to accommodate the big daddy jars of honey I was going to feed the bees. Most keepers scoff at feeding honey, but honestly I have to scoff right back at the idea of feeding sugar water or corn syrup. Bees eat honey; they can't digest either sugar or corn syrup very well. My goals are reestablishing a healthy honey bee population in Louisville, so I feed honey from a trusted, local source. Generic honey from the grocery (the mostly clear stuff) is a nutritional wasteland. The pollen as been filtered out, and the enzymes are long dead. I will address feeding in a future post.
Now it was time to give the bees a rest. We decided to let them recover in the cool safety of the Happy study. Books and bees in the same room was a little bit of heaven for me and could have only been improved by an icy Honeyhound.
As Happy and I were contemplating lunch, Jessica disappeared. I found her on the phone, talking her husband down off of a ledge. He had broken his tooth eating a hot dog at the lake. Seeing as no one wants to pussyfoot around the lake with a broken bicuspid, she left to get him before we installed the bees.
We ate lunch while the time drew near to shake a bunch of confused stinging insects from a smaller box into a larger box. It was starting to sound a little crazy. Even though I had months to prepare for today, I found my self rushing around. I realize now that this was the coy disguise of senseless panic in the face of a dream about to come true.
My Mom and my husband,Robert, arrived with the children as I fiddled around with my veil and hive tools.
"Installation" isn't my favorite word to use here. When you bring a dog home, you don't install him in his bed. Can you imagine, "Hey, babe, I'm going to go plug in the new kitten." The word seems disconnected from the fact that you are interacting with living things.
Considering all I am doing is using their biological tendencies to try and get my way, I prefer to say that I am "convincing" the bees. So.
The Basic Steps to Honey Bee Convincing 1. Remove a few frames from the hive so the bees have somewhere to go when you pour them in. 2. Douse the bees with a generous spray of sugar water. Pry the lid off of the package, remove the queen and sugar syrup, discard the syrup. 3. Knock the package firmly on the ground and pour the tussled bees into the hive. 4. Replace all but one frame. 5. Remove the cork from the end, exposing the candy plug so the bees can free their queen. Suspend her in the void of the missing frame. 6. Replace the feeder board, inner and outer covers. 7. Devise a gangplank for the remaining bees to walk into the hive.
1. Inspect your veil and the rest of your clothes. Notice how insufficient cotton feels at this moment.
2. Swallow your self-doubt. It's useless.
3. Douse the bees with a generous spray of sugar water. Hear their battle cry settle into a contented kumbaya. 4. Put your sassy pants on and pry the lid off the box. Remove the queen and sugar syrup.
Package on the landing board.
Removing the queen cage.
Removing the sugar syrup.
5. Hand the queen cage to Happy as though it were an egg filled with napalm.
6. Drastically over think the effect knocking the bees asunder will have on them. Do it half heartedly.
7. Shake the roughly half the intended bees into the hive. Marvel at your inefficiency.
8. Slowly replace all the frames except one. It's pretty easy because you didn't pour living creatures into a wooden box very well. Realize you're okay with that.
9. Try to hang the queen cage between the frames and promptly drop her into the body of the hive, which is getting more full of bees as they orient themselves to her pheromones. Get heckled by your husband, then encouraged by Happy who is also busy solving your problem.
10. Thank the stars for Happy.
11. Slowly put your hand into the narrow space between the frames as if you were playing a sudden death round of "Operation."
12. Get her Highness situated. Moronically put the inside cover/feeder board on upside down , ensuring you will make a mess of things in about three days. Set up two jars of trusted honey, and the top box. Coax each bee out of the space before replacing the lid, because each lady counts.
13. Use a discarded chicken coop door propped from the package box to the landing board and stand amazed as the bees walk up the gangplank into their convincing new home.
14. Wish you could do it again.
We all come into this world wayfaring. For a lucky few, the call of their heart is early known. Others (most of us) paddle a windless sea through a pathless void well past our twenties. Only patience shows us that we've been moving on an invisible current.
Everything is colored by encounters with Wild, Rouge Life these days. It overflows with surprises. It is love and love again.