Late yesterday, as the sun was beginning to hide behind some tall trees, I became a beekeeper again. I grabbed my box of apicultural supplies, climbed into my bee suit, and fired up the smoker. I would be moving a bee colony from a two-foot long top-bar bee hive into my four-foot long top bar. According to instructions my friend Paul Cooley gave me when I picked up the colony the night before, I was to leave the full hive on top of the empty hive overnight. “Just make sure you move the bees at some point tomorrow,” he cautioned.
It had been a busy day. As I tried unsuccessfully to refire up the smoker (which had gone out by the time I got across the driveway to the hives), I was actually all full of myself for even remembering to move the bees. With a quick look West, I snapped out of my baleful pride and got to work. The whole job could have squeezed into ten minutes had I not had technical difficulties associated with my smoker, the lighter, the sticks, the newspaper, the shreds of bark. I was even juggling dried balls of rabbit poop because I heard on YouTube that rabbit crap makes great bee-smoker material. Cool, I thought, another use for our bunny! But no. No matter what I tried, my smoker took a full 10 or 12 minutes to finally get cranking.
People have divergent theories as to why dosing a bee colony with smoke makes working in and amongst the colony easier. But the question of why something works is often less important than the questions concerning how to get it to work. Meanwhile, several of the bees were quite obviously unhappy with my presence. As one dove incessantly into my thinly veiled face, I started doubting the whole process.
What am I doing here? Am I too late? With the sun going down, am I placing myself in an unduly precarious position as my colony of busy, already-disoriented commuters tries to make it home to eat, sleep, and do it all over again? Why can’t I just buy honey at the store like any normal person? Do 100 bee stings hurt 100 times more than one bee sting? If they start chasing me, where is the safest place to run?
But before I knew it, the job was done, and for the third time in my life I became a beekeeper. I’m psyched because beekeeping is a real, fascinating, and fun buzz to catch. It’s real because of the very rare but ever-present possibility of being stung that permeates the extremely important work of increasing bee populations worldwide. It’s fascinating because the bee universe is so bizarre and so difficult to predict, but it’s clearly well organized and highly efficient. It’s fun because you get to enjoy the pride of your own precious and exquisitely delicious, homegrown honey!