I’ve really wanted a dog for a long time, but instead, in February I placed an order for 10,000 honeybees.
For most of my adult life I’ve held onto a fantasy of myself as the kind of woman who struggles to keep her fingernails clean because she takes on messy projects that require hammers, paintbrushes, and pickup trucks, and who hauls stuff around in said pickup truck with a dog riding shotgun. And by the way, that version of me has long blond hair and a boyish flat chest.
If only. Except I do haul stuff around. I do take on projects that I sometimes fumble through and often, with help, get right. I do generally have dirty hands from one job or another, and that little span of skin between outstretched forefinger and thumb is my preferred palette.
But I never have gotten that dog. For about four years the timing has been just right. Why haven’t I jumped? A cat I’ve named Theo wandered into my life. We regard each other warily from opposite ends of the couch. I told him early on, you do your thing and I’ll do mine, next to each other, quietly. The relationship works well.
But back to the bees, which, like dogs, by the way, don’t come cheap. Not at first, anyway. I’ve spread the cost out over the winter and dutifully applied some of my stimulus check in buying local.
- Italian honeybees, bought as a 3lb. package from Scottsville Bee Supply: $130
- The hive: three medium supers, assembled, unpainted, plus a telescoping lid, a queen excluder, and a screened bottom board: $271
- Beekeeper suit, size L, screened to catch a breeze: $130 (shout out to Aunt Suzy for that birthday check)
- Hive tools: Smoker, 10” Pro & flat pry bar, about $40 (donated by my brother, Jeff, who’s following this journey vicariously).
I already have the gloves and a beekeeper’s hat, gifts from my friend Dutch (seen here with his first queen). He also gave me a stand for the hive, which, according to my bee guru, Kim Flottum, would attract mold if left on the ground. Do I need more tools? Probably. All in good time. Part of this maiden flight is finding what works best and then cussing over what’s hard about it, what’s missing, and how to fix it.
The best part about beekeeping so far has been the anticipation of a new project, a new phase, if you will, to counter the long holding pattern that was 2020. Every little plant in my neighborhood is showing signs of life, from the tiny fringe of thorns along the wine-red raspberry canes, to the tsunami of creeping Charlie marching forward like warriors to the White Wall. There won’t be any shortage of pollen grabs for this buzzing hoard of hungry Italians.
So much can go wrong for a hive, but then again honeybees are infinitely resourceful; every member of the hive is an essential worker. A drone’s only function is to fertilize the queen, whose only job is to lay eggs, and the worker bees keep the hive tight. They build the comb, collect and process the pollen, clean the hive, and feed the babies. If a predator appears, they can sting it to death, heat it to death, collectively kick it out of the hive, or even embalm it in a cement-like material of their own making, propolis, to keep it from rotting inside the hive. Bam! Problems solved.
My bees arrive on May 22nd, by which time I’ll have painted the hive in yellow and yellow-orange stripes because those colors appeal to Suzy, mentioned above. This really does feel like a group project. I’ll have 10,000 hungry babies to add to my far-flung Bee Board of Directors (Dutch, Suzy, Jeff, et al) on which I may or may not serve as the President. Or Queen Bee? All I can say is that after a year of flying solo, it feels good to be collaborating again—at least as good as having an imaginary dog riding shotgun in my phantom pickup truck.