Pardon the vertical video – it was the best way to capture my bees coming in for a landing in slomo. With the sunlight behind them, you can see their bellies full of nectar. All four of my hives are thriving, and I’m happy to report that Grandpa’s hive has doubled in size since I put it in the back yard two months ago.
Here’s Grandpa, the man who taught me beekeeping when I was five, touring the inside of his World War II Army Bus – turned honey factory in his Carmel Valley backyard. He expounds on honey harvesting, why the bees are disappearing, and the proper way to remove a stinger.
This is one of the last videos I took of him before he passed away earlier this year. Note he wears no gloves when he sticks his hands in a hive!
Before Grandpa passed away last May, he asked me to take care of his bees. He was 89, and although he had years ago reluctantly given up his Big Sur beekeeping career because he was too frail to lift the honey-heavy hives, he still liked to watch the wild bees set up homes in a pile of deteriorating bee equipment in his backyard.
Now all that’s left is one hive. The bees were entering through a small crack in the top left corner.
When I pried through a seal of gummy brown propolis, I found a very small colony trying to raise eggs in frames that had been destroyed by mice, wax moths and who knows what.
The frames crumbled in places when I lifted them. I carefully searched, and found eggs and larvae. And a spot of honey.
Then I saw the queen! (6 o’clock)
I carefully transferred Grandpa’s frames into a deep I brought from home with four empty wax frames. I heard a collective thrum of excitement from the bees. I think they were overjoyed to have clean wax and more room.
I used mesh drawer liners and duct tape to cover the entrances for the trip to the Bay Area.
I secured the lid for the two-hour journey.
Their new home was waiting when I pulled up at 10 p.m. I transferred them to the garden, removed the mesh (got stung on my right pinky finger), and fed them with a 1:1 sugar-water ratio. I also placed a super of sticky honeycomb on the ground nearby so they could find it in the morning for easy forage. I filled a planter tray with rocks and water so they could have water close by.
In the morning, they made small, exploratory flights around the garden. I hope, with more room, new equipment, my mothering and Grandpa’s spirit, this little hive will survive.
Franklin Peace, 1926-2015
Curious what the inside of the hive looks like from a bee’s POV, I put my iPhone at the entrance with the lens facing inward, and pressed video slomo.
What I captured was pure comedy, and another life lesson: When you lose your footing and fall down, inspecially in front of a crowd, there’s nothing you can do but dust yourself off and take another step forward. Like it never even happened.
LESSON FOUR – Fear is 99% Wrong
Bees are more afraid of you than you are of them. A bee does not want to sting you – because it knows it will die if it does. When a bee plunges its barbed stinger into your skin, it rips from her abdomen, disemboweling her.
Working with bees all my life, I’ve discovered that these fearsome creatures are actually gentle, only stinging when I am clumsy and accidently step on them or squish them with my finger. In fact, bees will head butt my veil, warning me to back away from the hive when they are ready for me to close the hive back up – typically they lose their patience after about 90 minutes.
I can put my bare hand into a hive of bees and scoop up a handful without getting stung, if I do it slowly, gently and with good intentions. It actually tickles.
Another important bee lesson: do the thing that scares you because that is the only way to dislodge your fears.
LISTEN TO THE HIVE MIND
Everyone has heard that bees dance to communicate the sources of flowers and of new homes; but in reality it’s more like a TV dance competition, So You Think You Can Dance, with judges and audience votes.
Groups of bees dance at once, all advocating different locations – and the scout bees take those coordinates and go investigate. Scouts return to the colony and begin dancing with the bee whose proposed location they like the best. Eventually one dancer gathers the most supporters – the largest dance crew – and thus a majority decision is reached about where to forage, and/or where the swarm will relocate.
Bee researchers, led by Cornell University’s Thomas Seeley, have tested the strength of honeybee democracy by offering the colony an array of artificial nesting sites. They tracked the bees and found that the colony always chose the best available home — the one that was the roomiest, driest, and with the most protective entrance high off the ground.
Another bit of bee magic wrapped in a good lesson: Democracy Works.