BY Lisa Boonstoppel-Pot
To learn about bees, I watched most of the videos from the University of Guelph’s Honey Bee Research Centre featuring Paul Kelly, the Research and Apiary Manager. In most of the videos bees are flying all around him, while he is videotaped in shorts.
I have not found the courage to open bee hives in my shorts yet but this spring’s swarm revealed that it is quite possible.
I have been quite sick and was hospitalized with a severe kidney infection. The first week that I was home from the hospital, my helpful dad came over to subdue the weeds that were having a heyday in my gardens. Some of those gardens are planted with natives for the honeybee hive which was managing quite well, or so I thought.
I was outside early, looking over the new gardens so I could point out what NOT to hoe when I noticed a large cloud of bees flying between the pines. I followed their flight and noticed a dark mass on the furthest tree in the yard, a little locust. The bees were swarming! This can happen when the hive is too full, or a queen is getting older, or a good nectar flow has the colony keen to split. While it was serendipitous to start a second hive it was rather untimely as I was still quite weak.
My dad said he’d help as much as he could so I fired up the smoker and donned my bee suit, hat, and gloves. Not having time to research how to catch a swarm in order to know if they’d be docile or defensive, I realized this was going to be a “learn to do by doing” situation, to borrow the 4-H motto. I warned my dad to stay back because he was in shorts and a short sleeve shirt. “I should maybe get something on,” he said. While I set up a nuc box to capture the swarm, he came out wearing one of my daughter’s old barn coats, several sizes too small. Paired with his shorts, I would have had quite a chuckle except for feeling a little trepidation about catching this swarm.
Taking a deep breath, I cut the branch holding most of the swarm. The buzz increased tenfold. You may now be expecting to hear the swarm went wild and stung my poor dad on his bare legs. Truth is, it couldn’t have gone better. Dad, curious and helpful, was standing right beside the box as I shook the bees in. Turns out the bees weren’t even remotely interested in us. They just wanted to stay with their queen.
Weeks later, I checked the nuc and discovered the bees did what bees do. Two frames were filled with eggs, fat larva, capped brood, pollen and honey. They were ready to move into their new hive.
During that undertaking, I took some time to photograph the bees and watch the action. Once again, they were quite calm. I stood amazed at the perfection of the process ... they had completely transformed the frame by first making wax cells, then filling them in a common pattern with pollen and honey in the corners and the capped brood in an oval shape in the middle. It was organized and orderly yet beautifully creative and productive ... how life should be, I thought.
Bees are not unlike family, in some ways. In healthy families, children are born, are lovingly tended by parents then transform into teenagers before leaving home in swarms to go to college, university or to start jobs to contribute their own gifts to society.
They become grown-ups like me who are quite self-sufficient until we get sick. Then our colony — be it children, parents, friends or neighbours — step in to help us get back on our feet until we can resume the order of our lives.
It’s so hard to be vulnerable and dependent with illness; we want nothing more than to resume our life. Yet without the hard times we may not realize there’s a real sweetness to being part of a community willing to travel to our home base with help and caring words. It’s how humans do things … and it’s so good. ◊