Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Bees, Books, and Bravery

We are bad beekeepers. You might think that considering we're amateurs, I should cut us some slack and accept that beekeeping has a steep learning curve. But it's hard to see it as a process when there are living creatures who might suffer because of my inexperience. When we lost one of our two hives last summer to a nasty hive beetle infestation, I was disappointed and a bit ashamed, but consoled myself with the fact that our second hive was still going strong. It was always active and busy, and even though it also had hive beetles (a common occurrence in the Carolinas) the bees seemed to have things under control. At any rate, winter came, the hive slowed down and basically became inactive for months, and I was secretly relieved. Beekeeping is hard. Bee stings are painful. Opening the hive, even with the smoker, even while wearing protective gear, is nerve racking. I was grateful for the break. 

But now it's spring, and we need to open the hive again. We keep putting it off, mostly because the weather has been so weird - a few days of warmth, then the temperature plummets again, and we want to wait until it's consistently above 57 degrees before we crack the lid.

But there's another reason I want to wait, and it's because I'm scared. I'm scared that the bees will be gone, that the honey will be slimed, that the bees we see are scouts from another hive stealing our stores (unlikely, but possible). I'm scared that we'll open it up, and the smoke will be too hot, and the bees will sting us, and we'll have to run away as fast as we can. I'm scared of failing, and when it comes to beekeeping there are so many things that can go wrong. 

But there are also so many things that can go right. And I know that once we get the hang of beekeeping, it will be worth the stings and the failures and the fear. And the only way to get the hang of it is to do it. 

To pump myself up, and as research for my novel, I started reading Robbing the Bees: A Biography of Honey. I'm only two chapters in, but so far I love it. From the back of the book: "Part history, part love letter, Robbing the Bees is a celebration of bees and their magical produce, revealing the varied roles of bees and honey in nature, world civilization, business, and gastronomy." Basically, the author spends three years shadowing an accomplished beekeeper in Florida, writing about a typical year in his life, while weaving in her own love of bees as well as the history and mythology of these amazing insects. I feel like I've already learned so much in the thirty pages that I've read, and better yet, I feel inspired to light up the smoker and open the hive, to step into the world of these amazing insects myself. 

So that's our goal for this week, as soon as it stops raining and we have a morning together. Open the hive, visit the bees, and be brave. I'll let y'all know how it goes. 


  1. Go get em!! Good luck, I'm sure this is difficult and nerve wrecking. I've really enjoyed reading about your experiences and getting such an honesta ccount because we really want to get bees down the road and it's good to read the good and the bad.

    My grandpa's a beekeeper (he started it as a hobby/small business selling honey) when he went into retirement about 25 years ago. Last year, at age 84, he finally sold his last hive as he got too old to be able to take care of them. For the most part, he had 20+ hives and made a name as a small local honey producer.

    I spent my childhood with bees in the yard and learning how to not aggrevate them, what to do if they chase/sting, and learning about honey extraction. And consuming lots and lots of honey :)

    I'd love to give my children that experience growing up so we're thinking about getting just one or two hives in a year or two. It's good to brace ourselves for the hard but I'm also really excited for the good.

    In the meantime, I think I'll pick up that book you're reading!

  2. That book sounds awesome! I am in the middle of "Honeybee: Lessons From An Accidental Beekeeper" by C. Marina Marchese and it's really interesting so far. I had to put it down for a while, so I need to get back into it soon.

    I have to say, I am pretty scared of the bees. We opened the hive for the first time last week and I stood back while my husband did the work. I was too scared to get close! He got frustrated and closed the hive up before he was finished and we'll open it again soon. He did see small hive beetles, so we bought some traps for them last week. It's pretty overwhelming, but I'm hoping we will get the hang of it.

  3. Me too - I am also fearful about getting stung! My hubby and I are attending a beekeeping class in a couple of weeks because we plan on having bees next spring. I'm hoping my hubby will take over and I can admire from afar - really far! Haha! Actually, I've heard that once you get the knack of it, you don't get stung very often. Thanks for sharing this along with the other commenters. Now I don't feel like I'm the only scardy cat!

  4. Take a deep breath...let it out, and go for it. There is nothing like beekeeping!! Hubby and I started last spring and I am sure we will never regret that we took the leap. I was enamoured with the very thought of beekeeping for years but had many health issuesto deal with, then we at long last foound the courage to just go for it. Our hive was so successful that we are going to make a split later this spring. Wish us luck!

  5. I am sorry things have been challenging for you in the beekeeping realm. I am going into my 3rd year of beekeeping and there has been some challenges, stings and scares but over all the bees have done remarkably well and I feel incredibly blessed. I did try to overwinter bees this year and was unsuccessful but that is almost to be expected in our northern environment- most beekeepers up here don't even try to keep them over winter. I hope things go well for you this year!