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.