I’m more of a cat person, really. But as a farmer, I love pollinators. Birds, butterflies, especially bees help to ensure that we will have crops. I wanted to help them out in any way I could (and perhaps have a bit of honey for my tea) so I set up a hive.
My friends were using top bar hives so I did too. The problem is that one of those friends is now deceased and the other probably tired of my questions and problems. No one else I know, bee keepers from all over, has any clue about top bar hives. Books exclude them. A general shh surrounds the subject. This is a problem because as you know from reading my adventures I can surely make a mess of things if not shown properly how to do it in the first place. Such was the occasion yesterday when a mini-size Revolutionary War occurred on the grasses of our new homestead where now lie dozens of dead bodies and a meager pot of beeswax.
It started out with good intentions, Brett told us to go check the hive now that we had moved it. Make sure the combs hadn’t fallen down, make sure the queen is alive, make sure…oh, I don’t remember what else. They were busily working on their nineteenth frame. Imagine that! Such a good year for bees. Originally we heard to save them ten frames to get through the winter but with the talk of an upcoming hard winter, fifteen became their larder. Four for me. Luckily, or not so luckily, one of the combs had indeed fallen down. Doug went inside for a large pot and some tongs. We realized how fragile the comb was as it continued to break into pieces which made it very difficult to get it into the pot, honey dripped everywhere, bees trapped in their own creation, the rest growing in increasing anger. We moved the next frame and part of it broke off. I panicked, sudden vision of all of the combs breaking under the force of our knife trying to see if everyone was alright and inevitably smothering the whole bunch. We took out the frame we had just messed with, content to harvest two frames and leave the kingdom alone. Not so easy.
The entire outside of the frame was sticky and a hundred or so bees would not let go of the comb. Meanwhile in the pot where the four pieces of comb and honey lay, another several dozen bees tried desperately to get the honey back out. As we placed the other comb on top (or threw it, I can’t remember, the bees were really mad at us at this point) the bees on the bottom layer melted into the honey and buzzed to their death. The bees would not leave the pot. In the middle of the night we went out and tried to scoop them out, they fell here and there, died in their sticky grave, huddled together in a swarm. They were not giving me one ounce of honey. I had not read about any of this. Books make things look so seamless.
I have bees because between the fight against genetically modified crops and mass use of chemical pesticides we have killed a vast amount of the bee population. I care about their survival. I care about my own Queen Victoria and her hive. I care! Yet for a few tablespoons of honey I inadvertently killed a hundred bees. Was it worth it? I think I must have done something wrong…
Note: After writing this, I spoke to a few different bee keepers that said, “That’s all the bees that died? You did good!” Uh. I guess I know more than I think!