Bee Disease

By Charlotte Hubbard

According to the news, the second weekend of January found most of the country with the flu. Hundreds of thousands of Americans were feeling crummy with aches, chills, coughs, fevers and more.

Knock on wood, I didn’t suffer that weekend from the flu. I did however suffer greatly from flare-up of another illness that has afflicted me for nearly five years. I have bee disease. If you’re reading this, you probably also have it. There is no known cure, and sometimes, it causes its victims to suffer terribly in a variety of ways, unless they can work their bees.

When the Kelley’s catalog came in January, I looked through it, dreaming. New honey containers and queen rearing equipment make my bee disease flare up. I wanted to, no—I needed to work my bees.

Some folks claim their bad knees throb when rain is coming, or their sinuses ache when the humidity is high. My bee disease has a similar reaction to the weather.

When it is 18 degrees outdoors, I can almost forget that I have bee disease. While my darling insect friends are clustered in their hives, the cats and I are clustered on the couch, with the 86-pound tomcat confused about who is the queen bee.

At 28 degrees, I still tolerate the disease fairly well.

Come 38 degrees, my bee disease makes me a little itchy and restless.

And on that unseasonably mild January day in Michigan, as the temperature steadily increased, so did my symptoms.

At 48 degrees, I peered out the windows every few minutes looking for anyone taking a cleansing flight.

At 50, I could stand it no longer and trotted to the apiary. Just a few bees per hive had ventured out. I waved and greeted them. Silly, perhaps, but it seemed like the thing to do.

One of the symptoms of bee disease is occasional paralysis. When the mercury hit 52 degrees, that happened. I was unable to move from my seat near the front of each hive, where I watched bees stagger into the emerging sunlight and taking long overdue flights. Yes, this meant that I had yellow-brown spots all over me. If you’re a real beekeeper, you’re just fine with that.

Each hive had a steady but small stream of adventurers, except for the golden hive, which was weak headed into winter. It wouldn’t surprise me if they had died off, and honestly, I would not be that upset if they had. Their honey production was minimal—no doubt because they spent all summer swarming.

The first time they swarmed it was as I was working the hive next to them. They landed too far up in a tree to be captured, and spent the next two days looking down at me and laughing before going to parts unknown.

They really lost my respect when they swarmed twice more, both times after Labor Day. I probably should’ve combined them with another hive going into the winter, but wasn’t that interested in furthering the genetics of bees who think it is just dandy to swarm every time there’s a local high school home football game. I hadn’t forgotten about them mocking me from the top of a pine tree, either. Perhaps I’m taking this a bit too personally.

As I crouched by each hive, greeting each and every bee, the wind died down. Soon the pale winter sun shone steadily, and within minutes all the hives had erupted, including the golden girls. They looped and swooped (and pooped). Abuzz with them, I called my husband immediately.

“Immediately,” I said. “All our hives are alive!”

He asked if the bees were as happy to see me as I was to see them. Interesting question, as I’m not sure I know what happy bees look like. I’m VERY sure I know what unhappy bees look like. They’re the ones flying at me going 200 mph, and flying away from me without stingers attached.

I dashed to the house and grabbed some honey. I spread it in a common feeding area, watching with amazement as—within 30 seconds—this area 50 feet from any hive had lured bees. Within minutes the honey-smeared brick was thick with bees. I felt great. All my bee disease symptoms were fading, and I finally felt like I was doing something for the honeybees who do so much for us.

I was buzzing the rest of the day, but tried to control my emotions. Having bees alive in Michigan in January isn’t that difficult. Having those same bees alive come April is the real challenge.

Michigan weather being, well, Michigan weather, within 24 hours those bees were back in a tight cluster as the snow came down. The cats and I were also in a tight cluster. There were bees alive in my backyard.

For that sliver of time, all was right with the world.

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