Is This How It’s Going to Bee?

I’d just spent two full days at the Michigan bee show. Talking with other beekeepers, learning even more amazing stuff about this amazing insect, and spending waaaaay too much on t-shirts, lip balms and equipment I couldn’t live without... the event got me so buzzed. It only compounded my overwhelming urge to work bees.

When the very next day, March 10, delivered 50+ degree weather, I knew it was meant to bee. I could safely pop the tops on my hives, greet the little darlings for the first time this year, and oh yeah, give them protein patties.

For people who don’t understand the emotional attachment you can have to this insect, and/or who couldn’t understand why I was foregoing watching college basketball to work bees, I explained it was because bees need protein (or so we humans think.) But really, I just wanted to work bees.

Bee-side myself with delight that the weather was cooperating, I suited up quickly.

I also suited up thoroughly. It’d been a while since many of the bees had seen the light of day; who knows how they would feel about a large two-legged critter opening their roof?

I also suited up a lot. While it was 57 degrees, being female, I’m cold most of the time (except for like three days in August.) I tucked my jeans into my woolen winter socks, and then pulled on a full suit over everything. I stuck my feet into boots; we still had snow on the ground. I’m providing these dressing details because they will be relevant in just a few more paragraphs…

(How’s that for a sense of foreboding?)

As I walked to the hives, I waved at the ice fishermen on the nearby lake. Weird to have ice fishermen and bees flying around at the same time, but hey, it’s Michigan. The state’s shaped like a mitten, an item that can be worn all 12 months of the year.

I decided to not smoke the hives. I’d be in and out quickly; why make things even more confusing? Plus, by the time I got the darned thing going, it’d be mid-April. Why don’t they have a class at bee conferences for those of us who are smoker-challenged?

Standing near the first hive, I opened the protein patty package. I’d read the directions and cautions previously; but an important one was missing. NO WHERE on the package does it state that they smell really good, will make your stomach growl, and your dog will try and eat them.

As I unwrapped it (with stomach growling), bees began landing on it. They were desperate for whatever it contained, understandably. In March, in Michigan, there isn’t much protein they can eat, except ice fishermen.

The dog sat attentively at my feet, trying to appear cute and obedient so I’d give her a protein patty tidbit.

I was in and out of the first four hives with barely a buzz. I think it helps the bees’ temperament when you come bearing gifts.

The fifth hive, the one that swarmed every 15 minutes last summer, was down to about seven bees, but the queen was among them and they had brood. I gave them words of encouragement along with a small chunk of patty, a blanket, and hot cocoa. They’re going to need all the help they can get.

There weren’t many bees in hive eight. Turns out that’s because they all moved to hive nine. I don’t know if they have a large screen TV in there or what, but wow and yikes!! All 57 billion of them were NOT happy about me interrupting their college basketball viewing, even if I was bringing snacks.

I got out in record time, and 30 bees pinged against my veil to be sure I stayed out. While a bit nervous at the strength of that hive, I was giddy that they’d overwintered so well.

&%@!!#&*!!

I may have forgotten how much a sting can hurt, but hadn’t forgotten how to swear. The words came pouring out of my mouth like the bees had poured out of that hive.

After all the bad words, came another word: “REALLY?!”

It was fairly amazing that I could be stung through all the clothes I had on, and stung so very well. That bee had maneuvered through the narrow opening at the bottom of my full suit, up past the top of my boot, then back down into the boot to below where the jeans were tucked into my socks, to get to the most vulnerable area she could find, my thick wool socks. She’d managed to grab on and spear my ankle with branding-iron-hot razor blades, giving it everything she had.

Really little bee?! What was the point? Did you know you’d never live long enough to see apple blossoms, and thus wanted to set an example for any new-bees on how to absolutely get the job done? C’mon, it wasn’t like they even knew why you were killing yourself!

Oh wait, maybe they did. I had shrieked, cursed and hopped around the apiary for a full five minutes. They could certainly watch, learn and likely enjoy.

I’d attended an enthralling apitherapy class at the Michigan bee conference. The bee venom making my ankle scream would be a good thing in the long run, but it is hard to be objective when you’re in piercing pain. The giggles coming from a couple of the hives wasn’t helping either.

Honeybees, darling, dearest honeybees. It is only March. Hopefully we will have many happy days ahead of us, and we’ll work well together to help you prosper. May we please try and refrain from the stinging?

I don’t have to do this you know. I have a dog who would really like to eat your protein patties.

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