Children, and Bees, Moving On

By Charlotte Hubbard

When you’re throwing an outdoor event like a graduation party, there are plenty of worries. Will it be too warm? Enough food? What if it storms? What if everyone comes at once? Or no one comes?

Wally’s family recently worried about those things for daughter Sarah’s high school graduation party. And as is so often true in life, you often worry for nothing. While the day was perhaps a bit too warm, the food was fabulous and guests came and went over time, allowing for everyone to relax in the shade in the beautiful backyard.

A few uninvited guests showed up. It happens—perhaps some high school friends brought along some other friends. No big deal. There was certainly enough mouth-watering barbeque.

And then a few more uninvited guests show up. They seem to find each other, like they planned to meet at that festive venue and crash the party. That was a little annoying, both that they showed up uninvited, and that they hung together and didn’t bother to mingle. Oh well, what are you going to do?

And even more uninvited guests showed up.

The gathered friends and family of Sarah paid attention to this growing number of “intruders,” noticing that their behavior and demeanor was a bit different, that they didn’t bother to say hello to Sarah, that they clustered away from everyone sort of to themselves, that they all had stingers.

My brother-in-law Jim was invited to Sarah’s graduation party. Jim was sipping an icy beverage and making small talk when he, like so many others, noticed the uninvited guests gathering on a limb over a picnic table. He immediately called me up.

“Up,” he said, “what are you doing RIGHT NOW?”

I explained that I’d just come in from working hives at an outyard and unloading all that equipment, and was hot, sweaty and starving.

“Well,” he explained, “I’m at a graduation party with a swarm of bees. You interested? There are also really good meatballs here; you could probably sneak a few.”

Free bees? Absolutely. And meatballs? Bonus! I reloaded the truck with all the equipment I’d just unloaded and headed out.

If I’d understood prior to meeting him what a great sense of humor that Wally, Sarah’s father, had, my beekeeping buddies and I would’ve fully suited up and “Ghostbusted” our way into the party. But, not knowing if we’d freak out folks, we decided to first subtly slip in and check out the swarm. We even grabbed lemonade and meatballs (and brownies and chips and some more meatballs) so it looked like we were real guests as we nonchalantly made our way to the bees.

It was a small swarm, conveniently reachable with a small step ladder. The grad party was winding down. Because the bees showed no sign of leaving, and many of the guests had already gone, we decided to capture them. My experience has shown that swarming bees are quite docile. The remaining guests were generally interested in how we were going to capture the swarm, so we decided to put on a show for them—right after I finished a small plate of veggies and dip of course.

We brought in a nuc and stepladder. We suited up—tucking pants into socks, checking that our gloves were snug, zipping our hoods, all with a flourish. Thinking about Facebook and the graduation scrapbook, Wally posed us for pictures with guest-of-honor Sarah, who declined our invitation to wear the extra bee suit and help.

We thoroughly sprayed the small swarm with sugar water—I figured if I was drenched in sweat they should join me in dripping liquid. This made them sticky and slower, and probably a bit cooler. I considered spraying myself as well.

We brushed the bees off the limb and they largely fell into the box with a swoosh and a splat. Several dozen bees circled the spot on the limb where the small swarm had initially gathered. I explained to Wally that we’d probably just let them, well, be. If we opened the nuc to sweep them in, we’d let an equal number out. But we’d hang out for a while to make sure there weren’t more than a few dozen (and because the cake was really good). Besides, what always happens when folks find out you’re a beekeeper was happening: people were swarming us with questions.

As I stood there in my bee suit, hood open, gloves tucked in my back pocket and a meatball in my mouth, a grinning guest came up to me.

“Be straight with me,” he gestured with his carrot stick. “Everything Wally does is over-the-top, a bit beyond the usual. Did he hire you guys to do this? Because people will be talking about the graduation party with the bees all summer.”

He was joking—I think. I explained that we weren’t hired. We were certainly willing to show up in bee suits at social events for a fee, but it is hard to find bees who will swarm at the right time and to the right location. In fact, my bees are well-known for swarming at the wrong times, and it is never to a low-hanging branch in my backyard.

After about 15 minutes (or, if you’re counting calories, after about 3,000 more), we left with our new bees and a couple of cookies. Within an hour, they were installed at my apiary. The bees, not the cookies, although those were also “installed.” We named the hive Sarah.

I’m delighted to report that two months later, Sarah has been crowned with a second deep box and seems well on her way to building up for the winter.

We hope its future is as bright as the young lady’s whose party they crashed.

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