Playing with My Bees
By Charlotte Hubbard
I was on my way to the apiary, minding my own business, when local law enforcement pulled up beside me.
“What are you doing?” asked the handsome young deputy, identified as Hagen.
Honesty is always the best policy, so I truthfully explained that I was just going to go play with my bees. As I said it I knew there was no way Officer Hagen understood “going to play with bees”. Heck, there are torturously hot days in the apiary when even I don’t understand why I’m going to play with bees.
But, those days are few and far between. Playing with bees is the primary reason I’m a beekeeper. I could claim more noble reasons for my obsession, like saving peaches through pollination, or sharing healthy honey with my friends and family. But, unless you’re a commercial beekeeper able to stand atop a soapbox of hive bodies, most of us hobbyists, truth be told, are beekeepers because we love to play with bees.
“You play with bees?” questioned the officer.
So, what does “playing with bees?” entail? It depends on the season and the excuse I create for opening the hives, but the bees and I have our favorite games.
Twister: “Right-hand-red, right-foot-blue, left-foot-green isn’t that difficult. “Both-hands-full-honey super while right-hand-hive-tool and both-feet-in-clumsy-boots while pivoting to put the honey super atop the top cover which oopsie I forgot to turn upside-down” is a game of twisting even the most agile youngster would find challenging. Sometimes this game goes by a different name, “Throw Out My Back”.
Hide and Seek: This is a favorite that all honeybees love playing with beekeepers. As soon as I’ve cracked the cover they’ll herd the queen from near the brood chamber to some obscure spot, especially if my goal is to mark her. Sometimes though she’ll “hide” in the middle of the first frame I pull—the frame I always pull first because the queen is never on it.
And I swear you can hear them giggling.
Kick the Can—the Smoking Can: Most of the time I take the smoker to the apiary. Most of the time I light it. Most of the time it goes out after four seconds and ends up sitting on the ground, where I’ll inevitably kick it over.
Most of the time the tinder just falls out, but there was that one time when the tinder fell out and reignited and the bees got to watch me play “Junior Firefighter” in my big clumsy boots. Again there was that giggling.
I Spy: Playing this with bees has an interesting twist, because when I say “I spy with my little eye” the bee I’m playing with rejoins with “and I spy with my two compound eyes and three simple eyes”.
I spy things like deformed wing virus, capped honey, mites, or the queen (when I’m lucky). Little Miss Five Eyes spies for something like a hole in my glove, or a gap in my suit.
I seem to lose this game a lot, and it is always a stinging defeat.
Poker: Keeping bees—like driving down the road or falling in love—is a gamble. But how do you win at gambling? I hear a poker face is helpful.
I have a power hive on my Dad’s 700+ acre fruit and vegetable farm. When I last pulled that honey, I took along Lola, a migrant worker who wants to learn about bees. Sure, it’d be helpful if Lola spoke some English, or I spoke more Spanish than just “ay caramba!!”, but we pantomime and it works for us.
When we pulled into the apiary, you couldn’t help but notice the front of the normally white power hive was brown with a thick, wiggling coat of thousands upon (and yes, I truly mean upon) thousands of honeybees.
“Ooooohhhhh,” shuddered Lola.
Who needs a common language? I knew exactly what she meant.
I didn’t know how to say in Spanish that I was nervous from the top of my veil to the toes of my big clumsy boots, and it wouldn’t have mattered anyway. A beekeeper’s gotta do what must be done.
I put on my best poker face, as did Lola. We had two burgeoning honey supers off and the top cover back on before most of the bees even realized we were stealing their honey.
I think in the future though, we won’t be so lucky. The bees will remember that last time we cracked the top cover that they were robbed.
Hopefully they won’t call local law enforcement—but if they do, it’ll take them a while to arrive.