Bee Disease

By Charlotte Hubbard

My nephew Chad is a junior at the University Of Michigan.

I mention U of M because approximately 67% of my children attended this “Harvard of the Midwest.” Having written lots of checks for lots of dollars to this university, I try to promote them whenever possible. Also, putting “Go Blue” in print gets the attention of readers in the state of Ohio, specifically those near, say, Ohio State. (Go Blue, Go Blue, Go Blue!)

Chad’s world at the U of M is a far world from beekeeping. Because he’s a devoted student, I suspect when he hears “bee,” he thinks about a grade he doesn’t want to receive. When he hears “honey,” he thinks of the cute coed down the hall, but hearing those two words together? Probably doesn’t happen much in his world.

Nonetheless, Chad recently helped me work bees on my dad’s farm. I think it was because he wanted something to do. I pretended it was because he wanted to spend quality time with his favorite aunt. I also hoped that it was because—while he’ll someday have a brilliant career in conquering the world—he has a minor interest in this critical insect.

Chad was an excellent beekeeping partner for a rookie, because he took direction well and didn’t freak out. That he could lift deep boxes effortlessly was also a bonus; God bless that young, strong back!

After the first hive or two, Chad seemed to have more than a “just helping favorite aunt” interest in beekeeping, much to my delight. About a week later, his minor interest was confirmed. He shared that he’d sent a photo of him working bees to a high school friend who keeps bees.

His high school buddy, with whom he hadn’t really talked with much for a couple of years, had gotten right back to Chad, sending him a photo of a swarm he’d recently captured.

The young man was still so excited about the swarm that sharing a photo wasn’t enough. He followed that up with a call to Chad.

“I just can’t believe how pumped he was,” Chad said. “He just went on and on about capturing that swarm and bees in general.”

I nodded. “Your buddy has bee disease.”

Chad looked at me with momentary alarm.

“Yes, bee disease. SUPER contagious. It runs rampant after you’ve been exposed to a hive or two of bees. You can fight it for a while, but usually after a couple exposures, you get it.”

Understanding the twinkle in my eye, Chad asked more about this malady, like what are the symptoms?

I caught bee disease in the summer of 2008 and haven’t shaken it yet, so I’m quite familiar with how it can manifest.

Bee disease starts with a longing to work bees even though you may have just worked them, say, that morning. Because you typically catch bee disease when you just have a hive or two, and you know working that hive twice a day isn’t good for them, you address the craving to “bee” amongst honeybees by getting another hive or two (or six).

You know the infection has gained hold when your judgment is impaired. For example, you wander down to the apiary to check on the bees for 15 minutes, and you swear it was only 15 minutes, but your family wonders where you’ve been for two hours. You now let the dandelions grow in your once “weed”-free yard, because you hate to mow down anything that your new best friends enjoy. If a plant with pollen sprouts in the crack in your driveway, you water and fertilize it.

Occasionally, there are physical symptoms of having bee disease, like that ache in your lower back from lifting honey supers, and occasionally, a hard, itchy swollen area where you’ve taken a sting (or three).

“Wow,” said Chad. “So what do you do about it?”

An interesting question. Bee disease is probably more harmful to the friends and family of the person who has it. They’re the ones who must endure sticky doorknobs, bee “deposits” on the lawn chairs, and trying to park in a garage full of hive bodies. It is hard on them, but you can hopefully soothe their anxiety and worry with honey.

But what do you do if you’ve caught bee disease?

That’s easy. You just enjoy it!

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