My maternal grandfather was a beekeeper and had been since my mom was a child. As a kid I always had interest in bees but since I didn’t like being stung I wasn’t much into them and then later when I was 17 I was stung in the head due to an idiotic friend swatting at a bee and I had a bit of an allergic reaction. My doctor told me that I should be careful because since I’d had a reaction, the next time might mean death. This would set the tone for the next 20 years as I avoided bees and being stung like crazy BUT it did spark an interest in me regarding bees. In my early 20’s I got a fascination with them that I just couldn’t get rid of. I was fascinated with their bodies, with their waggle dance, with the healing power of their venom(doctors use it for arthritis and even cancer), with the pollination, with the honey which I always loved, with the wax which I just loved the aroma of, etc. and it led to me making a 3D animation about bees though it was more psychedelic than factual but set the plot of my story.
Flash forward several years and I’m at my dad’s place helping him fix his truck when I step over some chocolate peppermint plants and I don’t see the lone bee on them and as I brushed the plant, the little girl got caught between my sandals and my toes and she stung me. I immediately went into “holy crap, I’m gonna die” mode, pulled the sandal off, scraped the stinger out and tried to decide if I’d been stung enough to need to go to the hospital. We readied benadryl, ice, etc. just in case but little-if-anything happened. Had I outgrown my allergy? I started doing some research and it seems that you can indeed outgrow some allergies if everything falls into place just right. I didn’t know but now there was a strange buzzing in the back of my head, it wasn’t an allergy but it was indeed an itch that needed scratching…
A few years later a colony of bees took over a tree a few houses down in our neighborhood and I would tell my wife that I was really considering rescuing and keeping the bees to which she, her mother(who is a nurse practitioner), and most of the rest of her family(most of which are also in the medical field) tell me that I’m out of my mind. They tell me that I could die, etc. but I tell them that we could die driving a car or crossing the street so at least I’ll see this one coming and I’ll be able to say I did this. Not everyone faces their fears and I was going to do so without hesitation.
I got together all the equipment I would need, a hive body, a bottom board, an inner cover, telescoping outer cover, frames with foundation(that’s the starter for the comb), a hat w/veil, a suit, gloves, a smoker, a hive tool and I started prepping to get these girls out of this tree. Well, unfortunately much study revealed that there was little-to-no chance of me getting all the bees including the queen out of the tree unless I tore the tree apart and that just wasn’t going to happen, besides the owner of the tree was soon charged and convicted of sexual assault(yeah, we have some great ones around here) so I wanted absolutely nothing to do with him……but the hook was set and I just had to do something to help save bees in general.
In 2013 I started attending the local beekeepers association in town and started listening a lot, especially to the old beekeepers who were very no-nonsense about things, and I asked quite a few questions so I’d know what I was getting into. It seemed daunting to say the least but then I stumbled upon the Beekeeping for Dummies book. Now I have to tell you that I NEVER recommend this series of books to anyone ever because I find that they start out too simple and never give you a good education but I’ll be damned if this particular book didn’t actually prove itself useful. It brings you up to speed on the terminology, the equipment, the behavior, the biology, the diseases and pests and pretty much gets you ready to be a beekeeper before you even know it. Around this time I discover that all the novices in the field are called “newbees” which makes it funny when you realize that a “new bee” is one that just emerged from its cell and it gets even funnier when you realize that the new bee’s very first flight is called “new bee orientation”.
In March 2014 I started looking for someone local to sell me some bees and found a guy, Larry, who I’d been listening to for a while, was going to have some in a month or so. In June 2014 I got the call that I had a “nuc”(nucleus hive) of bees waiting on me and when could I come pick them up. So I hopped in my pickup and drove up to his place, still nervous as can be since I hadn’t even accompanied anyone while they inspected their hives. He told me what to do with them and away I went with a box of bees buzzing madly at me.
I get the little girls home and put them in my hive as he suggested. On retrospect, I did a LOT of things completely wrong but the bees stayed and my fondness for them grew as their fondness for me was so-so. I made a lot of mistakes over the summer but come winter I had a semi-solid colony and even got a couple of pounds of honey from them. I went through great pains to make sure this colony survived so I fed them constantly while I could. I work in HVAC from time to time and got my hands on some insulating bubblewrap that I wrapped around the hive, put some shingles on top of the hive to help hold heat from the sun and even added an infrared heat lamp to the bottom of the hive so they’d never get too cold. I’d been (correctly)predicting very harsh winters over the past couple years so I figured this would be the thing that would save them from freezing. I was correct. When winter ended I had a hive and had officially become a real beekeeper, no longer a “newbee”.