Late May is a busy time of the year around here. The last frost usually falls between Mother’s Day and the beginning of June so there’s all sorts of planting/ transplanting going on. The girls are wrapping up school and we’re out almost every evening with a recital, awards ceremony or some other wrap-up-the-year event.
Late May is also when the bees come. No, they’re not migrating. They arrive at the Post Office. We order our bees from Wolf Creek Apiaries in Tennessee. By now their bee season has been in full swing for months. Ours is just getting started. We’ve had the early flush of fruit trees flowering but the bulk of our flowers won’t be coming out till June on.
Although I know roughly when to expect them, it’s always a surprise when we get a call from the Post Office to come pick up our bees. It usually happens at an inopportune moment requiring you to drop everything, mentally shift gears and zip over to retrieve them.
They arrive in a screen sided box containing about 30,000 workers, a queen in a cage and a can of sugar syrup. I can’t imagine that the little ladies enjoy their 2-3 day cross-country trip much so I like to install the bees as soon as I can into their new home.
Installing bees is a fairly straightforward procedure. To get them from their travel accommodations into the hive requires you to pry out the can of syrup (at which point bees start flying out and around you) remove the queen cage, pry out a small cork sealing her in the cage and fasten it in the hive, and finally shaking (yes, like a box of cereal) the rest of the bees into the hive.
It’s not super difficult but it is a bit intimidating facing thousands of potentially stinging insects the first time. The bees are actually pretty complacent when you are installing them because they are exhausted from their trip. They also don’t have a hive to protect and are not working as a coordinated group organism yet. Part of the trick to handling bees is staying calm as they really pick up on your mental /energetic state. I’ve installed a number of colonies of bees at this point and look forward to it.
Our friends Shanna and Gerard live in Santa Fe proper and have been getting into backyard/urban homesteading in a big way. Over the last couple years they have put in garden beds, started a small flock of chickens and built a small corral for their pygmy goats. I hear that turkeys are coming soon. They are doing all of this on 1/6th of an acre. We talk about having a mini farm but they have a micro farm.
No micro farm would be complete without a bee hive so when I got a call from Shanna asking for moral support while they installed their bees I didn’t hesitate to say yes. In my haste to head over to their place I neglected to bring my bee veil. Realizing this on the drive, I figured “Ehh, I’m only cheerleading, I’ll stand back a bit and be fine.”
When I arrived, Gerard was hastily rebuilding the stand for the hive. As always, there were some last minute tweeks that needed to be made. No problem, I stood around with beer in hand and provided supervisory commentary. The only thing that would have made me look more official would have been a shovel to lean on.
After the hive was set up and ready to go I verbally walked Gerard through the steps of what he was about to do. He suited up and got to work. He did a great job, working smoothly and with a sense of purpose. I, on the other hand, feeling overly confident in my role of bee installing coach and protected only by a pair of sunglasses was standing way too close to the swirling cloud of bees surrounding Gerard.
Towards the end of the installation I received a reminder of why it’s important to wear your veil when working bees. I got stung on the eyebrow. It hurt for sure but wasn’t too bad. I had Shanna (who was standing back a safe distance) remove the stinger right away. This minimizes the amount of venom that gets delivered. Then I made a paste of baking soda and water to apply to the sting which soothes and counteracts the irritation. When I got home I took a swig of children’s Benadryl for good measure to keep the swelling down.
I thought I had gotten off Scot-free and then last night I noticed some swelling. This morning I looked like I got socked in the eye.
I imagine that the swelling will be down soon but it’s a great reminder to use safety gear. It’s there for a reason.
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