A few weeks ago I shared my first real beekeeping experience last year. Since that day, watching my beekeeper pals Zel and Dan has become a favorite pass time of mine, their honey harvest my favorite treat. This year they decided that I was ready to be a bit more hands on within their operation. More on that later.
First I want to tell you my bee history. I have never been stung by a honey or bumble bee. Wasps and hornets? You bet. I respect bees and bees respect me though, we have an understanding. It started for me when I was very small. My father would always say “If you are nice to bees then bees will be nice to you.”
When I was around six years old I started spending more time on our farm. It was the early nineties so helicopter parenting wasn’t exactly a thing but keeping little girls out of harm’s way on a working farm with busy and distracted adults was a constant concern for my folks. I liked the woods and I liked to wander and I really liked animals. I think that was always my folk’s biggest worry, I would follow some critter too far from home, or worse, I’d try and befriend a baby bear. But work needed to be done and I was small and needed something to pass the time and that would keep me close to home base. This is when I learned my favorite childhood game. Save the bees.
You see, we had a screen porch that wasn’t exactly optimal. It had a few small tears in it and sometimes the very bugs it was meant to keep out got stuck in. Almost daily, a bumble or honey bee would get caught up in the screen porch. A frantic bee trying to escape a room is usually something you want to avoid, but my father taught me the secret to making bee friends one summer day.
“Go outside and find a dandelion with the fattest longest stem you can.” He instructed me one afternoon as one particularly worn out bee crawled about on the screens. Once I had returned with the dandelion of his specifications he told me to watch the bee for a while. As she crawled about and got closer to the bottom of the screen and nearer to me he told me to hold the dandelion up next to her.
“Keep your hand steady and still and wait until it climbs on.” I was nervous as I knew bees could sting me but I trusted my father the way only a six-year old could. We waited for the bee to climb down onto the dandelion. It clung to it tightly and werily. Like the way you cling to a park bench after getting off the graviton at the county fair. He then told me to slowly take the bee out to the garden. He opened the door for me and I stepped softly and carefully with my tiny passenger. I was half scared it would fly up in my face and sting me and half overjoyed that I had caught it and was so near it. We walked just a few short steps to the flowerbed and he told me to place the bee near another bloom so she could walk over to it, being she was too weak and disoriented to fly just yet. Sure enough after placing the bright yellow dandelion next to the purple chive she crawled over to the new flower and made herself at home. I did this the next day and any day after that that a bee needed me. I never outgrew this.
I still practice this bee assistance to this day. In hindsight, it was a great parenting move as I would be occupied for hours waiting for agitated buzzers to tucker out and then patiently wait as the crawled up and down the screens until they got near me. Selecting the right dandelion could take almost a half hour. One bee rescue could occupy a 6-year old for an entire afternoon and I’d never leave the confines of the screen porch or adjacent flower bed. It was actually my first lesson in meditation I think. Standing there with flower arm outstretched watching six tiny legs get closer and closer. Wondering what it was thinking, thinking about what getting tired felt like, watching its every move. Sometimes if the bee was very tired I would be able to get a really good look at it after it got on the flower. I could hold the bee very close to my face and see the light shine through its wings or see the pollen on its legs it had collected. I got to get so personal with these creatures in a way most people don’t and probably never would want to. I often would coo at them the way a child would. “Alright bee I’m gonna take you to the garden now so you can make it home in time for supper!”
As a result of my childhood hobby, I believe that bees know that I am more friend than foe. My father told six year old me that the bees would let the other bees know I was nice and they wouldn’t sting me if they could help it. So far this has proven true for me. I don’t tense up when a bee is near, and I never swat at them or run away. If a stranger bee comes near me I stay calm and try to get out of its way. This I believe helped prepare me for my first bee hive introduction. Check out the video below of me making thousands of new friends. It’s been about a week since they got to their new home and they are thriving!