It all started with a high-tech weight loss gadget featured on the news - one that required no physical effort. I went to the crowdfunding site to check it out - you would too, admit it. As I went to leave, the site flashed in my face - “LAST DAY!!!” for a self-tapping bee hive from Australia. I paused. I clicked. I bought.
I was seduced
by the Flow Hive 2. Partly it was the technology, promising no mess honey collection and happier bees but it was also because it was just so darn pretty. The bee hives I’ve seen in fields or in the rare backyard are ugly boxes, functional but as unattractive as Soviet concrete architecture. This was a garden feature. The irony that it was coming from Australia made from the same western red cedar native to my own backyard wasn’t lost on me either.
Bees were on my farm list for well, someday. Maybe five years down the road? Or later, when everything was else was done. Now I had a bee hive arriving in months. So either it collected dust or bees moved to the top of the list. Luckily I had some time as it wouldn’t arrive for several months and new hives are a Spring thing. All was good.
When it came time to assemble it, I saw that it was worth the money. IKEA could learn a lot from them on how to do flat packs - everything was perfectly labeled and fit together like a dream. Time to find some bees.
I quickly figured out that beekeeping has more rigid opinions than politics. Do it this way, no that way. People that do this regret it. People that don’t do too. The one thing everyone seems to agree on is don’t start by yourself, find a group. So I searched for local groups. The bee costumes put me off. I decided I’d be doing this on my own.
Bees have to be ordered in advance. I had three clear choices when it came to acquiring a starter set of bees, pick them up in a parking lot on a designated day. Drive several miles to a person who stated this would be their last year in business or drive even further to someone that would be doing this next year. I opted for continuity.
The big pick up day announced
The weekend before I placed the hive in my chosen spot, in the cherry orchard beneath a tree that isn’t edible (the root stock took over from the graft). I leveled it. I re-leveled it. I put out a welcome sign. (Really, I did.) Then it was suddenly bee day. I did some last minute reading before heading out.
The trip and bee acquisition went smoothly. Except that I was going to have to do a process with the queen that nobody had mentioned on the internet. A different kind of queen box than I had learned about. I got home and let the bees rest for a bit in the shade before suiting up. It’s a funny thing about this step for a newbie - you’re scared to do it but if you don’t they’re all going to die. So you do it. Mostly it went okay, for the proletariat bees anyway. The monarch, not so good. She may have been weak anyway or I did something wrong or both. She was kinda alive when I put the hive back together but I think we both knew it wasn’t looking good.
The queen is dead, long live the queen
She didn’t make it. Another trip would be necessary to collect a new queen. I made the necessary arrangements. Meanwhile the rest of the bees got increasingly anxious. I know this because one stung me on the cheek when I was just standing by the hive. Like the first scratch on a new car, it’s good to get this over with.
It’s a long journey to the source of bees and involves the city stuff that I gave up three years ago. The longer I’m away the more I hate going back. So I plotted an itinerary that would get some other errands done before my agreed pick-up window. This would take me down the other side of the lake. On a side note when the highway department introduced a toll over seven years ago to cross the lake on one bridge (but not the other) I vowed to never pay the toll, not out of any higher principle but just because it irritated me and I don’t much care for automated systems tracking my license plate. This wasn’t a plot to commit a crime, just a plan to not use that bridge for approximately 50 years. So I planned to meander my way down to the free bridge and then back up the other side, adding about 40 minutes to the journey but when you’ve been going strong for seven years you’ve clearly got a commitment to the cause, or something.
I break the vow
You knew this was coming. I learned I didn’t have a very big window at all. I thought I had several hours but it turned out to be only about one. I could get there in fifteen minutes if I just paid the toll. The long way would be at least 45 if traffic cooperated (does it ever?). For the sake of the queen and the other bees I gave in. It’s an ugly bridge but I got to my destination on time. $5 and some pride is a small price for a happy hive.
The new queen went in without a hitch. I innovated based on my own circumstances to make sure her cage didn’t fall until the bees freed her. When I checked she was out and trying to stay out of the light, generally acting like a queen should. (I think.) I need to check on them all again soon but they’ve already taught me so much. A lot of it is applicable to starting a business:
There is no master plan, or secret blueprint, that guarantees success
Research is great but doing it is the only way to learn it
Bees die and mistakes happen, if you do your very best for others it will come out all right in the end
Follow your instincts and intuition. You don’t have to hang with people in bee costumes if you don’t want to.
Start before you’re ready, see bullet points above 😊