My first memories of bees began in my childhood. I was always excited when the end of school arrived, but with the beginning of summer I always had two dreads – shots required for school entrance at the end of summer and stepping on bees. We rarely wore shoes and our yard was full of clover where bees were often collecting nectar. To me, bees were just stinging insects to avoid.
Many years later when I began volunteering at Trevecca Urban Farm, I was introduced to their beehives. Several times over the next months I put on one of their beekeeping suits to observe the inspections. Later as I took on my duties as one of their hired farmers, I also agreed to become a beekeeper and learn the art of beekeeping. I had no idea the intensity of the journey I was embarking on. I remember the first training I attended and the new vocabulary buzzing in my head as I left the classroom – brood, super, pheromone, apiary, bearding, and colony collapse disorder (to name a few). It was a complicated world, but the more I learned about bees, the more fascinated I became.
As I shared my excitement with my mother, she had a bee story of her own. My grandparents’ original house was made of hewn logs harvested from their homestead and built by my grandfather and his father on family land. By the time I had memories of the house, the logs had been covered with siding and the two room home had become a house with many additional rooms (but no indoor bathroom). I remember going down the very narrow staircase into the room that was once their kitchen. I could see the wide logs and the crumbling chinking. This is where my grandmother kept rows and rows of her canned vegetables from the garden and fruit from their orchard. It was musty down there and we seldom ventured into this space for fear of running into a mouse. My mother told me this is where the bees came to reside.
On one of our family gatherings some of my cousins decided to venture down the stairs to hang out away from the adults. With no heat in this part of the house, it was cold which led to the decision to build a fire in the old cook stove. Soon smoke was billowing out into the room and with the smoke and heat the bees began to emerge. Over the past year they had built a massive hive between the ceiling of the lower level and the floor above. Once the adults realized the discovery below, they took matters into their own hands. At one time my uncle had kept his own bees and still owned his veil and smoker which came in handy for the bee removal. A hole was cut in the ceiling exposing the massive hive. Smoke was puffed in the hole to calm the bees and then came the reward. There was so much honey, it filled a large washtub. The honey along with the comb was then placed in canning jars and shared with family and friends.
I am so delighted that my mother shared this story since knowing generations before me have had adventures with bees gives me a sense of connection.
While I continued to tend the bees at the university farm, I decided to add hives at our homestead. Preparing the hives before picking up the bees only heightened my anticipation for their arrival. I built a hive stand, painted hive boxes to give them a longer life, and put together frames with my handy jig while waiting for Spring to come along.
Picking up the bees in their packages was a great adventure. Each package contains three pounds of bees (about 30,000). When I arrived at Wolf Creek Bees, I wasn’t the only one picking up packages of humming insects. The carport was lined with buzzing boxes and the owner was eager to give instructions for their care until I could install them in their new homes. I invited my mother to join the adventure and she eagerly accepted. I put her in a beekeeping suit and she watched while I shook the bees into the boxes. Then we pulled our lawn chairs alongside the hives and admired the new homestead residents.
I’ve come a long way from the barefoot girl running through the clover. My fear has been replaced by fascination and the rewards are definitely sweet.