I guess we’re not good enough for royalty

Midlife Sentence | bees

First, if you didn’t know––and you probably don’t because I haven’t been saying much about it––we’re aspiring beekeepers.

I’m not going to say where we keep said bees, because if it was in our backyard, which it most certainly is not, we would definitely have checked with the neighbors to make sure they were okay with it and not tried to hide a whole hive within feet of other people’s property because that just seems like a rude thing to do, even though the neighbors probably would never even notice if we did and maybe we’d have time to get a couple jars of honey over to them before they did notice and we’d be, like, “Surprise! You didn’t know you’ve had bee neighbors this whole time and now we’re giving you a yummy, wholesome gift right out of the butts[1] of our very own bees so you can’t possibly object, especially since you didn’t know you have bee neighbors!”

Which you don’t. Or they don’t. Whatever.

(Disclaimer: I don’t actually know if honey comes out of bee butts.[2])

The whole avoiding-the-neighbors-thing is not usually our schtick, or it wouldn’t be except for the fact we don’t remember how to people anymore. We thought about bees for a good, long while before we got them, and that’s kind of my defense as well. I maybe assumed it’d be one of those things we talk about, but never do, but it turns out it’s one of those things we talk about, then buy books about, then talk to experts about, then spend a bunch of money on.

By the time I realized this, we were WAY in. I should have seen it coming. This happens once in a while: I indulge an idea a little bit, then things get completely out of hand.

Like that time Mike said he was interested in going to see a car race, and so we went, and then a year went by and we suddenly owned a Mercury Capris which Mike and his brother stripped and put special tires on and installed a roll bar and a fuel cell in and entered into a stock car league, or team or whatever they call a group of car racing people, all so they could drive in a big circle over and over until they crashed and had to spend more money than I thought possible on a 20+ year-old car that only had one seat and no glass in the windows.

That was twenty years ago. As a result, Mike earned maybe $25 on the one race he won, and the right to forever call himself a professional race car driver. So I guess it was worth it.

I don’t argue with these things. One must let menfolk have their happy moments.

So, with the bees, then: we got the equipment, including the hive pieces and the suit and smoker and everything, figured out where we were going to put them (an undisclosed location most definitely not in our backyard), joined a local beekeeper support group, watched tons of videos, read books, assembled hive boxes.

And by “we,” I mean Mike and maybe a little bit Colin. For my part, I have been soaking in a little information here and there. While I am by no means an expert[3], I do know at this point just enough to freak me way out.

There’s a ton of stuff that can go wrong with bees, if you didn’t know. The hives can get infested with mites or be taken over by robber bees. Bees can just disappear for no real reason, either deciding they don’t want to live where you put them, or else suffering some sort of cataclysmic something-or-other.

But we are in too far in to pull back. This last weekend, the bees came in a package and we were all ready to receive them. We’d learned all about the elaborate way one to separates the queen bee from the bee package, inserts her into the hive, and introduces her to all the other bees slowly so they welcome her as their queen instead of killing her.

This involves pulling a little one-bee container out of the bigger bee container, pulling a cork out of one end of that little container and plugging it up with a gum drop (which bee supply people provide as a bonus). This allows all the bees the opportunity to become acquainted with their queen while they eat the gum drop and think through their initial impulses to kill her.

The queen (and entourage) in her little bee box

After donning their bee suits and watching the latest of the umpteen-thousand videos on how to do this, and getting advice from all over, Mike and Colin were outside with the bee package and the little queen box, ready to assemble everything and get this bee party started.

I don’t have a bee suit but could stand close enough to take pictures.

Midlife Sentence | bee gumdrop
AND I got to hand over gumdrop

The first thing was the hardest, which was taking the queen in her mini bee box out, pulling the cork from one end and sticking the gum drop in. Then we’d put the queen box in the hive, release the rest of the bees in there, then close up the whole thing and let the magic happen.

Midlife Sentence | queen and cork
If you know us, you might suspect how this will go from here.

I watched Colin try to pry the cork from the mini box with a pocketknife in his big, oversize gloved hands. I handed the gum drop to Mike with his similarly big, gloved hands and watched as he prepared to stuff it in one end of the queen bee box when Colin finally had the cork out.

I was beginning to think this whole thing pretty unwieldy about the same time Colin actually did get the cork out and Mike fumbled with the gum drop, all while the queen stepped daintily out of her little bee box and flew up and away in big, lazy circles into the windy spring sky.

The three of us stood there, gaping stupidly at her with our big, gloved hands, while she flew and flew until she was too small to be seen anymore.

So now our bees are out there, in their undisclosed location, without a queen, and it’s probably just chaos in that hive –– All those ladies with no boss bee hanging out in the elaborate bee home we’ve set up –– and here we are trying to figure out whether we can salvage our hive, maybe introduce another new queen or what. If we do, what happens if the old queen comes back (which we’re told happens about half the time)? And whether, if she doesn’t, we hang “wanted” posters out for her, which seems like not a very good idea considering most people can’t distinguish a honeybee from any other kind of bee.

Which is all to let you know if we ever did intend to have a hive in our backyard, which we didn’t, we now maybe don’t and never did.

And if you didn’t know, honey doesn’t come from bee butts. I looked it up.


[1] FYI, I’ve since learned the horrific truth but I’ll spare you.

[2] The truth is much, much more gross.

[3] Being the person who previously thought honey came from bee butts that I am, you may have guessed this.

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