Last April, Michaelann invited me to join her in feeding the bees. On previous visits to the farm, I had enjoyed helping out however I could: tearing down old buildings, mulching beds in the garden, or simply splitting wood. But I had never helped with the bees before. I had no real aversion to them, but I had no real interest either. They pollinated flowers, they made honey, and they occasionally stung people. They were bees. That was that. Still, I did want to be helpful. So I accepted the invitation.
I borrowed Jerome’s gear. I put on a rough, white jacket with a ring of black mesh connecting it to a broad-brimmed hat. Over the sleeves of the jacket, I pulled on a pair of long gloves that had leathery hands caked and stained with wax and other apiological goop. In my right glove, I picked up something called a hive-tool, a small bit of metal that appeared to be half-house-key and half-hatchet. Michaelann and I grabbed a few jars of sugar syrup, and we approached the apiary.
At the first hive, Michaelann removed the lid and then slid the end of her hive tool between the inner cover and top box. She pried it open with a little force and a loud crack. I assumed the cover was sticky from wax or honey, but Michaelann explained that the bees seal small gaps in the hive with propolis, a substance that they gather from plant resins. Prior to our engaging it, there had been a soft but audible hum coming from the hive. However, with the lid and inner cover removed, the hum had become a loud, agitated buzz. I felt a pang of anxiety. I had agreed to open several boxes filled with thousands of flying, stinging insects. Was this, perhaps, a very bad idea? Over the buzzing of the hive, I heard Michaelann invite me to step closer and peer inside. So I did.
I was overwhelmed. A small cloud of honeybees flew up from the exposed combs and started circling my head. I was frightened. But nothing was stinging me. Nothing could, I remembered. Fear turned to exhilaration, to confidence, to serenity. I felt, very suddenly, as if I had been somehow realigned. I felt balanced, unusually focused, and very curious about what was going on in that hive. I lowered my head to examine it more closely. I saw the bees traversing the hive’s frames, and I became aware of the mingling smells of nectar, pollen, honey, and beeswax. I remember fixating on that smell for the entire time we spent in the apiary that morning. Michaelann left a jar of sugar syrup in the hive for the bees, closed it up, and took a few notes. We moved onto the other hives and repeated the process.
When Michaelann invited me to write something for the blog, I knew that I wanted to write about the bees. I considered other topics, but working in the apiary has become one of my favorite parts of visiting the farm. Although things are winding down for the winter, I’ll be ready to get back out there next spring!