It was a beautiful, 90 minute drive out past the small town of Exeter to Ferguson Apiaries where I picked up my nucleus (nuc) colony of bees.
With windows down and wind in my beard, the demos to my new CD were whining out from the CD player as I enjoyed the drive through lush, green South-western Ontario countryside. I figured I might was well “work” on my new album a little en route to collect my bees. Listening and re-listening to song demos, hundreds of times ~ especially while driving to do errands ~ has always helped me build mental arrangements for what I want the finished versions of the songs to sound like.
Once I arrived at the farm, I was greeted by the proprietor’s young grandson who waved to me from his motorized, home-made go-kart. He pulled up next to my jeep, stopped his engine and climbed out to show me his vehicle’s new “paint job” ~ which he proudly explained he had done with a gold spray-bomb just the day before. His grandfather had built him the ruggedly enchanting puddle-jumper and just seeing it brought out the 8 year old in me. In fact, building my daughters their own go-kart (foot powered) from some old bicycle wheels and a large antique, wooden soap box I acquired last spring, is on my own summer “To Do” list. Though this young fellow’s hot-rod gave me some great building ideas, all too soon we were walking to his grandparent’s shop and shifting conversation from mud-buggies to bees.
Within in the little store ~ full of honey jars and bees-wax related merchandise ~ I was finally introduced to Mr. Ferguson and the colony of bees he had packaged up for me. Suddenly the reality of having my own hive was buzzing before me in a thin box, with only a mesh opening in the top. Through the screen I could see hundreds and hundreds of little black and yellow insects ~ building, working and warning me with their communal hum to watch my every move.
It was daunting ~ but with some basic instructions from a pro and a bold “bismillah” under my brave breath, I tucked the box beneath my arm and took them out to the car.
Before leaving the farm, the young lad with the go-kart was eager to give me a ride ~ even offering to let me drive! “Nope,” I told him, “these are your wheels. You drive!” We were off and across the lawn, down the lane-way toward the road, through some mud and back over to my car ~ me wishing I could swap him vehicles and drive back home in true style.
Heading home to Kitchener, the bees sang loudly in their temporary hive. The music was beautiful, but admittedly, also somewhat ominous ~ reawakening memories of the old 1970’s horror film “Killer Bees” I had seen as a kid. Regardless of the beautiful day, the sun, the sky, the fields passing me by ~ as I drove, all I could see in my mind were imaginings of how I would transfer the nuc into the hive I had built and painted earlier in the week. Would they attack me? How many times would I get stung? Would they fly up my sleeves? Up my trouser-legs? Up my nose? Would I be able to get the bee smoker working well enough to calm them? A million worries wrinkled my forehead ~ as the bees just hummed with the breeze through the windows.
Attempting to ease my fears, I concluded I should talk to the incarcerated passengers ~ they were, after all, leaving their secluded country lifestyle to take up residence in the city. Imagine how they must have felt? Being in a car for the first time, hearing sounds they’d never heard before, wondering if I was going to help them or harm them. They buzzed so loudly that, even with my windows open, I could hear them all the way from the back of my Jeep each time I stopped at an intersection.
Back at home, I set the empty base hive in a permanent location behind my garage and prepared to transfer the bees from their travel box to their new domain. Donning a heavy, hooded, corduroy frock (which I lovingly refer to as my “Bilbo Baggins attire”), a screened veil and some gloves, I took my smouldering bee-smoker in hand and went to the hive.
The experience was incredible and all I had imagined it would be since my youth.
The moment I lifted the lid of the transport box, there was an initial rush of anxiety through my veins, as hundreds of bees flew up and around me in excitement. With their wings whirling near my head ~ singing in high pitched harmony ~ I reminded myself to remain focused with nothing to fear. A cool calm fell over me as I inspected the four frames to be wedged free from the box and transferred to the permanent hive. With my hive tool I loosened the frames, gently lifting them up and out ~ trying to be ever so cautious not to harm the queen. Quickly examining them ~ I realized the bees (slightly stunned by the puffs of smoke I had washed over them upon opening the nuc) were not agitated by my stirring of their colony. In fact, they almost appeared to step out the way for me to work. Using a soft brush, I swept them off the edges of the frame corners and within only a few minutes, the transfer had been made. All four frames of bees and brood were settled in their new hive.
That was fourteen days ago.
Since that time I have gone out several times to supply my new friends with mason jars of home-made syrup (a 50/50 blend of sugar and water), providing them with strength needed to build up the initial hive, and also as a means of weaning them into their new environment. Today I costumed up once again to open the hive and inspect the brood, shifted the frames around a little in preparation for the the additional boxes (supers) I will add in coming weeks for honey deposit. The bees and I seem to get along ever so cordially (I think they like me?) and from what my amateur eyes can asses, it seems the queen must be fine, as new cardboard coloured brood capping fills most of the comb in each frame and general hive activity is high.
Each visit to their little apartment has provided me with such joy. I head back to the short stack of white boxes with excitement, anticipation and a romance I have only ever associated with youthful courting or the rush of bashful, giddiness felt when my wife and I are reunited after too long apart.
Which reminds me ~ I must begin packing and preparing to travel once again. Next Monday I leave for Pakistan to be reunited with my wife and daughters after two months apart.
Here comes that giddy, school-boy excitement again.