The story below recounts the travails of Katie and Alex Novak when they installed their first two packages of bees in April of 2008, as told by Katie.
The Bees are Here!
We got the call Monday afternoon from a cellphone in the beevan that said "we're back from Georgia and we've got the bees - we'll be home at 5:30, and you can pick them up tonight or tomorrow." Even though we weren't quite ready with the hives, because they came back much earlier than we expected, Alex drove to Loganton and got the bees and we stayed up late Monday night hammering and painting and gluing and constructing.
The bees were on the floor in the basement and the cats went wild, crouching in front of them with their tails snapping back and forth, batting their paws at them until I finally locked them (the bees) in a closet to spare them.
Last night we took all the materials out to the back and Alex set about making sugar water (you have to feed them until flowers bloom). The sugar water should be a 50% solution, simple enough, but Alex had gotten some fancy-schmancy recipe using thyme and chamomile, and suddenly it was this huge, time-consuming procedure where of course he had to measure everything by using all pots in the house, particularly anything graduated. I said "do you want the thyme in a tea strainer?" "No, she said she just throws it in." Then we had to decide about putting in medicinal drugs or not, which became a whole 'nother measuring issue, and I'm starting to really worry out about daylight, it's stop-and-go raining, daughter Roux is beginning to melt down which is making Alex tenser and tenser. Now it's 7:15 and the kitchen is a mess and we're not ready yet. At 7:40 I call the neighbors and beg them to take Roux off our hands so we can get the bees in. They do, and Alex and I donned our beegear (mine never came so I was wearing Alex's which was much too big and frustratingly falling over my eyes and Alex wore his dad's), and went outside at dusk in a drizzle, feeling totally trepidatious, as you might imagine.
The bees travel in a pine frame box which is about a foot wide by 4 - 5 inches deep and maybe 7 - 8 inches tall - shoebox-size. The front and back are metal screening tacked on, and there are hundreds of bees in there. Alex thought thousands and thousands but I'll stick by upper hundreds - but who knows? The two boxes were buzzing like crazy and radiating heat. Crazy cool, but also disturbingly horror-movie-ish. You don't have to smoke the bees the first time you put them in the hive because they're kind of in shock anyway from being moved around in a cage, but you should spritz them heavily with sugar water, because they can't do much without cleaning themselves so they're otherwise occupied.
There is a covered hole at the top of the box with a nylon ribbon coming out of it. This is attached to the Queen's cage-within-a-cage. You have to take the top off the box, pull the food can out which has pinholes and sugar water in it, and then you pull the nylon ribbon and the Queen's cage comes out. That is a little box about the size of a rosin box for a fiddle bow. Also screened on one side, and the Queen is in there with her butt painted with a red dot so you know Who She Is, and then there are a couple worker bees in there to serve her. There is a hole at the end, and it is plugged with "candy" (not really in quotes because it IS candy), and then a little cork. You have to pull the cork out with a nail, then use the nail to put a hole through the candy, trying not to impale the Queen. You put that in the hive upside down, so the workers can get used to her, and they all eat away at the candy and then in a couple days the Queen is free. That's the plan, anyway.
So Alex pulls out this tiny little nail. Keep in mind, it's getting really dark, bees are doused but vaguely active, and human tensions are high. But it's also totally interesting and exciting. I see him fiddling with the tiny little nail and mutter about how it's not big enough, which it isn't, so I go inside and downstairs to get an appropriate, large nail. Alex makes the hole, we put her in, then bang the box with the other bees in it out into the hive, I'm worried that they're drowning in their feeding trough, and putting little twigs in there (they said keep things floating in birdbaths or any water on the premises so they don't drown - they say bees don't drown - they say so many contradictory things). Alex is beginning to freak on me that I'm leaving the hive open too long with my fussing. So then we put it together, and go to the next one, which I'm going to do.
First, the nylon ribbon becomes detached from the Queen's cage, so I gotta put my hand all the way in the beebox to get it from the pile of bees where it dropped. NO WAIT - first, the G-D spritzer becomes clogged with thyme leaves, so my bees aren't as docile as they might be. So I'm pretty nervous and wanting to strangle spouse. I dig my gloved hand in there, and bees are crawling all over it, and I'm realizing I was sloppy about the glove because we were vacillating on gloves/no gloves, and I just decided to put one on my left hand last minute. So bees are crawling in my glove and I'm doing everything I can to stay calm and cool. But highly nervous inside.
I got the Queen out, and...and...Alex starts slapping his pockets and saying "wait...where'd I put the nail..." Shining the flashlight on the 5 million decaying, wet leaves on the ground. I said very tersely "go get another one RIGHT NOW". He goes in the house, and suddenly, as I wait, I'm feeling bees on my legs under my pants. I'm freaking...I'm freaking...and then I feel them in my crotch. I was wearing my post-maternity cords and they're quite roomy and hang low, so I knew it wasn't like when you see a roach and you can't stop thinking roaches are crawling on you. I knew I had a crotch full of bees. Then, I felt a sting above my ankle, and then, a sting on the inside of my upper thigh, that nice soft spot which rubs right against the one on the opposite leg. On some people. On me.
So I'm sitting there saying "okay, stay cool. You've got a crotch full of bees. You're getting stung. Just remain calm." and as my (still only
2) stings are swelling with pain my head is swelling with anger, thinking of every time Alex has slapped his pockets and gasped "WHERE'S MY WALLET?!?! Oh here it is." "WHERE ARE OUR TICKETS?!?!?! Oh, here they are." I'm thinking of every tool of mine I find lying around not returned to its proper place. I'm thinking about all my tools which are inexplicably missing when I need them. The anger has made my head swell into a big, red, steam-filled pressure cooker and Alex comes out of the mud room and I open my mouth and out comes, for all the neighbors to
hear: "&@%# YOU ALEX!!! &@%# you and your NO NAIL!!!"
So of course Alex says "huh?" and I tell him I'm getting stung and he takes the Queen from my hands and I'm going "I gotta take my pants off...I gotta take my pants off..." and I'm unzipping and pulling down my pants in the backyard and Alex is saying "Get away from the bees!! Get away from the bees!!" and pushing me and I'm freaking 'cause I don't want to move. "DON'T MOVE ME!!" But finally I just waddle away from the bees like a kid with a pile in her diapers, and I drop trou (trow?) and some bees come out and I calm down and decide all's well and button up and go back to the hives.
Alex was putting them all in and we were done, and I didn't get stung again. AND, I was kind of happy to have been stung because that's what you dread and it wasn't too bad. Now I don't have the dread any more. I mean what could be worse than bees in your crotch stinging you near your privates? It's worse than what I dreaded.
So the whole thing was over and I was kind of high from the excitement and am now just totally obsessed with the bees and woke this morning wanting to run out and look at them. But from now on it's more of a production because you gotta have the smoker going and all when you open the hives after this. And last night, when I was all bright-eyed about it, Alex, a man who derives no joy from any process, but only from results, said to me "it's really stressful". As if he had a crotch full of bees. And, when we were putting the dishes in the dishwasher Alex found a bee on my collar which had been there for a couple hours. Alive.
I think they like me.