May 2. Three weeks after buying bees: Told by those who know bees that we should leave our new bees alone to do what they will do now that we've moved them in their new homes, we fight the urge to hover.
Throughout June: Amy's husband, Tom, gives the two hives wide berth while mowing, heeding the advice of the Kentucky Bee School specialists who said the noise and ground-shaking might irritate the bees. Tom is no fool.
June 19: Frankfort, we have a problem. Because we have read almost every book written on the topic, we stand ready for: surprise attacks by mites that hide in the tracheal tubes of our bees, the skunks that might send in a Trojan Pepé Le Pew, and a wholesale leave-taking of the hive on principle. But what we are not ready for has apparently occurred: We have a bee hive run by teenagers.
Make no mistake, South Hive is running like all the books and experts said it would. Those little critters are up at dawn, telling each other where the pollen and nectar is, laying down wax with their magic tummies, building perfect hexagonal cells for honey storage and doing whatever they need to to make the queen happy, which looks like plenty.
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But 10 inches to the north, in North Hive, there is a little lazy action on the front porch early and even less later at night. We are so unimpressed by the goings on, we even lean in, without protective gear, and put our ears on the honey super and listen to the hive. Slight murmur.
Concerned and technologically skilled, we Google "slacker bees." No hits.
We suit up to take a kindly look at both hives. What would cause one hive to prosper and the other to crash and burn? We called Phil Craft, Kentucky's state apiarist, in Frankfort. You can read about him at KYAGR.com/statevet/bees/index.htm
June 26: Craft came out to the farm, on his birthday no less, to take a gander. His diagnosis was quick but kind: Blame the boy bees. What we had was an underfertilized queen — meaning it was not her fault she was shooting out useless boy bees. She had done her best for a while, but right now, without any girl bees to do the work, the hunting, the gathering, the honey-making, we are justly in deep trouble.
See, because she wasn't, uh, well serviced when she took her fertility flight, her hive is technically a goner. And, get this, Craft says we are going to have to dispatch her. That is, dethrone her highness. You know, kill her.
Aug. 14: Life is sweet. No truer than in bee keeping when it is honey time. But first, we must dispense with our nobility and rob our healthy hive. Which is the point of the entire dramatic/expensive/scientific/wormy/mite-ridden beekeeping exercise.
Still, once we learned that our honeybees must tap 2 million (2 million!) flowers to make one pound of honey, flying at a distance equal to more than three times around the world, well, we began to feel bad about what we were about to do. And, jeez, to make matters worse, we read that the average worker bee will make only 1⁄12 (1⁄12!) of a teaspoon of honey during its lifetime.
Taking honey requires time, every kitchen tool, a large pot, a horse trough and feed bucket, a truck full of sterilized canning jars, yards of cheesecloth and one good flyswatter. It also requires soap and plenty of hot water for clean-up. And as much ingenuity as you can bring to the table.
Yes, the books are some help, but not as much as you think.
See, all the beekeeper wisdom in the world says first-time beekeepers barely get enough honey their first year to slather a plate of biscuits. Yet we got 60 pounds of it, with 60 more left for the bees to winter on.
Craft says it's not just us. "It's an exceptional harvest all over Central and Western Kentucky." He figures it's the abundance of white clover, and he says the bees are in good shape, too, even the ones still clinging to the honey we took from the hive into the house. They are not very threatening, since they are swimming in the honey.
But we worry because we are not killers and we put them back outside. We worry because some research says they will recognize us later as the ones who robbed them, which is why we considered wearing Batman masks but changed our minds at the last minute in the heat.
We did this alone. Still, every last friend we have wants some of our honey. And most think they deserve it because they stood in our hot yard for five minutes at some point and duly and courageously ogled the bees, then oohed and ahhed at our agricultural grandness. Then, when we went on and on about our plant nectar enzyme wizards, they listened.
So, we hand it over and glow. Because it's really, really good. And because, you know what? Our girls made this stuff with their own kind of magic and, whether they can recognize us or not, blame us or not, we are their keepers.