Friday, May 1, 2009

Royal Encounters

I searched for my keys for 30 minutes before I found them in my pocket of all crazy places. Unless someone gave me a ticket for a super-secret express train from Washington Heights directly to Williamsburg, I'd be late for the hive-check, and considered staying home instead. But soon, I was remembering their fuzzy little stripes, and the way they always find your most vulnerable, exposed area (hand, ankle, neck,) and crawl all over it... before I knew it, my heart dragged me to the A train.

As I'd imagined, I'd missed the initial "check in:" opening the hive, taking out some frames, checking for normalcy. The diagnosis was good, but since we'd never put the 10th frame in the brood box, the bees had started building bridges of waxy comb in the empty space. Although the world below felt pleasant, up on the roof it felt like we were on the brink of a hurricane. Jon and Eddie decided it best to leave the little dudes alone and deal with the comb another day.

Those southern bees were most likely freaking out about the menacing winds and impending rainstorms. East coast weather is always a bit of a shock. The interminable winters. The odd 65 degree day in February presumably designed to tantalize naive newcomers. As an native East Coaster, even I forget what spring is... it's a transition from one extreme to the other. It takes on the characteristics of both summer and winter. It disappoints, but it also dazzles.

The bees undoubtedly sensed the turbulent weather and were on guard. (Well, these three were on guard. Although the middle one looks like she could use some help.)
Another hypothesis is that they sensed that we'd change our minds and decide to go back in. Each bee assigned to attack one of us...

But really, that's just what they do. There are always a few guard bees outside making sure no feral outsiders attempt to break in and squat in some dank corner of their home.

Eddie raised the point that if we didn't remove the comb at that time, they'd continue building in the empty space over the next few days, which called for rain. Michelle Obama was out of her box and would soon start laying eggs. We didn't want anything to go wrong in that vital stage the of bee cycle. We had to remove the extra comb and insert the 10th frame.

(Notice the dead bee on the bottom of the hive... for later)

Or, perhaps I made this face when I heard I wouldn't get to check on my girls:
Jon made a friend.
He also decided to ditch the onesie for the first time. Coincidence?

Removing the frames gave us a chance to search for the queen.
There was a small chance we'd see her; sometimes beekeepers go as long as 4 months without a queen sighting. It felt like Where's Waldo, when you're not sure if you should speed up or slow down, focus on small areas or take it all in... The bees were swirling before our eyes when out of nowhere, Michelle Obama appeared! Eddie and Jon. But I was multitasking, taking photos with one hand, holding bees in the other, lost in the queen search... so I can't be too mad at myself. PLUS, I think I might have gotten a photo of her, but only Jon or Eddie can confirm this:
She was longer, lighter, distinct, say Jon and Eddie. The bees cleared a path for her. Do you see the one I mean? To the left? Here's another queen-area shot. I don't see anything, personally, but in case I'm wrong:
It was an exciting moment, even for those of us who didn't see her. I shared in the glee of my fellow beekeepers. We swiftly removed the excess comb and the queen's box, and put the little buzzers back home, content with the knowledge that our hive is healthy and Michelle Obama is lookin great.

We decided to use the piece of comb and the queen's box for educational purposes, to show other aspiring beekeepers what to expect.

The comb is more or less skeletal at this point, as it holds no honey. The the slightly yellow cells, however, contain nectar that will become honey.
And guess what it tastes like? Bee Tea! It tastes exactly like our tea, with its strong overtones of thyme. And how do I know this?
Because each of us decided to eat the bland wax, and proceeded to suck nectar out of the cells, (and then felt weird about eating it-- the structure created by our pets' own bodies.)

Meanwhile, back at the hive, the bees were clearing out their casualties. Here, you see them dragging a dead bee out of the hive and off the ledge.

They had already chilled out from their stressful encounter with us. Below, the three on the left look like they're going to burst into a choreographed dance, (to me. Frank thinks they look like fighter jets ready for takeoff. )
Then I realized that Eddie had more bee camo on! I swear, the bees are affecting us unconsciously as well... as we reach for the stray t-shirt on the ground that happens to be...yellow! I think Eddie's shoes, chosen long before any of this bee business started up, indicate a percolating interest in honeybees, whether he knew it or not at the time.

I say this half in jest but half in earnest, because I'm still in a daze at how involved I am with this whole undertaking. I never thought to myself, "I should raise honeybees." I'm obsessed with every aspect of honey. Texture. Scent. Process. Sweet, sticky, amber ooze. A relative of flowers and bees. It satiates so many of my senses at once. It tickles my imagination: I want to live in a world where funny little striped insects disseminate nectar from one flower to another, propagating the natural cycle and making things colorful.

One day I was sitting at my computer eating heaping spoonfuls of comb honey while simultaneously reading about all of honey's natural benefits to humans and of honeybees' benefits to everything. Before I knew it, I was smearing the honey all over my face (moisturizing, exfoliating,) and paying the 20 bucks to WWOOF (Willing Workers on Organic Farms) for access to a Bee Master in the Hudson Valley who would teach me the way of the bee.

Coincidentally and simultaneously, another bee brouhaha brewed in Brooklyn. There was talk of some dudes who owned a building in Williamsburg and wanted to keep bees on their roof. One of these dudes, Jason, happened to be Jon's friend from summer camp. (Adorable.) Little did we know, the Bee Team egg had been laid.

Even though he lives directly under the bees, Jason hadn't been properly introduced to them. After a few hours of talking bees (etc.) and sawing small, perfect squares into bedroom walls in search of a specific part of a water pipe for bee garden irrigation, we headed up to the roof again. John took care not to disturb the little buggers as Jason and Lori gazed into their magical world.
See the magic?

1 comment:

  1. Just got confirmation from Jon that Michelle Obama IS in the top photo! Look closely, she's kind of reddish...