Lessons from the hive: Bee Massacre

Sometimes learning what to do means suffering through what not to do.

After ascertaining that my hive was queen-less, I began the search for a queen.  After my first cold call, DJ, a fellow beekeeper, kindly offered me a queen-less swarm which seemed to be thriving.  He is one of the bee whisperers in town. He is called when bees have flown the coop for a new address——usually hanging out in a football size ball ‘o bees in unwelcome places such as attics and eaves and the neighbor’s trees.

When I went to pick up DJ’s swarm it was a cold rainy day.  Bees hate rain. They stay inside.  That was good for us. We handily tied them up, locked up the door tight so they couldn’t get out, and bundled them into the trunk of my car.  I also had the queen warming inside my shirt. My mentor had given me a few queen cells that she had harvested the day before,  which I could hang in amongst the nest of honeycombs as soon as this new swarm was safely in my hive. The trick of queen cells that have been harvested is to keep the temperature between 80-90 degrees Farenheit while they are en route. I tucked them between my breasts, figuring that since my body temp is 98.6, those queens would stay warm. Despite such TLC one could never guarantee queen cells amputated from their colony could survive outside the hive for 24 hours.  I crossed my fingers and off I went.

The day continued to unfold with rain and hail.  I hoped and prayed that the sun would come out for even an hour, so I could put my new girls to rest in my established hive.  Hey, it’s New Mexico.  The chances are always good for sunshine.

By 4pm sure enough the sun showed up. I got my white sage smoker going and began the careful process of transferring the new bars of bees into my already established queen less hive—- after first putting in a newspaper between the established hive and the newbies, so that war wouldn’t break out between these two established colonies.  The newspaper trick gave them time to smell each other out and chew through the paper when they were quite ready to become one big happy family.

To my horror, as I took the bars of honeycomb loaded with bees and baby brood out of the little box I transported, I realized that these combs were waaaaay too long for my established hive. DJ’s hive was much deeper than mine, thus the combs were not going to fit.  Sick to my stomach, I knew what I needed to do.  I would need to cut the honeycomb in half, in effect decapitating baby bees that were still incubating.  It was the only way to make them fit.  It was traumatic to take a knife and cut the comb, smooth as butter, in half, watching baby bees fall out of their comb cells, still not quite formed, tiny white, entombed ghostly bees. My knife became sticky and full of bee fluids.  Honey that had been stored to feed them, began to drip everywhere.  The nurse bees designed to care for the pupae, attached to the outside of the comb, began to stick in the honey, falling from the comb and the knife. This is not how beekeeping is supposed to go.  I want to report the happy stuff. This was a nightmare.

But the lesson from the hive was not to be happy this day. It reminded me that life regularly presents me with adventures and misadventures all at once.  Learning is often painful and downright wretched, requiring me and all of us to put on our big boy/big girl pants and face the music.  Sometimes it is a mess we have created. Sometimes it is a problem that was already there and cannot be solved without pain—someone or something is going to get hurt.  It is the way of being and becoming human.  It is painful.

But there is new life.  And in this resurrection season, I am hopeful that my bees will sort out the mess I have made of their beautiful combs and go on to raise more generations of bees. Thank goodness a bee’s life is only about 30 days long.  Hopefully the trauma will die out with one generation— after they have righted all my wrongs.  Bees have a way of doing that.  They are brilliant, innovative and downright resilient.  I’m trying to learn these things in the face of my own suffering, pain and seasons of messiness.

Maybe the only happy thing to report today was that the swarm had plenty of new queen cells on their combs and I added mine into the mix.  A couple of new queens should emerge soon. I hope there isn’t too big of a fight for the throne.

I left the hive with my girls huddled in a ball around the desiccated combs. I set the severed brood comb on the floor of the hive, praying that my girls will still be able to nurture these embryos detached from the comb and hatch them.  I said a prayer of thanksgiving and breathed one asking forgiveness for my harm.

Even as I closed the hive up, the rain began to pelt me again.  I made it inside just as the hail, big as golfballs rained down, plinging on the tin roof of the hives and the skylights in our house. I felt some consolation in knowing that they now had a safe, dry, expanded home.  But i grieved the picture of carnage left behind.

God help us in the messes we leave behind.  We all do it.  Countries. Individuals. Communities.

One thought on “Lessons from the hive: Bee Massacre

  1. This story reminds me that humility, the ability to recognize our mistakes, to ask for forgiveness and then the ability to forgive ourselves are gifts to ourselves and others.


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