Today I woke up on the proverbial “wrong side of bed”. It was my Sabbath monday off, but it seemed that I felt out of sorts about everything. From my cat who offered me her dead sparrow, hoping to delight me, to my annoyance at a request made at the last minute by my husband, just before he went off to school.
After a long, slow breakfast with chai in my favorite bee mug, and some time to read and journal, I decided it was time to finally do that beehive split I’d been putting off. I hoped that the bees would help reverse my restless unhappiness and calm my nerves. Many beekeepers find that the long, sustained focus of working their hives and the slow movements can often change one’s mood. It is the contemplative mind.
My goal this day was to take a few combs from one of my hive’s baby bee brood, along with fresh eggs, into a new, smaller, half size top bar mini-hive (also called a ‘nuc’). The bees would take it from there and hopefully create a new queen. It was my first endeavor with this. I was anxious. I had never done this. What if I messed up. What if I didn’t give them enough honey and pollen to keep them alive while they raised up a new queen? It could take up to 6 weeks for this process to occur——from the queen hatching to mating to returning as the newly crowned, fully spermed queen.
I began by opening my “mother hive”, which has always been my steadiest and gentlest hive. It was lovely. Full of beautiful combs with nicely balanced baby bee brood and fresh pearly white comb. I am always in awe of fresh comb. It is not something to take for granted.
According to research: Honey bees consume about 8.4 lbs (4 kg) of honey to secrete 1 lb (500 g) of wax (Graham, Joe. The Hive and the Honey Bee. Hamilton/IL: Dadant & Sons; 1992; ISBN)
That’s alot of flowers visited.
I closed up my mother hive after observing this hive’s steady, calm rhythm. It was like clockwork. Predictable. It inspired the contemplative mind. Peace. Something one could count on in a world that often felt impatient and full of uncertain human dynamics. A queen-right hive is a hive to behold. A queen-right hive is a hive with a prolific queen. She is young, beautiful, active and strong. She inspires confidence, stability and sustainability in the workers. Much like a good leader in any institution.
Then I opened my second hive. I’d noticed that this hive was not like my mother hive in any form or fashion. This one was a handful. I always saved this one til last, since I never knew what I’d find. It unnerved me a bit. Sure enough, it was wildly productive. When I opened it, roiling bees shimmered everywhere around my hands and veil. They were putting up honey like crazy. The queen had been busy laying tons of eggs, contributing to the wall to wall bees. This time when I went in I noticed that the girls were building a new queen cell and there were more drone cells than regular ones. They were getting ready to fly away. Likely because they were feeling crowded. It was my job to relieve them of some of their population by taking a few bars for my mini-hive, along with the queen cell they were building. This would be my “nursery”. An experiment in raising a new queen. But it would also set back this prolific hive. I wasn’t sure how it would affect them, when their numbers were diminished.
In the ideal world, splitting a hive can lead to a new hive and a new queen. But it also means less honey for that year. Sigh.
By the time I placed a few bars from my rollicking hive into the mini-hive I realized I didn’t have enough baby brood for new bees. I would have to rob my mother hive. I was adverse to doing this, since they had settled in so well and were quietly amplifying their numbers, slowly but surely. But I needed a good full bar of brood. As I put the final touches on closing and sealing the new nuc, a bee fell out of the mini-hive. She looked larger and longer than the other ones. She seemed unwilling to fly, and mostly crawled around. I tried to catch her. Did i accidentally swipe my queen from the mother hive, my beautiful queen right hive? That would be a disaster for my mother hive. Had I carelessly taken that final bar of brood, without noticing the queen?
She flew into the yarrow and disappeared. I was sick to my stomach. My contemplative mind disappeared.
Half an hour later, after googling numerous sites dedicated to “What if my queen fell out as I worked my hives?” I realized that I had a 50/50 chance of her finding her way back to my mother hive. The only thing I could do was check in 4 days later and see if I found any queenly activity such as freshly laid eggs. If not, they were in trouble—and I had caused it.
My instinct was to go right back into my hive and look closely for the queen, But I had already been working in their home for an hour. Though we smoke bees when we work with them to ameliorate our scent, it is still upsetting for them. Imagine outside workers in your house all day long, remodeling, changing or fixing stuff while you are trying to live around them. Unpleasant.
Been there, done that.
So, I took a deep breath and stepped away from my hives for the day. I would leave the girls (and boy drones) alone to do their thing, with or without a queen. I would have to exercise faith. Which is mostly what beekeeping is about anyway. I would have to practice walking back into my contemplative mind without the bees help—–holding this tension between fear and faith. The contemplative mind supposedly teaches me to welcome both the messy shadow parts of life as well as the joyous light filled things. I generally don’t do this very well. I like things to flow along around me with equanimity. I guess that’s why I must practice daily——abiding in my Source of Love. Of peace. Some days the bees help me with this. And then I take off my bee veil and I fall back into my non-contemplative mind.