We drove the rest of the way home in relative quiet while I hatched A Plan. There was a local fellow from whom we had been buying our honey, and his phone number was printed on the label, so we pulled our truck up close to the hive and I gave him a call, explaining to him my situation.
“Ok” he said “ At the top of the bee box there should be a little piece of metal nailed to the wood. Do you see it?”
“Well the queen is in a little box on the other side of that. So get a screwdriver or hammer and peel that of and pull the queen out. Put the queen in the hive, between a couple of the frames and shake the rest of the bees into the hive.”
“I’m sorry Travis you’re breaking up, what did you say?”
“Take the top off the hive, and shake the bee box. The bees will fall out and land in the hive.”
“You’ve got to be kidding me. Shake the box?”
“Shake it, slap it, whatever. Just get the bees out of the box and into the hive.”
I hung up the phone and stared at the hive through the windshield. I told my wife what he had said, and she also just sort of straight ahead for a moment. Then she said “Come on children, let’s go in the house. Your father has decided to kill himself.” It’s really moments of trust and confidence like this that are so touching.
I waited for them to go in the house, and opened the top of the hive. I peeled back the little metal circle, and the bees started to crawl out. So now the trick was to reach in amongst the crowd of bees and pull out this little queen box. The queen box, for the uninitiated contains a queen and a little piece of candy. The queen eats her way through the candy in order to get out and during the 3 or 4 days that it takes, the bees can get used to her. Without that period, they will treat the queen as an invader. Pretty neat, huh?
I removed the queen, who was still clustered over with workers and gently inserted her between the frames. I then took a deep breath and picked up the box, which was swarming with escaping bees. I lifted it up and proceeded to shake the box full of thousands of stinging insects. They fell out in clumps and landed in the hive, and then proceeded to fly around me by the thousands. They crawled up my arms, into my hair, and under my glasses. I shook and shook and shook and shook. When the box was mostly empty, I set it down and walked my way through the crowd of bees until I was several yards distant. The bees left me as I walked and seemed content to buzz around the hive. I called Travis back.
“So far so good.”
“Good. Hey, how big is your hive?”
“I don’t know its about so many 3 feet by 3 feet maybe.”
“No, how many supers?”
My silence must not have been very reassuring, because he explained to me that the supers were the levels of the bee hive. I told him I had (now that I was learning the lingo) that I had one hive with one super.
“That‘s not enough. You need another super and a feeder.”
“Ok, well, next payday I can..”
“No, you don’t understand. You need to do this right now or your bees will leave. I can loan you some stuff till you can get your own. How soon can you be here?”
Travis set me up out of the kindness of his heart, overlooked my tragic ignorance, and by the time I got home, the bees had settled in, so I tried to install the new equipment with a minimum of damage to me or them. For the next few months I learned a lot, and can look back at that time and shake my head at my own stupidity. The hive became a family affair (although my wife declined much participation) and it was educational for everyone, particularly me. Eventually we lost that colony, and we are getting prepared to replace them and start this experiment all over again. The beekeeper community has been ridiculously kind to me through it all, and I cannot say enough nice things about them. They will forgive ignorance every time (so far) if it’s coupled with an earnest desire to learn