Dronings from a Queen Bee
My mom’s humor column, from the Walter T. Kelley Company‘s monthly (0r so) newsletter. This one is from August.
By Charlotte Hubbard
On a clear, breezy, great-day-to-be-a-bee summer Saturday, I decided to say hi to my 10 backyard hives. Wandering toward the garden, I heard a lot of buzzing.
The buzzing increased greatly. I surveyed the hives; there wasn’t enough activity to justify it. Following the sound to a nearby maple tree, my heart dropped. A swarm was just settling in the top of it.
I exaggerate. The swaying cluster of bees was “only” 40 feet up the 60 foot tree. It might as well have been on the moon. No!!! NO SWARMING! These were all first year hives. Hadn’t they read that they usually don’t usually do that?
And doggone it, it was July. What’s that old expression? Swarm in May, worth a load of hay; June, silver spoon; July, not worth a fly? Painful sigh? Poke a stick in the beekeeper’s eye?
I have ladders, ropes, and no fear of heights. With the kids all out of the nest, my only dependents are a high-maintenance dog and a rotund cat who never leaves the couch. If the worst happened as I attempted to retrieve the traitors, there’d be enough money left to get the dog some therapy and hire a forklift to move the cat to my daughter’s house. What was stopping me fr om risking life and limb?
Upon further examination, a lot. The hive was quite high, near the end of a slender limb … with no other nearby limbs.
When my husband passed away, several neighbors said “if you ever need anything, just call.” So I did. Dr. Pete arrived first, much to my relief. Dr. Pete isn’t a medical doctor—which would be handy if I’d tried to climb the tree—he has an engineering PhD. Maybe, with ladders and pulleys and ropes, he could figure out a way to get my humming escapees gently to the ground.
Soon neighbor Paul arrived, lured by the opportunity to use his chainsaw. Paul and Pete conferred; I fumed. Didn’t those bees know their chances of making it out in the big world were not that great? Why wouldn’t they listen to me, the real queen bee, and swarm into my spare hive? Didn’t they know I had things to do other than stare at the sky and wonder what I did wrong?!
More neighbors swarmed into my backyard, bringing dogs, little kids, and unbridled curiosity. If staring at the bees would’ve brought them down, I’d have a new hive.
After sketching out a few force diagrams, Dr. Pete concluded there was no safe way to retrieve the ingrates. We saluted his efforts, and everyone went home for the night. Except, of course, the bees, who continued to look down upon me.
When something goes awry, my first call is usually to neighbor Wayne, who wasn’t home that Saturday night. When he returned my call Sunday morning I explained the situation, adding that the cooler heads of the neighborhood had suggested I leave the swarm, well, bee.
The gauntlet was thrown. Within the hour Wayne was in my backyard with saws, ropes, and an attitude. We removed all limbs below the still sleepy swarm, set up a spare hive on a bed sheet below, and talked through the plan one more time before the final cut. Unfortunately, during the discussion, the clump of bees began to disperse. Within seconds they were a cloud. Within a minute, a serpentine swirl out over the lake.
The next day I shared my tale of woe with the wonderful phone-answering beeks at Kelley’s. They suggested a few things I may have done wrong. (Those, and other swarm issues, will be discussed in this newsletter next spring.) They happily took my order for a swarm catcher so perhaps next time I can lure my winged buddies into a spare hive. And they saluted me. Not only do swarming bees typically mean a strong colony, but my loss is a gain for bee biological diversity in southwest Michigan.
Because a swarm mentally stings, I decided to cheer myself up with shopping. Perhaps the lawn flag I found will prevent future swarming…