In Dretzka Park Golf Course, there is a secret corner tucked behind the maintenance shed that is teeming with honeybees. This is the place where Beepods keeps a large portion of their nucleus hives, and it is also the place where I was first introduced to their lovely buzzing bees. Without a doubt, my body buzzed too, as I prepared for the day, with anticipation and excitement. Though I had waited for this day for years, I never could have imagined how much bees have to offer. I soaked up enough interesting and informative lessons in that first day to write ten articles. What follows is only a portion of what I learned on day one.
As I mentioned, I was excited. So much so that I spent the drive to the nursery in breathing meditation in an attempt to get myself into some semblance of a zen state of mind. I had met with Laura, the head beekeeper, a few days prior just to get to know each other, and talk about bees. She is a fountain of information. Among many mind-blowing facts, she told me that bees have the capacity to remember interactions with people, and that over time, a colony will get to know you. The bees will also, to some extent, mimic your attitude. If you’re calm, they’re calm, nobody gets hurt. What I took from this conversation was that I needed to make a good first impression—hence the meditative breathing.
I am thankful for this foresight. After I parked my van at the nursery, Laura came out to meet me and walk me back to the patch. As we walked, I continued my slow, deep, calming breaths, bringing my buzz down to a hum. Laura said “put on this veil, stand back, and don’t move…” I can’t say I was ready for such a warm welcome, but the reason for it presented itself immediately. It looked like my first ever hive was going to be an aggressive one.
I did as I was told, and stood “like a tree.” When bees are on high alert, they consider any movement a threat, so I stayed like that, and spent the next ten minutes just observing Laura’s next actions.
I had arrived in the middle of Laura’s inspection of the first hive, and the bees in it looked exactly like you would imagine an angry hive to look—a tornado of movement, zooming this way and that in a huge radius around the hive. Ever so slowly, Laura approached the hive, lifted the lid off the ground, and gently set it back in place. She walked away slowly and deliberately, bees cautiously following her all the while. Once she was about fifty feet away, she stood still like me and waited.
I was amazed to see how long the bees stayed with her. Their defense system is serious. Even after she backed away, they sent two bees with her to “track” her. Another bee even came over to track me as well. All of a sudden I heard a buzzing in my ear, and felt a little bump on the top of my head, which I learned is a bee’s warning. If they don’t sense an immediate threat from you, but suspect you are up to no good, they’ll nudge you before they sting. (I mean come on, how cute is that?)
After a while, they decided that we were going to leave them alone, so they left us alone. Laura incurred a sting in the process, but I was left unscathed. Of course, I learned right then that even a bee’s sting is good for you, that it has immune boosting properties, so now I’m almost looking forward to being stung.
Laura put some essential oils on her sting to cover up the pheromone in bee venom. This is important, because the scent of it is designed to alert neighboring bees, and send them into attack mode. Ingenious! Once we recovered from the aggressive hive, we went on to inspect the rest of the hives at Dretzka, and the information I learned during the inspections will fill the next few of my posts.
The temperature was starting to dip during that time as we slipped into Autumn, and colonies can be more defensive at this time of year. It gets harder to fly when it’s cold. In fact bees can’t fly when it’s too cold, which means they can no longer search for nectar and pollen. If a hive is not strong, they can be invaded by any number of threatening creatures, like bears, raccoons, wasps, even other honey bee colonies. They will come in and steal honey for themselves. So I can understand why they might be a little aggressive. The rest of the hives were perfectly calm though, so it’s not totally clear why this hive was on the defense.
I would never have wished for my first ever hive to be aggressive, but in hindsight, I’m glad to have seen them at their worst so soon. Now I know exactly what to do in that situation. Not to mention, every hive I have encountered since seems all the more gentle in comparison.
Part of the Beepods philosophy is to do no harm to the bees. The edited top-bar hive design makes it very easy to move with care during inspections, and crush almost no bees. Every move we made was deliberate and slow. It keeps both bees and beekeepers calm, and it means we don’t have to wear sweaty hot full body suits or bulky heavy duty gloves.
It also means we leave aggressive hives alone. Since it was getting colder, we will not go back into this hive until the spring. Hopefully they will survive the winter, and with any luck, in spring we will see signs as to why they were so upset this fall.
I’m very proud to be a part of the Beepods team, and to be learning their techniques and philosophy. Everything I have witnessed so far rings with truth and is a symbol of what I believe in.