Story by Sarah Little, Photos by Jefferson Bryant
“There is one masterpiece, the hexagonal cell, that touches perfection.
No living creature, not even man, has achieved, in the centre of his sphere, what the bee has achieved in her own: and were some one from another world to descend and ask of the earth the most perfect creation of the logic of life, we should needs have to offer the humble comb of honey.”
– Maurice Maeterlinck, The Life Of The Bee, 1924
When I was little, I loved to do cartwheels in the clover all over the playground at my elementary school. One day in second grade, I did such a trick, but happened to land my hand right on top of a honeybee. It stung me, of course, and my little hand swelled up immediately. My mother was called, a sticky green substance in a glass tube was applied to the sting, and I was dosed with Benadryl and taken home to sleep.
My great-grandmother ate honey and these weird little balls of pollen. She was an old farmer, and swore by the healing powers of her pollen, as well as that of honey. For years, that stuck in the back of my mind. Then one day back in 2014, I was flipping through the interwebs, and I saw a kickstarter for a product called a “Flow Hive.” It intrigued me. But at that time, I was in the middle of running three businesses, raising two young boys, and a lot of chaos. So I put it on my “someday” list.
Fast forward a few years, and life has gotten a little bit less chaotic. The boys don’t need my physical presence nearly as much as they did three years ago. I sold this fantastic magazine to two new people. And we are actively simplifying our lives. So when I got the opportunity to make a little mad money teaching this spring, I decided it was time to become a beekeeper!
I researched for hours upon hours. I looked for recommended courses, resources, and people to look to for hands-on help. I found a great online class from Penn State University that was highly recommended by many beekeepers. I read review after review on the Flow Hive and I sought out places to purchase package bees. By the end of January, I had purchased my hive, my bees, and delved into my online class. I sought out a local mentor to help me with the experience based questions, and I found several beekeeper forums to poll as well. I found that like anything, there are as many differing opinions about beekeeping, the Flow Hive, and hive operations as there are in child-rearing.
My friend and neighbor, Kim, agreed to help me with the bees and soon we were off on our bee education! Her husband built a table for my hive while we assembled it on the first warm day of spring. Then the waiting began.
The package bees I ordered came from Kentucky. The farm that I bought them from has an annual field day where they invite the public and local beekeepers to help observe and for those in the know, to help split their colonies into sellable packages. I almost jumped for joy when I got my tracking number. I immediately signed up for text alerts and as the weekend flew by, I received alerts that the package had left this place and that place… then that they would arrive on Monday. Monday came and went… no bees. Tuesday… no bees. I was starting to worry… live bees, through the postal service? Then Tuesday afternoon I hear a scanner call for a swarm of bees at 7th and Lowry! The postmaster assured me those were not my bees, but that my tracking number was slightly misleading. You see, bees can’t fly. I mean, they can’t fly commercial, that is. Live colonies of bees must be trucked, not flown, from destination to destination, which alters the programmed timeline of a priority package. He assured me that the second he saw them arrive, he would call me.
Sure enough, the next morning, I got a somewhat tense call from the post office because they arrived, but the box was damaged and bees could escape their enclosure. So I jumped out of bed, and drove straight to the post office to pick them up. They carefully brought them out to me, sandwiched between two mail tubs as to somewhat enclose them. The shipping box was now a parallelogram instead of a rectangle, and the mesh was no longer attached to two sides. Luckily, the bees wanted to keep close to their queen, so they were mostly still huddled up close in a ball.
I came home, gathered up my supplies and my husband, and made plans to meet Ammie and Jefferson at the bee field directly. Excitement isn’t a word strong enough for the feeling I had getting ready to install the bees. I placed a few drops of lemongrass essential oil inside the hive. My bee mentor suggested this is a great way to make them want to stay. I opened what was left of the box, and removed the queen. She was covered with several attendants. I used my knife to dislodge the cork between the candy and the queen, and then placed her in the bottom of the brood box. Using my smoker, I doused the remaining bees with a good dose of pine needle smoke and then proceeded to shake the rest of the bees loose into their new hive.
I installed the feeder and secured the top down with a bungee to hold against Oklahoma’s violent winds.
Later that night, we went to visit the bees, and they were huddled in close in the hive. For the next week, we continued to check on them every couple of days. By the next Monday night, we were surprised and elated to see the formation of brood comb in one frame. By Wednesday night, they had almost 3 frames filled. We watched as they flew in with their pollen sacks full of various colors of pollen.
I didn’t know until I started this experience that my great-grandfather, Griff Jones, also was a beekeeper. I’m hoping that maybe he will send some of his bee charm my way from Heaven.
There are a few things I have learned thus far. My bee adventure is just beginning and I’m no expert, so if you are and you see that I have made a misstep, please drop me a line. I’m looking forward to watching the progress, learning my lessons and hopefully, harvesting some delicious honey. If you want to follow along with my hive check reports, you can visit www.scissortailmeadows.com.