“I’ll Take Care of You”

“You need someone older and wiser telling you what to do . . .”  These words from The Sound of Music may make some women balk at the underlying assumption that women are dependent on men, but when it comes to beekeeping, whether you’re male or female, you need all the help you can get.

You need a mentor.  An advisor, a guru even. Someone older and wiser when it comes to bees, methods of beekeeping, and timing.  Because on one hand, beekeeping is easy.    After all, if you offer bees a hive, they will move in and do what bees do naturally.  On the other hand, these new homeowners are fragile and need key things at key times.  Like children do.  You can’t leave a child to its own devices and expect a valedictorian at 18 years old; likewise, you can’t install a colony of bees in April, go about your business, and expect 30 pounds of honey in September.

In my first year, it felt like I’d become a worried new mom.   Did they have enough to eat?  Were they warm enough? Too hot?  Were they safe from robber bees and skunks?  Should I give them a night light, check on them at 2 am?  I guess the term ‘raising bees’ is an appropriate one.  It’s like raising children.  Though we needed the rain, I cursed the clouds that drove them into the hive and kept them from foraging so they could build up their honey supply.  I danced with delight on sunny days when they were . . . well . . .  busy bees.  I hovered as much as they did.  They saw my big human face staring at them through the inner cover and probably grumbled, “Leave us alone, we can do it.”  Just like any independent-minded kid.

But in reality, as a young colony, they can’t do it alone.  Honeybees have become somewhat domesticated.  That’s where it gets hard as a novice beekeeper.  Just enough hands-on and just enough hands-off is a fine line to walk.  Alive and well has universal meaning.  Thank goodness for my beekeeper mentor, Tim, a jovial retiree who is a master at raising bees and willingly comes to check on my hives.  Often.  He tweaks the equipment, describes what is going on, helps me find the queen, and, basically keeps me sane.  I think secretly all bees are his children and he just genuinely looks out for any and all colonies he can.  To him, it’s just one big extended family.  To me, he’s my life saver.

(photo by Joe Sina)

Janice Sina, former biology teacher turned veterinary assistant, observes and writes about nature from her East Haddam home.  She is a contributing writer to wisewomennow.com and has written for Dog Fancy Magazine and This I Believe (thisibelieve.org).