A large cardboard box was sitting on our deck when I came home from work last Friday. Eyeing it from the car, I could not fathom what might have been delivered. My wife was already home; she usually carried our deliveries inside. Why had she left this one exactly where the delivery driver had dumped it? It didn’t add up, I thought, unless it was. . .
“Aha!” I thought. “. . . heavy”
It clicked into place. A week earlier I had called Dadant & Sons to order their beginner beehive kit. The kit would come un-assembled – a box full of wooden slats, boards, nails, all bagged and pre-cut at the beehive shop. Also included were a smoker, some gloves, a beehive tool, a small instruction booklet and a bee veil. All that wood had made the package cumbersome for her to move. So there it sat, like an abandoned orphan on a doorstep, waiting for me to discover and lug it inside.
Such a box can be intimidating when it appears out of nowhere. What formerly had been a casual idea, weightless and without real consequence, had abruptly been given substance and form – a sudden anchor, an albatross, a karma now realized. Here, finally, was the first true evidence of a decision I made several months earlier. Tuck in your pants legs and be ready with the epinephrine: I shall become a beekeeper!
Actually, the wheels had been set into motion about a month earlier when I called to order the colony. Bees are sold by the pound, I discovered, with packages typically weighing in at three pounds for a standard beginning colony. “All packages will be ready for pickup on April 17th,” the woman at the Chatham, Va. location informed me. The colony will be shipped in a screen covered box: many thousands of worker bees, together with a live queen who will travel in a separate chamber. It will be the workers’ job, once the colony is transferred to the hive, to eat their way through a sugar plug in one end of the queen’s cage. Thus freed, the business of the hive begins.
The box is heavy, the parts are packed loosely with shredded paper, the instructions minimal. A cloying, waxy small rises to my nostrils as I slice into the box. Wrapped in tissue paper is a special stack of ten rectangular honeycomb foundations with hexagonal patterns pressed into both sides of their surfaces. These will be assembled into ten frames which will hang vertically in the hive. And from those six-sided patterns will spring everything: egg cases, pupae, capped off stores of honey to feed the colony through the winter. The very essence of the hive originates in this geometric figure, which is perhaps the most efficient structural pattern known. Its three-cornered joints minimize material and labor while maximizing space and rigidity. Geometric ramblings notwithstanding, it is time now to gear up and build this thing. I have a couple months to prepare a spot on the back lot, set concrete blocks in place for the hive to rest upon, get the hive painted and finally, familiarize myself with the basic tasks of bee stewardship. Then in April, the long drive down to Chatham to pick up the colony (perhaps a chance to check out Black Snake Meadery while we are in the area).
I am excited at the prospect. Certainly, the failure rate for new colonies is high. But with proper care and attention, who knows? In time, I may earn a new title for myself – bee whisperer. Stay tuned.
(Apis mellifera is the scientific name for the Western or European honeybee.)