I threw my suit and a roll of duck tape in the back of my brother in law’s car, then we drove off in search of his new bees. It must have been half five when we found the beekeeper and his bees, “Sure you’re too early. The girls will not be in for the night yet.” A short stroll through a narrow wooden gate confirmed that the ‘girls’ had no intentions of resting yet. As we squeezed back through the gate in the hedge the beekeeper told us he was showing his grandson the bees last week. “After we went through the gate I old him to close the gate to keep the bees in.” His mischievous chuckling revealed this man’s character and we knew we were in for some stories.
The beekeeper dragged three old high backed chairs in front of the kitchen range and we settled in to wait for the bees to think about flying home for the evening. Around us sat food buckets filled with freshly harvested honey and a neat tower of empty supers; boxes filled with the honeycomb that was just emptied of honey. A big kettle of water perched continuously ready for tea on the range and we settled down for some stories. “My father gave me my first hive at the age of seven.” This meant that this man was a beekeeper of more than eighty years experience. Yet, with all this experience he admitted more than once that he was still learning. He shared many stories as we waited for the evening to cool down. My brother in law says I interrogated him with questions. I couldn’t help myself; as he was keen to share, I was keen to learn. I noted that some of his advice contradicted itself from time to time. Maybe some of it he was certain as fact long ago but recently the bees changed his mind. They say if you ask two beekeepers the same question you’ll get three different answers. On the topic of hive inspections, he was convinced that it set the bees back a bit and wasn’t good at all. I feel the same but do know of an alternative to prevent a swarm without a weekly inspection. I pushed him further. For the last five years he has settled on a technique that he feels is the right one. He says that March is the toughest month for the bees, and if they make it through in good shape he takes out a couple of frames of bees, including the queen, and makes up a nucleus hive in April. This nucleus if taken to another site at least three miles away and looked after with feeding. Then the original hive is left to raise a new queen with little risk of swarming.
After the passing of an unknown amount of time we decided get the bees. We took a drive to one of his sites down winding roads and past the run-down stones of old farms. We found the first hive hidden in an old farm yard beside forlorn looking tractor machinery. The hive was carefully sealed up, covered with an old bedsheet, then strapped down in the back of the car.
On the way back to the beekeeper’s cottage the stories kept coming. Beekeeping, histories of old farm cottages, and the local history of the Six Mile Valley. Driving around with bees brought back a story. He told us not to worry if a few bees get out into the car while on the move as he believed they would not sting in such a predicament. Once long ago, several hundred bees got out when he failed to seal the hive properly. He kept driving with them all flying around the inside of the car. Turning a corner he found a police checkpoint ahead of him and a policeman with his hand held high. As he slowed down he saw the look on the policeman’s face quickly change and his arm suddenly wave him on franticly.
We arrived back at the beekeeper’s cottage to carefully seal up and wrap the second hive. This time the back seats went down to accommodate the second hive. We said our thanks, paid him for the hives* and listened to a few more stories before heading back home. As we drove back we fell silent for a moment when some of the quiet buzzing in the back got louder and a single bee flew up beside us in the front seats. We looked at the bee, we looked at each other, we laughed.
*The wisdom was free.