Today was the coolest.
Okay, wait. Let me back up.
About a year ago, my mom mentioned to all of us that she would like to start keeping bees. Now, as random as that sounds, that is not nearly the MOST random thing my mom has gotten in her head before. She wanted a goat for a while (still does). She wanted chickens for a while before that (still does). She wanted a cow (still does). But, thankfully, there are laws against her having barnyard animals in her neighborhood. So, out of all of those things, the bees were not too terribly strange.
For the past year, she has been researching bees to the point where no one would hardly talk to her anymore because she would start spewing all these trivia facts about bees out of nowhere. Then, she started talking specifics last fall. Pricing and supplies she would need. And we just kept nodding and saying, “Okay, Mom…” And then just before Christmas, she started going DOOR TO DOOR of farm houses and orange groves in central Florida, asking people if she could put bee boxes in their fields. But it turns out that bees are a hot commodity because almost every farm had bees already. Or, they had commercial bees.
(Sidebar: Did you know there is an entire industry of commercial beekeeping? You can rent bee hives to come out and be put in your fields for a few months. They pollinate your produce, and then the beekeepers come back and get their 100+ bee hives and bring them to a different farm. And people pay for you to bring your bees into their farms! Who knew?!?!)
In January, she finally found a small family with a few acres of land where they grew peaches and wildflowers. The farmers and my mom reached a mutual agreement, and she walked away with a place for her to keep two little bee hives. For free, too! It was beneficial to the farmers because their crops would be pollinated and it was great for my mom because it was close to her house and it meant she would get two different kinds of honey – peach blossom and wildflower.
A few weeks ago, my mom’s bees arrived in the mail. 20,000 bees to be exact! And 2 healthy, huge queens. My mom set them in her hives and she has been keeping bees since then!
Today, she took our family out to see her bee hives. She parked her van close by and then closed it all up, so we were safe inside while she worked her hives. Periodically, she would bring over a panel/sheet/board… I don’t know what they are called… and would point out really awesome things. Like that you can actually SEE pollen on two sacks on the thorax of the bees that collect pollen and bring back into the hive. You could also see the combs where the baby bees were sealed inside, getting bigger. In one of her hives, we even saw the queen bee herself. She is huge with giant wings that the other bees don’t have.
(In this next picture, can you see the bright yellow pockets on the bees she is pointing to? That’s pollen!)
Mom has sworn that her two hives have very different temperaments, and I kind of rolled my eyes and would think, “Sure, mom, you wacko.” But today I totally saw what she meant! In her yellow hive, the bees came and went from the entrance to the hive in a steady flow. They didn’t swarm around her or really care at all that she was there.
Her pink hive, though, was really different. I noticed right away that there so SO MANY of them crowding the hive door, which mom says is how they protect it. And they were really buzzing all around her. Not stinging, but just very much aware that she was there. She has to “smoke” this hive because they are much more aggressive. She uses a little smoking can and starts a small fire with strips of newspaper and kindling.
(Sidebar: I just spelled that “kinlin” because that’s how I have always heard it pronounced. Only when I spellchecked it did I realize that I have grown up my whole life in the south pronouncing KINDLING as “kinlin.”)
When she smokes the bees, I thought that meant she kind of got them sort of stoned. But that’s not what happens, actually. Apparently, they think it is a wildfire and so they all hunker down in the hive to protect themselves and the hive, which means they stop flying around so much, making it easier for Mom to get in there and do what she needs to do.
And what is it she needs to do to work her bees? Right now, she still has lots of baby bees and the hives are only just starting to produce their own honey for the baby bees. Before, she was bringing over simple sugar every day and filling a little mason jar in each hive for them to eat.
Now, the bees are creating their own honey for the babies, so they aren’t taking as much simple syrup as before, so she is only going over there every other day now. When she is there, she is checking to make sure that the bees have those pollen pockets on their thorax, which means that they are out pollinating and thriving. She is also checking to make sure the queen is still there and hasn’t flown the coop, which would kill her hive. She also checks on the baby bees to make sure the nursery bees, who take care of the babies, are incasing them in their little honeycombs so they can grow.
All of those things are happening right now, so her bee hives are thriving!
While it was awesome to see the bees, it was even more awesome to see my mom out there working them. I think she is where my sister and I learned that if you want to do something, you just have to DO IT. No excuses. My mom has always been like that. She sets her mind to something, but unlike most people, she actually sticks to it and sees it through to the end.
Which is why I will not be surprised at all in mid-April when she shows up at my doorstep with a jar of peach blossom honey and a book on raising baby goats. She keeps life interesting, doesn’t she?