Beehiving myself

My bees arrived yesterday after a very long trip.

My bees arrived yesterday after a very long trip.

They started out in New Zealand before landing in Edmonton and being trucked another six hours to where I was anxiously waiting to chauffeur them home. As I bounced along our country roads with 10 pounds of bees buzzing away on the backseat I couldn’t help thinking this would be a very bad time to have an accident.

Not that there is ever a good time, but the idea of being trapped in a vehicle with several thousand jet-lagged travellers equipped with stingers made the prospect even more daunting. Suffice it to say I kept an even sharper eye than usual out for the moose and deer that frequent our roadside ditches.

While I drove I pondered the packages. They were not what I had been expecting. Last year I bought a couple “nucs” which is bee speak for a nucleus of bees complete with a hive box and a few frames of honeycomb. This time around I bought packaged bees.

My beekeeping bible is Beekeeping for Dummies. It contains detailed pictures with matching descriptions on how to install a package of bees. I had looked over the pages so many times I had committed them to memory. The coloured images showed a wooden box with a screen on the side, a can of feed syrup in the centre and a little screened cage with the queen bee inside. In the days leading up to my bees’ arrival I must have opened that wooden box and followed the instructions in my mind at least a 100 times. I was ready. For boxes. I wasn’t ready for tubes. And that’s what I was handed when I showed up at the courier’s warehouse. Four cardboard tubes with white plastic slotted ventilation cones on each end. My heart sank. This was no time for new fangled packaging surprises.

All I can say is thank God for YouTube. Kind of ironic that the video site is called YouTube when I was searching for what you should do with a tube. While the bees buzzed impatiently in the porch I rushed to my computer and did a quick search. I discovered the tubes were not new fangled at all but had been in use for well over 20 years.

I also discovered that it was a simple procedure. A long green ribbon has the queen cage stapled to one end while the other end is stapled to the outside of the tube. Four staples are removed to release the plastic cone and then the ribbon is reeled in like a fishing line and the cone replaced. The cork plug in the queen cage is removed and replaced with some crystallized honey or a piece of marshmallow and placed carefully in the hive. Then the tube is reopened and upended effectively pouring all the remaining bees into the hive. It works like a charm.

In case you’re wondering, the crystallized honey over the hole allows the queen to slowly eat her way out, giving the worker bees time to accept her. If anything goes wrong in the hive — and being flown from New Zealand to Canada and then being bounced about in a truck for several hours followed by another bouncy excursion in my vehicle could definitely be perceived as something going wrong — the bees blame the queen.

Isn’t that just the way of it! As the mother of the entire hive she shoulders all the responsibility even when things are completely beyond her control. Her children react not with love and forgiveness but by clustering around her, demanding answers until they literally smother her to death. And so the cage. I’ll give the hive a week to settle in and then have a quick peek to make sure the queen has been accepted.

The bees are busy gathering pollen and propolis off the trees but because of our late spring they are making do with honey leftover from their predecessors and some sugar syrup until the dandelions come into bloom. No one welcomes that wave of yellow across our lawn and fields quite like a beekeeper!

It’s been so long I have forgotten what dandelions even look like. Seriously. We were recently down at the Coast, and on the drive in from the airport I noticed these huge yellow flowers along the highway and wondered out loud what they were before realizing they were nothing but incredibly healthy dandelions. Red faced, I explained that it had been a very long winter but my family laughed at me anyway. Oh well, could have been worse. They could have smothered me.

Shannon McKinnon is a syndicated humour columnist from northern BC. You can catch up on past columns by visiting

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