The secret life of beekeepers

When I decided to let a hive of bees into my life, I didn't know whether it would be totally sweet — or a complete buzzkill
By LINDSAY CRUDELE  |  October 19, 2011

STINGING ENDORSEMENT If you’re okay with sticking your hand into a swarm of ten thousand bees — and can endure the occasional sting — home beekeeping can produce 30 to 60 pounds of honey annually.

You probably don't measure bees in terms of pounds. You probably don't measure bees at all. But last May, when I decided to become a beekeeper, I acquired three pounds of bees. My colony came in a package, stapled in a wire cage, with ten thousand or so bees making up the fuzzy, teeming ball inside. I drove away from the bee farm with it in the back seat of my car.

I wish I could say that my first motivation in beekeeping was to bolster dwindling bee populations and enhance pollination, but I think it was greed. Last Thanksgiving, my husband Tim and I noticed a box in a back corner of a family friend's backyard. It was a hive. Our friend said upkeep was easy, and once underway, the hive could produce 30 to 60 pounds of honey annually. We left that day with a copy of First Lessons in Beekeeping and visions of cascading amber goo. All that remained between the bounty and us was our ability to stick our hands into a mass of bees.

I bought my bees over the Internet, in my pajamas. One friend said it seemed like the sort of thing Wile E. Coyote would do. Another, a horror-film fanatic, told me that bees themed his worst nightmares. My sister just said, "Gross."

Over the next few months, postcards arrived from the bee farm alerting me that inclement weather had delayed bee readiness. It wasn't until the third and final card that I realized my bees weren't "delivery" as I thought: they were pick-up. In upstate New York.

Could I drive bees four hours home? Would they even survive the journey? The farm assured me that with windows down and stops minimal, the bees would be just fine. I booked a hotel room.

When the time arrived, we drove to Greenwich, NY. That night we ate a ton of barbecue and drank Scotch. The hotel turned out to be a creepy B&B filled with lacy dolls that were probably haunted. I thought to myself, "This is my last night not in possession of ten thousand bees." It occurred to me that I hadn't had time to check with a doctor to see if I was allergic, like I'd meant to.

At the bee farm the next morning, stacks of bee packages sat outside a red barn, and a man at a picnic table collected their owner's signatures as they arrived. Bees floated everywhere in a dreamlike languor. I remembered to stay calm and move slowly. Occasionally, a bee would land on my head and ricochet in another direction. Somehow, this was okay.

"Did you choose the sting-free kind?" asked the bee farmer while I signed for my package. I'm glad I laughed. On the table, a stray bee puttered around at the corner of my contract. Its body was sleek, striped and tapered: prettier than I expected, more delicate than the dopey bumblebee.

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  Topics: Food Features , Colony Collapse Disorder, honey
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