Fran Stewart's new beesWhy would any woman in her right mind invite 42,000 little folks to move in with her? Last October I started planning to do just that after having spoken with enthusiastic beekeepers at an environmental fair. When I mentioned that I didn’t have an orchard or a big garden, one of the women said, “Neither do I. I keep my hives on my back deck.” I could do that, I thought.

On April 17th I got up before dawn, ate breakfast, and drove 3½ hours to a bee farm in Ocilla, GA. I got lost only once, but not for too long, thank goodness. I’d arranged to pick up two sets of bees, one set in what’s called a “nuc,” (nuclear hive, a fully functioning hive filled with a queen and about 30,000 worker bees) and one set in a package. The package is a screen-sided wooden box with a feeder can in the middle and a queen bee in a separate little cage, surrounded by 3 pounds of bees (about 12,000 of them).

I’d taken a hive net with me. The idea was to put it in my car, set the nuc and the package on it, draw the string tight at the top, and then drive home with blatant unconcern, knowing that any loose bees would be confined.

Fran Stewart's beesDid I use it? No. The lid of the nuc was screwed on tight – no way for the bees to get out of there. So I set the small nucleus hive on the blanket I’d put on my front seat, and blithely told the bee guy to set the 3-lb. package on the floor. He did.
So, I drove along, singing to the bees to calm them (and to calm me), and made it home in record time, where I spent twenty minutes or so coaxing three dozen bees (I counted them!) out of my back window.I got in the car and took off down the road. Once I was back on I-75 North, I heard something buzz beside my ear. It hadn’t occurred to me that a great number of bees had been clinging to the outside of the package. I’d thought they were all on the inside.
That was what I was supposed to do.To remove the queen cage from the package, you remove the cork from the end that has a candy plug in it, and hang the cage between two of the frames, so the queen and the workers can spend three or four days eating their way through the candy, thereby releasing the queen. It takes that long for them to get used to her scent so they’ll accept her as their queen.

Fran Stewart in bee suitWell, I installed the queen cage in the hive body, dumped the 12,000 or so bees from the package into the hive, put the lid on, and THEN recalled that I hadn’t taken out the cork.

After that, I put on my bee-jacket and veil. There was no way I was going back into that group of disgruntled critters without some protection. “Maybe,” I thought, “they won’t notice what I’m doing.”
I did get stung – once when I inadvertently squashed a bee between my hand and the screwdriver handle. The screwdriver didn’t work, though. It just pushed the cork farther into the hole, so I asked my neighbor (whose daughter was taking these wonderful pictures) to pop in to my kitchen (where I hadn’t washed the dishes after my hurried breakfast) and bring me a sharp skinny knife.They noticed. Did you ever try to pry a little cork out of a little hole while dozens of bees crawled around your hand wondering what you were doing?

That worked, except that I squashed another bee and got stung in response – and I don’t blame her one bit.

Fran Stewart's beesFinally, everything was back in place. The bees settled in quite nicely before dark.

When I went back into the hive three or four days later to remove the queen cage and to be sure she was laying eggs, I decided to wear my veil when I did it, just in case they remembered the kook who:

  • ·         cooped them up for a 3-hour drive
  • ·         dumped them into a big hive
  • ·         bothered them by opening the lid and poking around
  • ·         and then had the audacity to squash two of their sisters.

I sure am glad the bees were forgiving. Now I love to sit on my deck with a cup of tea and my latest WIP, being lulled and inspired by the buzzing of my 42,000 house guests. They’re here to stay.

A Slaying Song Tonight by Fran StewartFran writes the Biscuit McKee mystery series featuring a small-town librarian (Biscuit) and her orange and white library cat (Marmalade). Her most recent novel is a standalone mystery called A Slaying Song Tonight, set in the Midwest during the Great Depression. She works as a freelance editor.From the Tip of My Pen by Fran Stewart From the Tip of My Pen: a workbook for writers is her most recent non-fiction release.