Not many beekeepers can say they have been beekeeping at midnight. A few weeks ago I had a conversation with my friend Lance that sparked an idea. He mentioned he was going to kill his bees and put new foundation in his frames after they died. The young hopeful beekeeper I am – I thought – I can get those bees through the winter. That’s all it took – a few days later my good friend and apprentice beekeeper Eric and I headed for Glenwood City, WI on a cool summer night. The plan was simple – move three colonies of bees from WI to our house in MN with my truck. Why night? Although bees don’t sleep (cat nap at best) they stay inside the hive at night. This makes moving them easier. How do you move them? Close off the entrances grab the bloody thing and put it in the back of a vehicle – sounds easy.
When we arrived at Lance’s house the clouds were out and it was pitch black. Eric and I suited up – with gloves so that we were completely protected. Eric had to hold a flashlight in his mouth so we could see where to grab the hive and so we didn’t trip over the barbed wire fence. We smoked the first hive – put duct tape over entrances – lifted from each side (120-150lbs) – walked it steady to the back of the pickup – set it on the gate – got on the tailgate and loaded it to the rear bed of the truck. No problem – smooth sailing. The 2nd hive went a little different. We got it to the tailgate fine. When we got on the tailgate and lifted the bottom board stayed and the boxes were in our hands. Eric shone the light over to where we lifted the boxes – there sat the bottom board covered with bees. We quickly set the boxes on the board – cock eyed – and lifted again – this time separating the upper and lower box. Now there were bees pouring out of the whole hive – not so friendly. Once the first sting hit through the gloves I knew we were in trouble – big trouble.
The thing with protective clothing is that it is very comforting until bees get inside the veil and have complete access to your face. That is when you have to keep your cool. Can’t you just toss the veil and helmet off so the bees don’t sting your face? Yes – but then the ones covering your arms legs and stomach have a free shot at you.
I noticed quickly they were inside my veil – stung in the neck – ouch – hope they don’t hit my face. I walked away from the angry hive out into the lawn and tossed my veil. This got rid of the bees, but now we were in it. Halfway done – no turning back. Lance suited up – we got our confidence up – looked at that hive that was now “bearding” – bees covering the box in clusters. We stuck our hands under and moved it to the back of the truck. These were some mad bees. We got the third hive in and threw a tarp over the top. Fearless Lance even had to walk away and throw his helmet. The words that really freak you out – “yep – their in my hat – I can feel em!”
The first leg over we felt like we had accomplished much. We rode back into the night to New Brighton – the backyard. As we got closer we started to think – we still are only half done. We suited up again and untarped the bees. By now they were bearding heavily on the one disturbed hive – the darn boxes were still off and bees were coming out. Our largest unthought part – how do we dead lift 150lbs of angry bees from a flat surface? Flat on flat – no where to put your hands. I got in the back and tried to adjust the boxes only to get stung more in the ankles and more bees in the veil. I walked away and threw the helmet. I looked at Eric and said – “well at least since my hat is off I can unzip and take a pee.” In mid stream I heard a loud buzz and felt a bee just miss Mr. Johnson striking my hand. I screamed like a small child – peed all over myself – and managed to put my instrument away unscathed. Too close.
By now we were seeing not much hope and losing confidence by the second. Fear was building as we saw no hope for getting under this really pissed hive. When fear and lack of control overtake you it is like no other feeling. Somewhere between a mix of emotions. I asked Eric how he was doing in which he responded, “I think I’m going to puke”. He held his cookies. We decided we had to go for it. We managed to stand outside the bed of the truck and get something under one side of the hive – leaving one side in need of getting under. I jumped in there – midnight – thousands of bees – mad mad mad bees – just stick your hands that you know they can sting through into a beard of pissed off bees in the middle of the night – then pick them up and walk them 30 yards across the yard and set them down gently. Any volunteers? We did it. First we grabbed and set the box down on the tailgate so we could get down and get a better grip. More bees in the veil – throw the helmet – walk away. How’s it going Eric? “I think I might cry,” he responded – “not because I’m scared, but I can’t think of any other emotion to express right now!” Wow – here we go – grab and go!!!!! We made it – Eric got stung several times – I got stung – we made high-pitched noises that probably had the neighbors wondering why we were hosting a girls slumber party in the backyard. We dropped the hive and split to the front of the house. Covered in bees we were trying to brush them off each other. This mostly works until there are the ones that just keep coming after you.
Suit up again – one more hive – no problem. No problem if the other hive had not jumped onto that one and bearded all over it in different spots. We went after it again – getting immune to the stings and seeing the finish line. They were forever in our veils – inside – crawling slowly – thinking they are on the outside until you feel one. We dumped this one safely – I turned to brush Eric off, but saw no sign of him. As I went around the house I saw a large man in a white suit – no veil – running up the street – Eric. There is nothing like watching a grown man run from a small insect at 1am up a city street – I’ll never forget the sight.
After adjusting the boxes from a distance with a shovel and garden hoe we had reached the summit. Accomplished what many would have given up. As I headed back to drop Eric off the adrenaline was still pumping in us strong – the buzzing continued in our ears – loud – even with no bees. Eric made a great point – he compared the experience or aftermath to feeling like a soldier returning from combat – you know the enemy is not there, but you still have so much happening mentally, physically, and emotionally in you. Great point Eric. I’ve never felt anything like this before and surprisingly Eric and I agree – we can’t wait to do it again. A true rite of passage as beekeepers – and now we have 6 colonies and nearly a 1/2 million bees in the backyard!