Unpacking the bees.
We got 20,000 new pets at CLUCK the Chicken Store on Tuesday. No, they’re not chickens. Our bees arrived and have taken up residence in two new hives behind the store. Don’t worry, they’re much too busy scouting out delectable food sources and water from the nearby Sugar River to bother anybody.
In fact, we found them to be quite gentle, friendly and accommodating, especially when you consider that they were packed into two little wooden boxes about half the size of a shoebox for shipping. And then considering that you have to bang the box rather sharply to shake the bees out into their new home. You would expect them to be upset. But they were so busy looking out for their queen, and getting acclimated to their new home that we had no trouble at all with their behavior. Very sweet, actually.
We’ve got customers who sing to their bees (probably my grandfather’s method…he was a master beekeeper with a glorious voice) but we just tried to move quickly, quietly and speak gently, explaining what was happening and why. We briefly used a puff or two of smoke from the smoker (so much new stuff to learn!) on the second group to alleviate any anxiety. I’m told anxious, agitated bees are not a good idea and I believe it.
We got our beautiful honey bees from well-known local beekeeper, organic farmer and honey maven Mary Celley, who is also a beginning chicken keeper. If you know Mary from the Dane County Farmer’s Market you know that she does all things with amazing substance and style, and the chicken coop she designed and built for her young flock of 16 Light Brahmas, Welsummers and a Fayoumi (!) pullets is a sight to behold. Mary’s one of those competent country women who can handle just about any job without stressing out, so she’s an amazing bee mentor for us. Since we know absolutely nothing about bees, we’re going to depend on Mary’s wise counsel and 30+ years of experience to guide us in this new adventure.
We did invest in the whole beekeeping outfit, if only for peace of mind. No matter how gently you talk to your bees, there might always be one or two out of 10,000 who don’t get with the program and might get agitated about being banged about and relocated, etc. However much it might give us mental comfort, we have to say physical comfort is not one of its advantages. A bee-keeping suit is about as comfortable and practical as one of those deep-sea diver outfits. Too big. Too awkward. Too hot. Too everything, but it does work. Despite a whole lot of buzzing and aerial activity, nobody got stung. In my gleaming white suit I felt like my outfit was a cross between astronaut and Papal garb.
Why bees? Well, why chickens? They are both part of our connection with a sustainable food system, and both are out of sight and out of mind for most people most of the time. Bees in particular have a precarious existence. About 30 percent of all bee colonies die each year from causes nobody can quite pinpoint, although a new study from Harvard’s School of Public Health claims that pesticides are at the bottom of the problem, specifically the neonicotinoid class of pesticides, widely used not only on corn and soybeans but also on cotton, sorghum, sugar beets, apples, cherries, peaches, oranges, berries, leafy greens, tomatoes, and potatoes. They're even common in yard and landscaping products.
(The chemical companies blame varroa mites and other non-chemical factors, of course.)
We’re not chemists, but we figure that anything we can do to nurture honey bees and help bees stay healthy and survive is worth doing. That’s why we now have bees at CLUCK the Chicken Store. We may not want to pet them, but we’re glad to have them here.