My husband (aka the Goat) and I had a party at our house recently. Attendance hovered around 75,000, and we personally knew fewer than two dozen of the guests. So who were the others? Nosey neighbors? Party crashers? Friends of friends of friends? The local SWAT team? No, no, no, and no. Actually, most of the extra attendees were the guests of honor.
Enough of the mystery. They were beautiful gold-and-black striped honey bees that had made the arduous journey in the back of a white Chevy pick-up truck from East Texas to make their new home in the Texas Hill Country.
The pre-party started early, around four o’clock, when Brian and Tammy Muldrow, owners of Muldrow Bee Farm in Beaumont, Texas, showed up with twenty-five beehives to unload for distribution to their new owners, mostly members of the Comal County Beekeepers Association, later in the evening. Thanks to special travel covers on the hives, very few bees escaped during the four-hour ride. I like to think that, just like my German forebears who landed on the Texas coast nearly two centuries ago and traveled inland to eventually settle in Central Texas, these girls looked forward to their adventure. The Goat and I felt quite special as we helped unload bees while Brian and Tammy gave us hints, how-to’s, and the type of wisdom that only life-long beekeepers can impart.
Some of the girls arrived in full-sized hives and others in smaller nuc (short for “nucleus colony”) boxes, their temporary homes before graduating to a standard hive. Top-bar hives are the “new old thing” now, and one member of our bee club had built a special top-bar nuc for the Muldrows to establish his colony in, an experiment for both parties which went quite well.
No matter the size or shape, each bee house contained five frames full of golden honey, multicolored pollen, brownish brood cells, super-inquisitive bees of all ages, and somewhere deep inside, the queen bee responsible for holding it all together. Buzzing inside the sealed-up hive boxes, the bees let us know they were tired of being closed up and wanted to stretch their wings.
Around six o’clock, the two-legged guests started arriving, eyes sparkling in anticipation and arms loaded down with party food. We made a few new human friends: people we’d met once or twice at bee meetings, as well as several spouses and kids of people who share our love for bees. As the adults became better acquainted, the kids explored and had fun just being kids.
A good friend and member of the local Irish band, Boru, brought along his fiddle and the band’s guitarist, and they treated everybody to some traditional Irish music. Listening to Boru is always fun, but hearing them in our own backyard was a special treat. I like to think the bees enjoyed it, too. Later a beekeeper’s husband sat in, and the music switched briefly to country, maybe to reassure the bees that they were still in their home state of Texas.
As the evening went on, the hives were loaded into the waiting trucks or cars (thank goodness for good travel covers!), but most people returned to visit “just a little while longer” before taking their bees home. The only casualty occurred when a brand-new beekeeper picked up his hive and placed his hand smack-dab on a bee who had escaped her travel cover. Despite her death, the bee had the last word, giving the beekeeper his first bee sting ever. The stingee took it in stride, knowing it was the first of many more in the future, and as such, a sort of trophy, or at least an initiation rite.
We’ll all have some stings in the future because that’s part of the package, and every one of them will be a sort of trophy because, after all, we are beekeepers.