The next time you are standing about the yard scratching your head in confusion about which tree climber in Jackson County to call because there’s a swarm of bees in the tippy-toppy portion of a tree, let me please recommend David Hatton, a very fine tree climber and a man whose resume now includes experience in the hellish ways of honeybees.
David this week heroically ascended a rather smallish but very tallish white oak at my behest. He cracked jokes about how much he was enjoying being 50 to 60 feet up the tiny tree as it swayed wildly about, rather like a Q-tip might writhe before gale-force winds. He endured four stings in his scalp without (much) complaint — although David did, I noticed, descend the oak tree at an alarmingly rapid pace after announcing: “That’s it” in a calm, but resolute, tone of voice.
David endured all of this only to watch the bees take off for parts unknown, sort of “Westward, Ho!” and down, out of sight they disappeared into the valley below.
And thus this tree climber unwittingly, but gamely, became an initiate into the world of beekeeping. David learned firsthand the great lesson bees are here to teach us: the knowledge that the subject of one’s ardor will, as often as not, receive the attentions lavished upon them ungratefully; and in return for adoration, will visit great pain and, sometimes, absolute rejection upon us.
Does that sound a bit dark, a tad jaded, a wee bit pessimistic? Let me hasten to add that I am wild for swarms, and passionate about honeybees. Something deep inside me thrills when I see that tornadic rotation of thousands of bees launching upwards from a hive, and I hear the astonishingly loud buzzing roar that signals a swarm.
Even if, as so often proves the case, the swarm disappears without so much as a “thanks, dedicated beekeeper, for feeding us all winter.” And this just a couple weeks before, you’ll note, it is time to start collecting honey for said beekeeper. And just one day — one day! — before I planned to split this particular hive to hinder swarming.
I console myself it’s only through my losses, and the losses of other beekeepers, that the forests will be repopulated with honeybees.
(Though, philosophic resignation be damned, I would really like my swarm back. So if someone in the Fairview community spots a large wad of honeybees hanging about, please get in touch with me (unless the bees went into the walls of your home, in which case, that most certainly wasn’t my swarm)).
This seems like as good a place as any to answer some of the many questions I get about honeybees.
Q: Dear Quintin, I’m really interested in getting into beekeeping. How many hives should I own?
A: Two to start with. More than two is too much work; fewer than two and you don’t have a point of comparison.
Q: Dear Quintin, where can I get bees?
A: It’s really late in the season to be getting bees. Most beekeepers take orders in the fall for the following spring. So think about doing it next year, and in the meantime, join a bee club (call your local N.C. Cooperative Extension Service agent for more information).
Q: Dear Quintin, I have bees, somehow they survived my total neglect and lived through the winter. What should I be doing now?
A: I hope you’ve been feeding them sugar water, or there’s a very good chance your bees starved this spring even after surviving the winter. If they are alive, I for one am strongly considering putting my supers on now — I spotted some locust in bloom, and it looks as if the poplar trees are getting ready to bloom, too. Stop feeding sugar water when you super up. Actually, I quit earlier this month — you don’t want them to store sugar water instead of honey.
Q: Dear Quintin, why not just put the supers on early, say March? Why the what’s-in-bloom-now fixation?
A: Put supers on too early and the bees will use the wax in the frames for other purposes, not necessarily as a place to store honey.
Q: Dear Quintin, what the hell is a super?
A: Supers are boxes that contain frames of foundation, usually made of wax that encourage bees to store honey, which you can later rob from them.