It was a cold spring this year. The furnace was still running at night when I picked up the ladies and set them up at my dad's place out near Lake Charles. I'd read a couple of books over the winter attended a half day workshop on beekeeping, and now I'm a beekeeper. It turns out though, you don't really look after a hive so much as look at it. With 10,000 years of genetics on their side, it's easier to adapt to what the bees want than try to impose what you want.
It started with the supersedure cells and the swarm cells—special formations from which a new queen is hatched. These little peanut shell-shaped formations signalled that mutiny was imminent. On each of my weekly visits there were new peanut shells. It was heart breaking that the ladies weren't happy. I phoned people in a panic and the answer seem to be, “Your hive isn't happy. Get a new queen.”
There was only one problem: I'd already named my queen. In my research on beekeeping the queen is supposed to live for about 2-3 years before she being replaced. That's about the life span of a hamster. You name pet hamsters, right? My queen, Gloria, is named after my aunt's salad company, Glorious Organics. On my weekly visit to the hive I'd I scrape off the peanut-shaped signs of rebellion and let Gloria know that she really needed to get her hive in order or the workers were going to replace her. It was all a bit ridiculous—I don't speak bee, and there was no real way I could actually stop 30,000 bees from doing whatever they thought was best.
Then the heat wave hit and everything changed. Gone were the signs of rebellion. The hive seemed to double in population each time I visited. I added a second brood box and then a honey super to my little bee condo. I managed to avoid colony mutiny this spring. The frames are filling up with honey and new brood. I constantly remind myself it was the heat wave, and not my pep talks, that made the colony shift from mutiny to honey production.
Although there's enough honey to keep the bees through winter, there isn't enough to harvest yet. Hopefully it warms up again this fall for one last rush of honey production. As much as I hate it, I know my bees like it hot.
[Originally published in Mosaic Magazine.]