Mandy Newham-Cobb illustration
It seems like Colony Collapse Disorder is regularly in the news, and yet, we can’t agree on what to do to save the honeybee from extinction. Maybe the government will finally do something soon. Unwilling to wait, I took my own small action last summer to save the honeybee. I set up my own hive.
I had thought about it for years. I live on a farm. I like honey. It seemed natural that I should have bees. Then my friend Phil explained how easy it was to set up a hive. He even offered to order the bees. I gave Phil the green light, and while I waited, I ordered materials to build a hive box.
For weeks, I contemplated the perfect location. I wanted it to receive plenty of sun in winter but not be too hot in summer. The bees would need access to water, as well as to their food source. I settled on the crown of a hill where the grass merges into woods. The hive is equal distance between a creek and a pond. An orchard of apple and cherry trees is nearby, as well as a cow pasture full of clover, both white and purple. The best feature of this location is that I can see it every morning from my kitchen window.
My bees came as a nucleus colony, which means they were a small colony removed from a larger colony. A queen was already installed. What I hadn’t anticipated was the act of collecting the bees and transporting them to my house. In my mind, Phil would deliver the bees and set up the hive, and I would watch. In reality, I drove to Kentucky to pick up my bees. Phil couldn’t be there the evening I arrived, but he had written my name on the white corrugated plastic box that served as their temporary home.
It was evening, close to dark, and I waited for the last of the worker bees to return to the colony. I closed the plastic flap that formed a door, then carried the humming box to the trunk of my Impala. I tried not to imagine what would happen if I had an accident as I drove south on the interstate, how my car might crash into another and angry bees would swarm out of the trunk like determined kamikazes.
Just after I crossed the state line into Tennessee, I turned the radio down to confirm the buzzing sound in my ear was not just in my head. There was a bee loose inside the car, flying around the back window. She must have arrived looking for her hive after it was packed in my trunk, but she was smart enough to hitch a ride anyway. After I stilled my pulse, we rode the rest of the way in peace.
It was full dark when I got home and gingerly removed the nucleus colony from my trunk. The next morning, I suited up in apiary gear and transferred the bees and their frames to the new box. I expected to be stung, but luck was on my side, and we moved together without anyone getting hurt. My thoughts were a thousand little prayers that the bees would be happy in their new home, that I’d learn how to simply keep them alive. I took off my bee suit and headed to work. As I backed out of the driveway, I heard buzzing and remembered the lost bee from the night before. She was in the rear window, still alive but not sure how to escape.
I drove through the greening branches of the orchard and up the hill to the new hive. I used a piece of paper to scoot the bee away from the window and outside. We were close enough to the hive that I could see the bees moving in and out, investigating their new home. It was easy for this solitary bee to find her way back to her colony.
At that moment, I was happier to save one lost bee than I had been five minutes earlier when I thought I was saving them all. Who’s to say which act was more important or more satisfying? A summer later, my bees thrive. I can walk outside nearly any summer day and find one in my yard, flying from bloom to bloom. Maybe one is that same bee that rode from Kentucky.