“Act like you know what you’re doing, even if you don’t. Above all, send the bees love. Every little thing wants to be loved.”
― The Secret Life of Bees
Being a geezer has its benefits. For instance, I can wear literally whatever I want with no concern for your opinion about it. Black socks and Birkenstocks? Hey, as long as it’s good for my tired feet, say what you want. But you youngsters should know that one does not achieve full geezerhood without experiencing some big trauma: the death of a family member; a stay in the hospital; a friend battling cancer. I’m no expert but I’ve learned a little bit about trauma.
We are living in unprecedented times. I write this now as the world battles a global pandemic. We hear every day about Big Trauma – millions lost their jobs, people are sick, people have died. Most of us expect this disease to affect us or someone we love before life starts to improve, so most of us are staying at home, going out only when it’s essential, and taking precautions when we do go out.
At the same time, literally every person I know has experienced what I’m calling Little Traumas. The simplest one is that kids used to go to school. Then one day, all of a sudden, kids didn’t go to school any more. Nobody had a plan in place for that. A young woman we know had put her heart and soul into the high school band. Hours of practicing and drilling, then one day – no band performances, no competitions. How many chances does someone have to go to their senior prom? Many of our daughters’ peers were excited for graduation this spring. Nope, you’ll get the diploma in the mail. Meghan sings with the Portland Community Chorus and for some of the choir members the weekly rehearsals were one of the main ways they stayed in touch with their community. We were all looking forward to the spring concert. One day, it simply went away. Imagine working your whole life till one day you make it big on Broadway. Then they just. . . close Broadway. I think of all the people I love for whom weekly Church (or temple, or mosque) services are enormously important and now they’re not supposed to go to do that, and at a time when it seems more important than ever.
What’s your little trauma?
You need to address your Little Trauma. Just because it seems to pale by comparison to someone else’s Big Trauma matters not one bit. And we mustn’t be dismissive of someone else’s Little Trauma. It’s their cross to bear. It doesn’t matter if you know someone with a heavier cross.
Being a geezer means I’ve lived through several regional shared traumas. I lived in California for the big earthquake in ’89. In Chicago we lived through a deadly heat wave. I’ve seen blizzards and ice storms cripple an area for days or weeks. Every time I’ve seen the emergence of the better angels of our nature – people helping their neighbors, looking out for one another.
We have seen shared national traumas. A few of those came close but I can’t think of an example aside from the present crisis of a shared global trauma. People are frightened. People are helping. People are looking out for one another. Everyone’s life has been changed.
You would be within your rights at this point to ask what all of this possibly has to do with the 3 Million Bee Roadtrip. So much of it is different. We drove the direct route south through New York City without worrying about traffic. At rest stops we wear masks. I wear nitrile gloves to pump gas. We are staying at a hotel in West Virginia that is usually sold out completely but this year there are six or seven cars in the parking lot. The country is eerily quiet.
Although beekeeping supply is considered essential, the Honey Exchange is not open as usual. We are still handling orders through the phone and have developed methods for accepting payments and handling orders with little or no direct human contact. We have heard several people assume we wouldn’t be delivering package bees this year. We have heard from even more people that their bees are one of the few things they have to look forward to this spring. Beekeeping for most people is a pretty socially distant pastime already. For some of us, our beehives and the changing seasons are what is keeping us grounded – an oasis amid the madness. We weren’t sure what to expect of this particular beekeeping season but we pre-sold all the package bees earlier than we ever have before.
I have tried to stop worrying about the unknown future. It’s all too much. Since this is our ninth bee roadtrip, we know what we have to worry about. In some years we worry about heat, most years we get worried about being stuck in traffic, we always worry about rain. This year’s worries are unseasonable cold (1,100 miles of it) and unusually widespread rain. But we have a plan and we’re hoping for the best.
With that in mind, let’s talk about bees for a moment. Last year we showed a video of package bees being installed using the old Thump and Dump method which is usually the best and most efficient ways of installing a new colony. In cold, wet weather we sometimes use the indirect release method and this looks like it might be one of those years.
The first step is to remove the queen cage from the package and attach it to a frame. In an old hive with comb on the frames it is simple to smoosh the cage into the comb, being sure to install it with the candy plug pointing upward and the screen pointed outward so the worker bees can smell the queen and chew through the candy to release her. (This should take 3-5 days.) In a new hive with just foundation on the frames, hang the queen cage with a rubber band. (I use a rubber band even with comb on the frame, for extra security.)
The frame with the queen goes into the lower box and the inner cover (with an oval hole in the center) goes atop the lower box. An empty box (a deep box, or two medium boxes) goes above that and the package of bees, with the syrup can removed, is installed so the opening of the package lines up with the oval hole in the inner cover. The telescoping cover goes on top to protect it all from the weather and the package is left in the hive over night. By morning the bees should have crawled down into the lower box to cluster around the queen and the empty package can be removed and a syrup feeder put into its place to feed the bees while they get accustomed to their new home.
Stay strong, everyone. Find a way to stay grounded. Look out for one another. And above all, send out your love.