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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Gardening: Despite challenges, honeybees can bring a moment of Zen

A package of bees waits to be installed in Pat Munts’ honeybee hive. The jar of syrup at the bottom of the hive will feed the bees as they establish themselves.  (Pat Munts/For The Spokesman-Review)
By Pat Munts For The Spokesman-Review

When you work with honeybees, you are on their time and temperament. The worker bees are always on guard to protect the hive from whatever threats they perceive, be it a marauding yellow jacket or a bear or a human being that rips off the roof of their hive box to do something “useful” for the hive. They can be calm or grumpy depending on the temperature, the beekeeper’s movements and the amount of stress the colony is under. Stress occurs when food or water is in short supply which for the last few hot summers has been an issue.

But it can be a Zen garden moment despite the challenge.

When you start a new hive, the bees come as a “package,” a mesh and wood-sided box about 18 inches long, 12 inches high and 6 inches wide. The package holds about 10,000 bees, a can of sugar syrup to provide food in transit and a small cage that contains the queen. The bees need to be installed in the hive quickly after picking them up as the syrup is running low. I set up the new hive boxes and removed some of the frames prior to installing the package to save time. After putting on a protective bee suit, I was ready to open the package.

This is where the Zen moment comes. I find myself taking a deep breath and slowing my movements down. All I can hear is the soft buzzing of the bees in their box. The temperature was in the 50s, so the bees were moving slowly, too. The sun on my back was warm though and I could smell the sweet syrup. I removed the syrup can and the queen cage. The queen was actively trying to get out of her cage and a number of bees were crowded around her. It was fascinating to watch them interact.

I then turned the package upside down and shook it to knock the bees into the hive box. They drop as a mass into the box. The buzzing increased and there were bees flying everywhere but not after me. I then reinserted the frames slowly back into the hive box as the bees moved aside. We were working together, and nobody was overly upset. I then removed the cork that was keeping the queen in her cage, replaced it with a marshmallow and gently set it into the hive box. Over a few days, the bees will eat through the marshmallow and release the queen. I stood there watching them for a few minutes in awe of their presence and how they were already working together to set up their new home. It was heaven.

I then replaced the hive lid and left the package box and the syrup can out, because bees were still everywhere. I came back a few hours later and all the bees had gone into the hive for the night. All was well.