Being a bee shepherd


Oh bees, I love you but sometimes I want to throw my equipment off the roof and never try and figure out what’s going on ever again.

This is my first season being the hands-on beekeeper of our tiny apiary of two hives. Thankfully it isn’t just me, but another person in my building is taking this on with me – which leads to epic text conversations about equipment and plans of action. He is patient, which I am grateful for, because that is not one of my virtues.

There are the amazing things: the glorious smell of the beekeeping shed redolent with wax and honey, watching a bee chew its way out of its cell and greet the world for the first time, witnessing a waggle dance on a frame you are holding in your hands, tasting bee-warmed honey straight from the frame, seeing 3,000 bees look up at you when you open the inner cover, discovering your apple tree groaning with fruit. All of these things are incredible.

The not so incredible: the stings you will get, the sicknesses your bees will get, the times you don’t catch a problem and events spiral out of control before you’re able to help, the vagaries and mysteries of why colonies do what they do, the agonizing indecision of how to best help these little creatures you share space with.

Because it becomes apparent quite early on that you are more of a shepherd and less of an owner. These bees are going to do their thing, either in your pretty little wooden boxes or somewhere else. This first year it feels like a scramble to stay in front of their needs while we learn the rhythms of the beekeeping year.

Still, one of the best things in the world is sharing with visitors a jar from your 60,000 neighbours on the roof. As long as you take them up to say thank you, of course.

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