I was glad for the bagginess of my bee suit. Not only that it gives a buffer zone between my tender skin and the stabbing dagger-like stingers of thousands of honeybees, but because at six months pregnant, I still fit into it. Now, I may look like an astronaut trying to shoplift a basketball, but I’m relatively safe and comfortable.
I waited until Henrik ceased his happy pre-nap shenanigans (i.e. throwing his blankets out of his pack and play, belly-flopping delightedly, and grinning at me over the top of the sides in a most awake-and-knows-it way). When he finally succumbed to the nap, I prayed in a whisper that God would protect me as I went to rob tens of thousands of honeybees of their hard-earned honey (not all of it, mind you, just their spare pantry).
I got my smoker going strong on the most tailor-made-honey-collecting day ever (mild temperatures, little wind, and undiluted sunshine). I don’t normally even inspect my hives without another adult at home, because I’d like to have some back-up if I get stung and have a reaction, but a string of cloudy days and conflicting schedules and a limited time frame in which to borrow an extractor meant that on this one sunny day, I was going in Lone Ranger.
I did Les Abeilles hive first (which is French for “the bees”), which is my older colony and quite a robust one. This hive alone swarmed twice last May, forming two new colonies of sizable populations, while still leaving behind a great multitude. I’d be harvesting twenty frames of honey off of them. It’s an intimidating thing to approach the home of thousands of stinging insects. Worse yet to attempt to plunder their reserves. I steeled myself for the worst, though I’ve yet to be stung in my two years as a beekeeper, I could just imagine that today would be my initiation rite into true beekeeping. “Stung forty times, huh? Well, you’re a true beekeeper now”, I imagined some seasoned beekeeper saying, while slapping me on the back.
I puffed the smoke into their front door and breathed the pent-up nerves out. Let’s do this. I worked my way through, frame by frame, puffing with smoke (which tells the bees, ‘Hey, there’s a forest fire going on, you should probably chow down on honey because your home is going to be burnt up.’ or ‘Was that an alarm pheromone I just smelled? No….I just smell smoke….I’m so happy now. Nom nom nom.’).
I took each frame and gave a few swift shakes over top the hive, harmlessly dislodging the bulk of the feasting bees right back into their home. Some get understandably irritated. Wouldn’t you be? There you are at the fridge, grazing on some cheese and reaching for the milk when all of a sudden someone picks up your kitchen and shakes you out the door. And if you don’t fall out of the doorway, well then you are swept out with a giant broom. I hustled the bee-less heavy frame of honey to my wagon awaiting downhill, where I put it into a box and swiftly covered it with a sheet so the bees didn’t try to claim it again. Repeat twenty times while sweating profusely from every pore on your body and keeping your smoker going, and hoping against hope that they don’t smell through the smoke haze the scented alarm that the guard bees are emitting, and you too could harvest honey!
Amazingly, no stings. Not even more than a handful of fly-bys (when the guard bees attempt to kamikaze my veil in indignation). I put the hive back together and said, “Thank you, ladies!” and carefully navigated the heavy wagon back down to the house. I then repeated this with The Bee-Bee Boomers (my first swarm catch colony), and they too amicably allowed me to plunder their pantry.
There are twenty-seven frames of honey on my back porch under sheets awaiting extraction tomorrow. And no painful stings on my body. And the baby is still napping. Mercy.
And that’s what it is.
It’s not because I’m some wonderfully intuitive bee-whisperer. It’s not because of me. It’s one of God’s strange mercies for me, for this day and the other days past of hive inspections and honey harvests. It implies nothing about tomorrow, or the next day, the next harvest. No promises for a sting-free future. But a mercy for today. I’ll take it. I’ll give thanks and thanks again. For every strange mercy, giving thanks.