After completing 6 weeks of classroom teaching, as well as mental and emotional preparation for what is to come, the moment had arrived for our blind date with the bees. As excited as I was to wear my new (primrose) suit and gloves and boots and just Get IN There , my partner was in fact the one over the moon. This was his Christmas gift to me and I was being asked on a weekly basis whether “this was the time”, and it finally was!
Split into groups of 5 accompanied by a responsible, beekeeper we conducted the first inspection of the season in the Training Apiary. To a stranger, the hives look like empty matchboxes, stacked into towers of an imaginary empire. I immediately appreciated that only a beekeeper can see beyond the wooden boxes into the magic world of the bees. It is only when you lift the unassuming lid of a beehive that you have the opportunity to allow your senses to experience the presence of a bee colony.
Hearing: You are instantly greeted with a warming buzz that vibrates into your entire body. It somehow touches your ears and resonates right through to your fingertips, almost as if changing your body’s natural frequency to that of 20,000 pairs of tiny wings. The sound does not travel any further than where you are standing, possibly (in my mind) because so much of it is absorbed by you and the essence of you, the beekeeper.
Smell: The bees’ concealed pollen and honey recipes are carefully stored and maintained within the confines of the highly regulated space of the hive. I imagine the inner air dense with smell particles of all sorts: the queen’s pheromones, the honey, the pollen, wax, bee sweat, love and tears. The moment this air is released into the beekeeper’s breathing air, so are these smells. Each colony with its unique blend of odours fills your nostrils putting you in a drunken state of harmony.
Vision: The colony of honeybees is a superorganism, meaning you cannot treat any one bee as an individual, rather the whole colony acts as a single body. This is evident from the first moment you lay your eyes on these creatures. Several thousands of individuals with a single, clear goal and direction. With what seems like seamless communication and understanding, every bee has a purpose and a role in the large family of sisters. What may at first seem like a chaos of activities, quickly changes in your eyes as you observe their close-knit interactions.
The Whole is Greater than the Sum of its Parts – Aristotle
Touch: The first time you pick up a frame is the first time you realise how strong the colony’s foundations are. Your gloves are sticky with propolis and the weight of the bees and the honey is hard to ignore. The light touch of bees resting on your suit, assessing your intentions is your first connection with them. It is also what will betray within you, your true feelings toward such closeness with these wild creatures. I was flattered to be chosen for my warmth, which I pictured radiating from very deep within my heart.
Taste: By the time you experience all other senses, the rest of your body enters a kind of trance. One where you imagine what it is like to be one of them and live in their space, eat their nectar and pollen, be fed by the nurse bees and always have a companion who cares. The taste of excitement and awe tingles in your mouth like popping candy and then melts, the way creamy honey would.
This was my own personal experience. As you can see, they have officially taken a small (bee-shaped) spot in my heart.
Any other beekeepers out there, I would love to hear your first experience with a beehive.