The building we have dubbed “the honey house” is the one where we store my bee equipment and where I one day intend to extract honey.
We still need to put on the soffit and fascia and do some finish work on the inside before the building is reasonably bee-proof; and when you’re extracting honey a bee-proof building is important.
In his book The Owl Pen Canadian author Kenneth McNeill Wells writes about what can happen when a lone bee stumbles across a pair of humans immersed in their first year of extracting honey.
Back in the first part of the last century theirs was not a kitchen operation; they had almost 50 hives and a custom built honey house complete with a brand new copper steam generator and an electric extractor capable of spinning out 38 basswood frames of honey at a time.
As Ken and his wife Lucille Oille slide the knife across the first frame to expose the hexagon cups of nectar they hear a faint buzzing of a lone bee from somewhere in the building, but pay it little mind.
The lone bee, on the other hand, is quite interested in the activity of the humans. Ken writes, “We saw no portent, read no omen, in the little bee that danced out of nowhere to alight, quivering with excitement, on the honey we had laid bare.
“Drink your fill little fellow,” we told him, and when he had drunk his fill, to the point of bursting, we carried him to the honey house door and shooed him away.
“Go home,” we simpered, “go back to your hive, but don’t tell your pals where you’ve been.”
Of course, bees by their very design have loose lips. Upon arriving back at the hive scout bees do a dance of details that relays what they’ve found, where they found it and how many bees are needed to carry the bounty home.
What follows the release of the lone bee is a predictable digression into a bath of bees.
First three, then seven, then dozens are swarming about the honey house.
“They must have come in on the supers,” Ken tells Lucy.
“It’s nothing to worry about.”
“No,” she agrees uncertainly. “Not much.”
As the extractor spins out its heavy load and their vat fills with their first honey harvest they are beyond happy.
They discuss how it is almost a shame, as beautiful and fragrant as the honey is, to even think of selling it.
Ken further comments that “there is more sheer beauty in a spoonful of honey than in a whole anthology of poetry.”
Lucy agrees, adding that each teaspoon not only represents the lifework of a bee but contains the whole story of their Medonte, Ontario summer.
“Not to mention that to gather a pound of it, our bees have flown the equivalent of twice around the world at the equator,” Ken adds.
“Not to mention,” finishes Lucy, in a wee small voice, “that one of your blistering, world-circling poets is crawling on my bare leg.”
With close to a thousand pounds of spun honey in the vats and hundreds more still in the supers awaiting extraction, the couple retire for the night, exhausted but happy.
It doesn’t last.
The next morning they discover the bees have taken over the honey house.
A roaring horde numbering in the thousands are busy sucking up the harvest and ferrying it back from whence it came. Bedlam ensues.
The couple fire up their smokers and attempt to drive the bees out with thick clouds of smoke, but only succeed in driving themselves out instead.
They collapse on the grass, coughing and gasping for air. Ken notes that judging by the smoke pouring out the cracks, their honey house is about as bee tight as a rail fence.
The same honey house their contractor assured them was so bee tight that “not even a ghost of a bee would be able to find its way in.”
They finally employ a diversion tactic by lugging the extracted comb to a hillside in the hopes the bees would find the grassy knoll more appealing than the smoke-filled house. It works. Sort of.
From then on Ken and Lucy do their extracting at night when the bees are tucked away safe and sound, oblivious to the happenings in the honey house.
A time Ken describes as “when no bee flies, and only harmless wolves and bats and wildcats roam about.”
While my own honey house will never rival the size or scope of Ken and Lucy’s commercial operation, whose own enterprise is dwarfed by today’s commercial beekeepers, I do hope to spend some bee-less evenings spinning out my own honey harvest and waxing poetic over these amazing golden insects. In the meantime our kitchen gets sticky. Very, very, sticky.
Shannon McKinnon is a humour columnist from Northern BC. You can catch up on past columns by visiting www.shannonmckinnon.com