To bee or not to bee was the question on a hot August day!

From our May 2018 issue

By Ernie Reimer – Fort St. John, B.C.

I was hobby farmer, sure. An apiarist? No way.  I tried to be though and it almost cost me dearly.

Somehow, we, as supposedly superior beings, have never learned to get along as well as a swarm of bees.
The queen is clearly in charge, and the drones and workers know their task well. Yet, because we have the desire to maximize honey production, we interfere and regularly check the hive for queen cell development.

During the hot days of August, an active hive can easily have 100,000 bees all working in perfect harmony. Polygamy does not often result in a harmonious life in a beehive. Consequently, developing extra queen cells need to be removed. That was my task this particular August day.

I will never forget this morning. I prepared myself well as bees can easily be irritated on a hot August day. My facial hood was carefully tied. The rubber boots were meticulously sealed with electrical tape, as were my sleeves over the gloves. A bee would have great difficulty in gaining entry to my fragile body.

I was well into the process. One ‘super’ box, a hive box with 10 frames, was on the ground beside me. With every frame that you lift out to inspect, hundreds of bees escape and buzz around you.

Half the hive is airborne

By the time a person gets finished, at least half the bees are flying irritated around you, seeking a place of entry. By the time a person is finished the second ‘super’, at least half of the total hive – thousands of bees – is airborne, longing for the freedom to return.

I was making good progress when something strange transpired and I felt some weird activity in my groin area. I gently brushed a mound of bees off my jeans and – horror of horrors! – I’d forgotten to close my zipper. My zipper was wide open and revealed a mass of bees in my pants.

Decision time had come. No person could endure a thousand stings or more, and that would only be one per cent of the bees. What do you do? Scream? Slap yourself? Pray? Accept reality and sing “Lord, I’m coming home?”

One thing I clearly remember from my uncle, Pete Peters, the apiarist who got me interested in this suicidal pursuit was: “Ernie, the unexpected may happen, but remember to stay calm. Panic and you will pay the price.”

Yes Uncle Pete, I thought, but have you ever had a thousand bees in your crotch? Not likely! Then there was the second bit of advice he gave me: “If you ever get into a pesky situation, find your way into some bushes as bees want open spaces.”

My hands were covered

I did. There I was with my feet farther and farther apart hobbling to a cluster of willows. Bees were all around me, on me, and in my pants. I could feel them crawling up my abdomen under my pants and slithering down my pant legs. And, yes, my shorts were full. (These beasts could give me at least one area of privacy.)

One thing was clear. If I panicked the bees would sting instantly. Death would be imminent. There is no such thing as one sting only. Be calm, cool, collected. Be methodical. I reached the willow patch and forced my way into a cluster of short stems and branches.

The gloves had to come off first so that I could remove the tape from all places. In no time my hands were covered, and the critters crawled up my sleeves. Next the tape came off my boots, the socks came off, but there was almost no bare grass to place my feet. My bare hands now opened my belt and I scooped handfuls of bees.

I dropped my pants and stepped out of them. I just stood there. Then the shirt came off. Finally, I peeled back my undershorts ever so slowly. And there I stood – that perfect video shot – a stark-naked man with a perfect head covering where not one bee entered.

This is where I should have sung the spiritual, We Shall Overcome. There was hope. One by one the bees sought space and took off to seek their companions in a dismantled hive.

Piece by piece, I cleaned the clothing-seeking hidden bees, and in reverse order, I dressed again. I walked back to the hive as an apiarist once again, with my zipper closed!

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