Thursday, November 01, 2007

My secret life as a beekeeper

This weekend I was looking for a book to read in my library and I picked up “A Country Year” by Sue Hubbell. This is the second time I read this book since buying it three years ago in a yard sale. The book is about the author’s life in the Ozark Mountains of Missouri, living off the land as a beekeeper. Her description of the land, the people of the Ozarks, and her bees was riveting; I could not put it down. After reading the book I told myself this is the life I want.
And so it started, my fantasy of moving to the country and become a beekeeper. Of course, I did not share this fantasy with anyone because I couldn’t take what I knew would have been everyone’s reaction—probably, “You--a beekeeper. HA HA HA!!!!”

A few months later, I was working in the garden and I noticed an unusual number of bees around me. I looked up and “Oh my God,” a beehive had moved into the top corner of my roof, the bees going in and out through a small round hole in the wood on the roof overhang. “It must be a sign,” I told myself. My wife, of course, freaked out. Everyone I knew would tell me “you have to get rid of those bees” and that made sense to me but no one knew of my fantasy, my thinking that this could be the first beehive of my bee empire!
After making sure that the bees were not getting into our attic, I decided to share my garden with these hard working insects and for about a year harmony reigned at the DragonFly Garden. I was fascinated by the hive and would watch the activities at different times of the day such as the parade of worker bees hauling water from my pond to the hive: nature at its best in my garden. I would secretly take trips to the Redlands looking for land for sale where I could establish my beehive business. The Redlands is an agriculture area in extreme southern Miami where most of the winter vegetables are grown and many commercial beekeepers operate. Maybe my fantasy was not such a fantasy after all!

One day, while I was working in my tomato plants and unbeknownst to me, there had been a management change at the hive and the new queen let it be known to all her workers that she was not interested in sharing the garden with the bold guy and his dog below. She sent a squadron of her best fighters after me and it was like Pearl Harbor, unprovoked and unexpected. I made a straight line to the house while my poor dog ran in circles and tried to fight back.
For days our family could not venture outside for every time we would go anywhere near the hive, the kamikazes would come out. It was clear the bees had to go. I called several beekeepers to see if they would come out and get the hive but none were interested. The only option left was a bee exterminator. I found one near Orlando and the day he showed up, I could not bear to see the massacre. I am told the man came dressed in a full hazmat suit and equipped with an electric chain saw. By the time he finished, part of my roof was destroyed and he claimed that this had been one the biggest beehives he had ever exterminated. The hive was about 8 feet long! After all was said and done the exterminator cost me $600 and fixing the roof another $400

Today I have a newfound respect for bees but I admire them from a distance. I continue to have my fantasy of moving to the country and living a simpler life but maybe I could raise Alpacas--they are cute and furry and don’t sting!


Jeanette said...

Hi Rusty.Your dream is over. Im pleased you were able to get inside the house without getting stung..OUCh.

Vanillalotus said...

I think everyone has a secret life or career they would love to do but others would find silly. Me wanting to go into horticulture is silly to everyone else but that's okay. It sounds like you had a very very large nest. I guess you learned sometimes you can't always get along with mother natures creatures even if you try.

Meems said...

what a great story. i wonder what makes them attack all of a sudden but i have heard similar tales of giant hives and attacks.

who knows, maybe some day you CAN be a bee-keeper only you wouldn't want to keep them in your attic.

LostRoses said...

Yikes, that was quite a hive, 8 feet long?? Some dreams die hard, don't they? Maybe someday you'll have your bees (friendly ones) and some land to keep them on.

I'm surprised no one wanted to collect those bees!

gardenmomma (Chris) said...

What a great story! It would make me sad to see them all go, but I guess not if they were dive bombing me! We have a beekeeper in the neighborhood who keep imploring everyone not to kill his bees. If they bother you, just send them home!, he says. :)

Carol said...

That was quite a bee hive, and I guess a lesson learned. Stay with your dream, don't give it up because of one nasty old queen bee!

Carol at May Dreams Gardens

Wicked Gardener said...

Ahh . . . As they say, be careful of what you wish for!!

I've just discovered your site and am delighted to find another florida blogger. Stop by mine - I've linked you :)

Mary said...

Enjoyed your bee story. The only way that beekeeping is safe is when you have hives and all the equipment that goes with the profession. Were these honeybees? I know that they are experiencing colony collapse right now. Bees always follow the orders of the Queen. I'm sorry that you experience was so costly.

Linda said...

Dear Rusty,

Thank you for sharing your bee adventure with us -- quite a scary situation that had an expensive, but happy (except for the bees) ending. As a beginning gardener, I will have to keep an eye on the bees in my yard -- thanks for the heads up!

btw, your post made me think of a book I really liked (since you mentioned you're a reader) called "The Secret Life of Bees," by Sue Monk Kidd. The bees are a minor theme, but you may enjoy it!


Jacquie said...


It sounds like you hive was taken over by Africanized bees. The Miami Dade Fire Department has a Venom Response Team (initially set up for venom snake incidents)that has become quite familiar with incidents like yours. As Scott Mullens has explained to me in the past, the africanize queen bee sneaks in, lays eggs and hatches a brood one day faster then our normal honeybees. Along with being fiercely aggressive, they split hives 3 to 4 times a year and pollinate much less. When attacked, it is said it is best to "Run, run and keep on running" as they can track up to a 1/4 of a mile. They often kill horses and dogs, because they try to attack the attack (horses stomp the ground aggravating them more). Be careful of low lying nest, especially in BBQs and old debris. You can go by the fire station in Sweetwater ( Station 29) Monday thru Friday and ask to speak with one of the Venom guys or girls). I will send you some links for more information as I come across it. I am sorry for you loss of the Bee hive. The south Florida bee population has so many factors against it and our lovely mangoes and lime trees suffer for it.

Stay safe,