Under new Management

I knew the colony was queen-less before I left the house.† I knew it before I had my suit on.† Before I was within twenty yards of the hive I knew that there was no queen.† Five feet from the hive it was impossible to deny.† The evidence was as clear as the dozens of bees buzzing, bumping and trying to sting the nose on my face.

The colony needs the queen like no other bee and the workers know it.† While they may go listless they may _not_, and when they do not the results are singularly unpleasant.† Two hundred yards from the house the bees were buzzing people.† Fifty yards from the hive they were crawling all over me.† At the hive they were running in lines down my arms.† That wasnít the ominous part.† The thing that had me most worried was the sound, the roar of a wounded animal.

The queen-less roar is a sound no beekeeper can expunge from memory.† It is louder than any other sound the hive makes except when swarming (when the roar is in fact the sound of many bees in a pleasant mood).† On the other side of the house I could hear it.† Down at the hive I could hear little else.† To make matters worse I was largely defenseless.

Smoke is the beekeeperís primary weapon.† It disorients the guard bees and masks alarm pheromones, triggers an urge to prepare for flight and generally calms the hive.†† It is not terribly effective against queen-less bees.† If the decision is flight or fight the queen-less colony is predisposed to fight.† I opened the lid from the top of the colony only after shrouding myself in smoke.† All the bingo parlors in hell couldnít compete with the smoke screen I laid down and I was glad.

Before I kept bees I always believed that opening a hive would result in a rush of angry bees but thatís not normally the case.† A queen-less hive is not normal.† Bees crawled the lid and lined up thick on the top bars, the cloud of bees above the hive thickened and the roar of the colony was un muffled now.† Now was the time to do what I came to do.

I have a pocket on my bee suit.† Only one, wide and shallow.† It lies open most of the time and Iím careful to look inside before reaching because more often than not I pick up a friend or two.† That day there were no friends in the hive, only an angry sorority morning the passing of their leader elect.† In my pocket though I held the key to the colony.

The key to a colony comes in a tiny wood and screen box the size of a nine volt battery.† In this box was a mated Italian queen and a tiny court of workers to feed her.† I removed the cage and inspected her.† Like most queens she disliked the light and grew nervous in the strong sun.† Then the first worker from my hive landed on the cage and the magic began.

The first worker was quickly joined by a second and a third, a fourth and a dozen more.† They lined up on my fingers and clung to the cage, fanning their wings.† In unison the hive fell silent.† Where before there was only the sound of angry bees now there was nothing.† The cloud of bees above me fell inward, many landing on my hand.† If I was nervous before I was more so now.

Bee by bee I brushed them from my hands and the cage.† Some refused to go.† I reached down to put the queen cage safely into the hive where it could rest on the top bars and the bees moved up to meet me.† As I reached for the lid I watched the bees under the cage clinging tightly.† Then the sound of the colony returned.

A soft buzz, the sound of the colony at night or in the rain filled the air.† With the lid on I could barely hear it.†† At the front of the hive the foragers moved out and waited for some signal I could not sense and then one by one they took flight, returning to the purpose of their life.† In a few days they would chew through the candy holding the queen in her cage and unleash their new monarch to unify and drive them.††† I stayed to listen to the sound of a colony one more set right.† It was the sound of life.