When we were first building a house in Oregon on property we planned to homestead, I told Brandon one day that I wanted to try keeping a hive of bees. He thought it was weird and wasn't really on board. That doesn't happen very often - we usually endorse each other's weird ideas or at least sit back and see how it goes.
Shortly after that, it seemed like only days, our future neighbor came by the office and talked with Brandon for a while. The topic of bees came up. Apparently, he had a couple of colonies and knew how to make beekeeping not seem so weird, which is funny in hindsight because he could be odd (but nice) sometimes. Brandon told me he thought it was a good idea, but maybe we should get two colonies. I was good with that. In fact, I had already decided I wanted two but thought I'd let him warm up to the idea of one first.
Bees were wonderfully easy to keep. There are things that can go wrong, but our neighbor's bees swarmed so many times and the swarms flew over and landed in our fledgling orchard that I went from two to five colonies. I didn't necessarily want to keep that many, but Brandon was hooked on the honey (it's AMAZING) and wanted as many hives as I could stand. I took Tess and Liam with me to tend them. Liam mostly smoked the bees and collected drones on his gloves where he petted and loved them and talked to them. They are quite cute - the teddy bears of the bees.
Tess worked more when she came out. One of the first times we were going along looking at brood patterns and trying to find the queen when Tess jumped away from me screaming and slapping her legs. She was wearing a white coverall-style suit with bee gloves and a bee hood. Apparently after pulling out a frame loaded with bees, some of the bees fell on the ground around and on her boots. They then proceeded to climb up the inside of the suit legs and started stinging her thighs. She was done for the day, but returned after we modified the suits so they had Velcro around the bottom so they fit snug against the boots.
Even in all the garb, I would get stung here and there. I tried to be gentle, but I had one colony that was very aggressive. It wasn't Africanized, but it was aggressive enough that I would have replaced the queen with a kinder one if they weren't such a powerhouse in honey production. They put all the other hives to shame. As I was busy working the hives, these bees would find a spot where I leaned forward enough for my chin to touch the protective mesh - and they'd sting me. I'm not allergic to bees, but I have a hyper-reaction, so the stings were really big and puffy. I looked like I had Jay Leno's chin on steroids when that happened. O, joy. My family affectionately called me Quasimodo.
We had about 45 trees, a chicken coop, and a large garden inside a deer fence. The bees sat outside the fence at the opposite end from the garden ... a couple hundred feet away. I had Tess and Liam working in the garden and I was pruning back some evil bramble blackberries especially around the chicken coop while happily listening to music. It's not wonderful work, but it was a nice day and I like being outside with cute chickens moseying about, new green leaves on the trees, and pleasant temperatures. Elk had also damaged some of my linden trees so I pruned the tattered broken limbs. That was when I felt a sharp pain and a hot burning on my ear. I realized the bees were after me. I hadn't heard them because I had earbuds in, but it was the aggressive hive and apparently I wasn't allowed within 30-40 feet of their colony.
My children describe the next part as crazy. I took off running along the outside of the deer fence toward the garden, waving my arms around (to ward off bees - I could hear their angry wings without my music playing. I shouted for them to turn the hose on repeatedly before they understood. I ran into the garden, grabbed the hose, and sprayed it up over my head so it rained down heavily all around and on me. Tess and Liam watched in wonder and confusion as I stood in the water with a great expression of relief. I explained about "the bees" that they didn't see or hear. They stung me twice, but worse was that they made me look absolutely insane.
I have heard angry wings at other times, but they generally leave me alone. They hated me the most because I disturbed their colony. I have since changed to a more natural beekeeping approach. Brandon heard the angry wings when he was digging a trench too close, and they stung him on the eyebrow and ear. Of course, I've heard angry wings when they weren't there, so I'm still laughed at.
This neighbor who made beekeeping seem not so weird to my husband had a different approach. He'd wear regular long sleeve clothes, like a flannel shirt. I don't think he wore gloves the first time or smoked his colonies, but he did after that. He got stung every time he tended them. Once he went out when there was a lot of honey production and his bees were very protective of their colony. They started stinging him and climbing in his clothes where they stung him more. He was quickly overwhelmed and stripped off his all his clothes and shoes as he ran the 500 feet or so to his house. We didn't see this, but apparently another neighbor watched the whole thing. We know this because he went over to the failed beekeeper's house afterwards with a bottle of wine as a gift for the funniest thing he'd seen in a long time. Our neighbor, a veterinarian, gave up on his hobby of beekeeping - aren't hobbies supposed to be fun or rewarding?
So after all this, bees are still some of the easiest and most rewarding "animals" on the homestead. I guess that doesn't say a whole lot for homesteading!
Wife to Brandon, mother to Tess and Liam, farmer, entrepreneur, cook & baker, nurse, and accountant who loves to try new things, travel, and work toward greater self-reliance.