We went queen-shopping last month down at the local bee supply store. That’s where you go when you’re in need of a queen, don’t you know. Picked us up a nice little Italian queen whom we promptly named Luccia. What … did you want us to call her Mitzi?
We’ve been beekeepers for about seven years now. Maybe eight. It all started when I got rear-ended up on Highway 9, two minutes from home, on a rainy afternoon when the girl behind the truck behind me forgot how to brake. Her explanation for all that rear-ending was, “I’m from California, and it never rains in California.” I couldn’t get that song out of my mind for a week afterwards.
I ended up getting whiplash, which required months of physical therapy. I went to a great little PT place out in Granite Falls, which, if you didn’t know, was the logging-town inspiration for Frank Peretti’s “The Oath.” Having read it myself, I still partly expect to see evil personified in nearly transparent, winged form perching on the trees whenever I have a need to drive into town.
The physical therapists I met with were great. If it wasn’t for the fact that there were constantly bending and twisting me in unkind ways, I could almost tell myself I was in a small-town beauty shop. Those therapists could gossip with the best of the beauticians. I learned all sorts of things I didn’t want to know about all sorts of Granite Fall-ians — people I never met, which is probably a good thing. It’s awkward to know secrets about people before you meet them.
One day, one of the girls said, “Jay’s coming today!” Squeals abounded. When I questioned the excitement, I found out that Jay was “Jay The Bee Man,” and he was coming with a delivery of his special Dr. Pepper Honey.
“You have GOT to get yourself some Dr. Pepper Honey,” my therapist said … in the same tone she used when she said, “You have GOT to do some planks at home this week.” So I didn’t question her. I just signed myself up for some Dr. Pepper Honey.
I like honey as much as the next girl. But nothing prepared me for that first jar of home-brewed, Dr. Pepper Honey. Jay explained to us later that he had bought a bunch of stainless steel drums from a Pepsi distributor, and the barrels had previously held gazillions of gallons of Dr. Pepper. And although he had washed them all with boiling hot, soapy water, that first batch of honey he stored in the barrels had a distinctive Dr. Pepper taste. He was both dismayed and apologetic until his customers started demanding more of “that Dr. Pepper Honey.”
I was curious when he handed me the two jars I’d ordered. I planned on opening one when I got home and sticking a polite teaspoon in its amber depths, and taking one miniscule, ladylike nibble. But that curiosity got the better of me, and I found myself unscrewing the jar while I pulled out of my parking slot in the PT parking lot. One little index-finger dip shouldn’t hurt, I thought.
Yes, that would have been nice. The ONE dip. But when that liquid gold hit my tongue and I tasted that mixture of pure honey and Dr. Pepper essence, I couldn’t contain myself. I went all Pooh Bear on that jar, sticking my paw in to my elbow and grunting my ecstasy all the way home.
I kept that jar to myself, figuring no one else would want its tainted remains.
Sadly, Jay’s Dr. Pepper run eventually ended. I still grieve it, and believe with all my hopeful heart that our first meal in heaven will be a big bowl of Jay The Bee Man’s Dr. Pepper Honey.
Our honey delight led to a meeting with Jay (and I have to say here that while we were introducing ourselves, he pointed to the petrified carcass of a cat he’d nailed to his barn wall and explained that his sister had found it in the attic ten years after it disappeared. Maybe we’ll explore that in another post). The more Jay talked about his beekeeping hobby, the more convinced Dave became that we should become beekeepers ourselves. We bought our first two hives from Jay. And … we were off.
Flash-forward to today. We have five gallons of honey in the pantry and about a hive and a half out in the side pasture. When needed, we buy queens, split hives, corral swarms, and mix up batches of sugar water to tide those little workers over through the winter. And I say “we” in the most royal of terms. It’s all Dave, all the time … though I don my bee suit once in awhile just to remember what it’s all about.
I sure would like to make some sort of point before I show you pictures of our trip to Beez Neez. Maybe it’s this: did you know that all bees are the same until they begin to eat different food? It’s true. Queens become queens because they eat royal jelly for the whole of their larval life. And how does that relate to you and to me? Well, it might be a good idea if we watch closely what we eat. There’s a lot of junk out there.
“Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on His law day and night” (Psalm 1:1-2).
Proper beekeepers wear proper hats.
Good to know.
Liquid gold. Plus, a very nice green car in the background. I wish we had a nice gree … oh, that’s our car.
Introducing … Queen Luccia.
See that little white area? It’s a mixture of marshmallow and sugar. When Luccia first enters the hive (in her box), the bees will think she’s an intruder, and they’ll start attacking that marshmallow/sugar plug in order to get through and kill her. But in the two days it takes for them to eat their way through to her, they’ll get used to her scent and will accept her as their queen. I know, right? Pretty wild. Only God, I tell you. Only God.
All that rusty-reddish stuff, you ask? My knitting. I find it calms the queen.
And I can’t help but show you this picture one more time. I had uploaded a picture of Dave and me in our suits one day, and my friend, Karen Cadle, commented and said that if we added a pitchfork to the mix, we’d have our own version of American Gothic. So this one’s for you, Karen.