Beekeeping and Books

Another chance to get “Sweet Danger” free! 

Even though my mystery novella is only 99¢, there is something about “free” that has a nice ring to it. As a Christmas present to my readers and potential readers, I want to give out free downloads of my story on December 25. Just go to Amazon and get the Kindle version for free that day. Even if you don’t have a Kindle device, it’s easy to get the Kindle app for computer or mobile device and read it there.

“Sweet Danger” is about a 17-year old beekeeper, Jessica “Jesse” McConnell who discovers, on one fine day,  a horrible murder in her beeyard. Yes, you guessed it, stung to death by bees! It isn’t a horror tale of “killer bees,” but I just couldn’t help using what was there for the killing! A lot of interesting information on honeybees is woven into the story.

As I say in the author-info section, I grew up in a beekeeping family. We were “Roberts Honey Company,” and also “Roberts Apiaries.” You might have heard of an “aviary” as a place where birds are kept. An apiary is a location where bees are kept. Apis mellifera is the latin name for the European honeybee, so that is where the word “apiary” comes from. When we were younger, we worked in the honey-extracting house. We also helped paint, repair, and move equipment around. Soon we were also accompanying Dad and Mom out to the locations and working with the beehives. 

There were things to do out in the beeyards all year long. During the couple months of winter, we mostly left them alone except for feeding them sugar syrup. But come the first of February, they had to be strong and ready to go into the almond groves for pollination contracts. Unlike Jesse McConnell, I didn’t take ownership of the operation; I was a more passive participant. But even though I didn’t take responsibility of managing what came next, or what was needed, I was highly interested in all the parts of the work. 

One of the jobs that came up in the spring was re-queening. Perhaps you already know that baby chicks can be ordered and delivered through the US Postal Service. But maybe you didn’t know that queen bees are also delivered that way. Each queen bee comes in a little wooden box with a screen across the top and a hole in the side, plugged with candy and a cork. She may have 3 or 4 worker bees inside with her. The queen boxes are all bundled together in flat crate. When the queens arrive at the Post Office, one of us would drive down there and pick them up. They would have to be kept at a good temperature and watered periodically, with a cotton ball swiped across the screens.

Image-Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

When a resident queen gets old, her egg-laying pattern becomes haphazard, and the hive bees start the process of replacing her. But the beekeeper wants to be in charge of that, perhaps introducing a better genetic line, and definitely not waiting until the hive begins to suffer from an aging queen. When we went out to a location to re-queen, we took the crate of queens, covered them with a damp cloth to keep them cool and reduce the scent (bees are drawn to the smell of a queen), pulled the cork off the candy plug, and then shoved the queen box in between two frames of honeycomb. The workers of the hive would then sting her attendants to death (since they were strangers) and chew through the candy to release the queen. By the time she was freed, they would be used to her and help her get started in her duties. 

Image-McFarlines Apiaries

But the very important step in the process was locating the old, previous queen in the hive and killing her. If we didn’t do that, then she would smell the interloper, run over, and kill her in her little box. To find her involved pulling frames of bees out and scanning each side. My veiled face would be inches from the bee-covered frames, staring, scanning, looking, flipping the frame and seeking again. Frame after frame. And then another round, if I had missed her. When I went to bed at night and shut my eyes, all I could see was a solid layer of crawling bees. That was a very persistent image!