Monday, March 12, 2007
Nick and I went to Oakland Sol's Second Sunday work party. Julia was there, tending her bees. At lunch, Nick went on at some length about bees, including a monologue about royal jelly. "It's really hard to harvest," Julia said. "My instructor told me it wasn't easy, and it's hard on the bees." Royal jelly is a nutrient dense substance feed to bee larva to make them into queen bees. In the picture you can see two queen bee cells. A queen will mate with as many as 20 male drone bees on her nuptial flight. The drones fall down dead, but she'll establish a colony that will last for years and she'll have thousands and thousands of daughters.
Royal jelly must be pretty amazing stuff!
A passerby told me he'd seen a swarm in a tree just up the street. I went to see. It was right at eye level. I ran back to tell Julia.
"Wow," she said. "Today is your lucky day!" We got a box. "Do you want to hold, or shake?" I figured holding the box was somewhat safer for us both, since I had no idea how hard to shake the tree to both knock the queen and the swarm into the box.
"Hold the box a little lower..." SHAKE! thump! I was surprised at the weight of the bees. They've got wings, right? We left a small opening for bees to climb through as we taped up the box. We left it there on the street; the bees that didn't fall in would make their way in, as they sought out their queen.
Then I decided to help Julia split her hive. Her transport box was a different size than the hive box; she had to cut comb in order to make it fit. The hive had something like 10 queen cells. At one point, we had to choose to cut off a queen cell.
At the top of the cell, a small cache of royal jelly.
We looked at each other.
I scooped it out with the top of my pinky fingernail. We looked at the creamy substance, covering half my nail. Julia's eyes were shining as she said, "Should we taste it?"
She had some, Nick had some, and I had some. A mere drop; half a drop, even.
Even as my tongue registered the tangy, sweet/spicy taste, a jolt of energy shot down my entire body, bounced off my pelvis and ricocheted back through the top of my head. All the colors shifted to maximum. Nick jumped up and run off, with the lower half of the queen cell. Julia and I locked eyes, just savoring the stretched time.
More earthy than a peak experience, less disorienting than a drug high, and somehow (for me) satisfying in itself, very energizing and perhaps with a splash of aphrodisiac quality, I knew I had been part of a rare and special event. As though I hit a home run at my first at-bat in the majors.
I collected the swarm in the box later, and took it home. I'll be making a hive box today to move them in. I called Julia. "Is it possible that we caught your hive's queen? Did she swarm before we divided the hive?"
"That makes sense," she said. "Since I never did find her. And the hive had so many queen cells and drones. She was clearly wanting to provide well for her daughters she was leaving behind."
"Do you want her back?"
"No, I think she's yours now. I think it's all part of the natural order. I'm just really glad we found her, and that she'll be going to a good home."
Yes, Julia, I will definitely do my best for your queen. She's a prodigiously abundant creature!