Some beekeepers keep stacks of active beehives on long flatbed trailers and move them from one farm’s honey flow to the next. They rent the bees to farmers to pollinate orchards, gardens and other blooming plants. That’s the most important thing bees do, and moving from one honey flow to another changes the bees’ feeding grounds enough that they don’t accumulate much extra honey to be harvested. Some must be fed. Moving bees was, however, a new experience for Chub and me.
Chub started a couple of colonies when we lived near town; after we moved to the farm, we bought a small apiary - 19 active colonies and lots of equipment - from the widow of a beekeeper near Pittsfield, Ill. We visited with the woman, paid the bill and loaded everything except the active hives onto the pickup before dusk that beautiful spring evening.
We watched thousands of field bees come back to their hives before dark; they poured onto the hives’ front porches, landing and waddling in with loaded pollen baskets on their two hind legs and disappearing into the hives. At dark, the latecomers were still arriving, locating the correct white hive by the smell of home. It was 10 p.m. before Chub puffed a little smoke into each hive to calm the bees and then put a long, square stopper into each of the hives’ entry slots. The stoppers kept the bees safely inside but left the latest latecomers outside. Each stick had a small escape hole when rotated a quarter-turn; that would be used in a day or two to alert the guards and field bees to take new bearings; they’d be searching for unfamiliar new feeding places. Several days later, the bees would learn to return to the correct hives and he’d remove the sticks altogether.
Chub had prepared 19 places to set these colonies. He used concrete blocks for some but mostly cast-off auto tires, leveled and spaced far enough apart for him to work around each hive without disturbing the neighboring ones. I kept watching the time and knew it would be long after midnight before we’d arrive home 100 miles away. The woman’s neighbor helped Chub load the hives into the truck and secure them in place. He and Chub wore hats with veils, coveralls tied at the ankles and long beekeepers’ gloves. Using bee smokers, they puffed a little smoke into each hive to calm the 40,000 or more bees inside each box. Thousands of bees were flying around the hives in the truck. We removed several bees from the cab and headed for Whip-Poor-Will Hill. I wondered what would happen to the ones that didn’t make it home in time to go.
At 2 a.m., we stopped at Bowling Green junction for our first meal in many hours; Chub checked to see that the bees were OK before we went into the restaurant. Just as our food was brought to the table, a man came in and excitedly called out, "Whoever owns that pickup truck had better get out there quick. All of his honeybees are getting away." Chub hurried out, and I watched from indoors, expecting the worst.
No problem! The latecomers had followed us to Bowling Green on the wing! They knew the "fragrance" of home, each to her own, and were making the long, fast trip to Missouri with the others. Beginning the next day, our new bees adjusted well to the new environment and found new feeding grounds.