End of April 2020. We were home, of course, and continuing to set up the garden of the home we’d moved into in February. For over a year in our previous garden, we had “baited” a hive box with lemongrass essential oil, hoping to catch a swarm. Waiting and wishing. In this new garden, we had more space. We were near more wildlife, more trees, more trails to roam. The chances of a hive indeed came with high hopes.
In that end-of-April week, we put out a small nuc box; a smaller, cozier version of a full beehive that appeals to a swarm. The garden was coming alive with fruits, flowering trees and bushes and new veg we had just planted in the freshly positioned raised beds. The world had slowed down due to the pandemic and the local neighborhood hives took their queue to emerge in the bright stillness. We heard buzzing down the street, in the Canyon and alas, in our front yard. We never saw them move in, but they did. A feral, wild Hive. On May 2 we opened the box to reveal a small softball-size network of workers, foragers, drones and a Queen, working diligently to build their new comb home.
I may not be able to put it into words, but there was a new energy present in the garden almost immediately. It was a presence I hadn’t felt before. Magical, unique, complete. The Hive felt central and governing, ready to speak and for us to listen. We named her Hestia, after the Greek Goddess of the Hearth. She is central to function and the place for us to gather around and honor Unity; to tend the warming fire.
As Hestia grew we moved her steps away into a deep and wider hive box with a shiny copper roof. It beamed, and after she adjusted to the new positioning, so did the Hive. We dove deep into studies of how to respectfully care for this organism. It was to be all about what was best for Her; to foster a thriving Hive. We read Gunther Hauk’s book “Toward Saving the Honeybee” and attended online seminars with Gunther and Alex Tuchman of Spikenard Honeybee Sanctuary. I steeped myself into the poetic and mystical beekeeping perspective of Jacqueline Freeman and her book “Song of Increase.” With her guidance, I learned to listen and begin to connect deeper on an energetic level. Every book or documentary we could find about bee care, with the least amount of control or unnatural substances, was in our hands and on our radar. Even our children watched, listened and read.
Come mid-summer we began to smell the Hive. Crouching down at the entrance, there was an aroma that came and went as the bees wafted the scent inside and the wind changed in the garden. It was the smell of fermenting bee bread and honey; rich and buttery and bursting with depth and life. That was our queue that all was well inside. We looked in only every couple of weeks to find the same; wide comb, many bustling bees and room to grow. We were aware of the threats to a young and small hive, such as ants, mites and beetles, but no signs were pointing this way. With the help of leaving them to their own devices, and the occasional Bee Tea stirred with local honey and tipped upside down on top, they were healthy and well-fed. They were in rhythm and finding their way.
The same continued on through early Autumn. There was a week when we found hundreds dead around the Hive. Startled at first and thinking it must have been neighborhood pesticide exposure; we held our breaths. We watched and waited and checked in after a few days. Same bustling Hive. Same buttery smell. It was a turn of the wheel, a sacrificial cleansing to die off and build anew. Nature always finds her way. A few hive beetles were newly present, yet imprisoned in corners or shunned to the exterior. The Hive had control.
We are now in the Winter months and the Hive continues. Hestia has her days when she lays low and winters to recharge. Rain gives her an excuse to rest and breathe. But for the most part, she carries on gathering, making, birthing and Being. Her boxes are warm and full and she is content with her coziness. Soon she may decide to split, re-Queen and swarm. New bees will be left to carry on the lineage. The old Queen and her trusted daughters will move on. They may decide to stay in the garden, occupying a new box in a new corner, or they may venture out. We must allow with an open invitation and open mind. Honey could be on the horizon after the split and we’ll be glad to receive. However, it’s up to her to decide and the decision will be respected. That is the true way beekeeping. Our relationship with nature should always just Be.