The Birds and the Bees

As none of you may know, my neighbor is a very kind and gentle elderly woman who loves gardening, nature, and birds. She has multiple bird baths and houses set up on her property. A regular ornithologist, she just likes watching them. As far as I know she has never owned a bird. After all, birds belong outside; not in cages.

When I was young, we had an indoor/outdoor cat who used to terrorize my neighbor’s birds. She would sit on top of the bird houses and wait for the birds to come out, then she would snatch them up and, well, you know. Now, I understand the push away from allowing cats outdoors. They really do tear apart ecosystems and contribute to the extinction of bird species. However, I’m going to go ahead and blame my parents on this one because I was an actual literal child when this was happening.

Anyway, fast forward a few years and my beloved little calico passes away in her sleep while I’m away at college (a story for another time, trust me). I’m obviously devastated, but hey, my neighbor’s birds are safe at last. We have another cat who also hangs out outdoors, but she’s not nearly as vicious as the calico. She mostly spends her time sunbathing on the swing on the porch.

Fast forward again, and I’m out of college, moved back in with my parents, and my mom asks me, “Hey, Joelle. Would you ever want to raise bees?” Okay, so here’s the thing. In my youth, bees were excessively my entire worst nightmare. I had this really weird paranoia that bees were going to crawl into my ears and all I would be able to hear is the buzzing while my little eardrums were being pulverized by stingers. Think about it, okay, that would hurt like crazy. That would be so traumatizing. So traumatizing, in fact, that I created this crazy situation in my head where it was absolutely going to happen to me, the end, full stop.

But I’m twentysomething. I’m in therapy and on new meds and life is going swell, so I tell my mom, “Sure. Let’s get some bees.” My first time installing a honeybee nuc, I’m trembling, dressed head to toe in protective gear, nearly in tears. The next year; not so bad. I have my jacket with my hood, and I just wear jeans and sneakers. To all you beekeepers out there: Yes, I wear gloves. I know it’s not ideal, but heyo, turns out I’m actually allergic to bees, so it’s Very Important that I don’t get stung.

The whole beekeeping thing has been quite a journey. My first year, the hive swarmed and absconded due to a wax moth infestation. My second year, I install a new nuc, no problem, and the hive did a lot better! We harvested sixty pounds of honey from them with plenty left for them as well… but they didn’t survive the winter. So now I’m on my third year of beekeeping. Instead of buying bees, a friend and fellow beekeeper gifts me four frames of bees. It’s not much, but it’s enough to get them started. I buy a queen and get her settled in, and, well, they’re doing great. They’ve developed into a fully fledged hive with thousands upon thousands of happy little bees. They’re docile and productive, and the queen is just mwah, so good, such a good little egg-layer.

Remember my neighbor? With all the bird baths? Who hasn’t been able to enjoy her birds for years because of the cat? With the calico gone, the birds returned. My neighbor got to enjoy watching her birds again. Until this year, when my hive decided that her bird baths were the perfect location to stop for a drink while out foraging. Now, you might not expect a few bees to deter birds from bathing in their shallow little stone pools. However, when there’s a few dozen bees all along the rim of the pool, the birds get a little more hesitant.

My neighbor calls us the other day. “Do you happen to have a beehive?” Why, yes. Yes we do. “There are dozens of bees in my bird bath, and they’re always flying back toward your house.” Shit.

We have bird baths around our hive for the bees. There’s just something about the neighbor’s that they prefer. I can’t do anything to stop them. I’m just hoping that I’ll get to harvest from them this year, so I can give some honey to my neighbor. It’s the least I can do for destroying her hobby for all these years.

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