Stealthy Sting: The Movement of the Bees

It was time. The day had come to move the two bee hives from our place in Christchurch to our place in Wainui.

We’d been talking about this for a few months, but had been putting it off for it was going to be a bit of a tricky endeavor to move two hives built from four boxes of bees, each box weighing 30-70 lbs. In commercial bee-keeping, the beekeeper uses a flatbed truck to transport the hives, and has special bee boxes that can be closed when the bees are all in at night. The boxes can be kept together, without breaking open the hives, and they get driven from site to site. Bruce had to build special travelling bottoms for the bee hives which would mostly keep them in the hive and still allow air to get in. We only have our van, and we couldn’t lift the three-box hive all at once, so it was going to have to be taken apart and reassembled twice and Bruce would have to be in the van with the bees. I did not volunteer to join him.

The bees need to be moved during their quiet time – usually at dusk or later or in the early dawn. Not being a morning person, Bruce chose the former.

I was the lead scout on this mission, heading out to Wainui in the late afternoon so I could get some mowing done in the area Bruce had chosen for the bees. The grass was well over a foot long in most places, but it was relatively easy to mow. I cleared the path and space in under two hours. And then I waited.

I talked to Bruce around 9 pm as the last bit of daylight subsided. “I’m not ready yet. I’m still distilling (kiwiburn project). Not sure when I’m coming out,” he said. By midnight when he still hadn’t arrived and I could no longer keep my eyes open, I retired, worryingly, to bed.

Tossing and turning, I awoke many times, carefully listening for signs of Bruce. Finally I heard some clanging around in the kitchen. It was 4:30 am and he’d just arrived. “I need to keep going and move them now rather than go to sleep and get up in two hours at dawn.” I was too tired to assist in the darkness, so I puttered, worryingly again, back to bed.

During the next few hours, in my half-dazed sleep, I had many surreal dreams about the bees and I could hear a lot of puttering in the house. At 7:30 am, I got up as Bruce was making his way to sleep. He pulled an all-nighter. He moved the bees into position and lived to tell the tale with only two stings. He said they were not amused and had been agitated, but he was able to put each of the four boxes holding hundreds or thousands of bees, one by one, into the wheelbarrow and wheel them down the hill and over to their new site in total darkness. It was only during the movement of the last box, as the light of dawn lit the sky, that a bee had gotten into his headpiece and stung him right at the base of his throat – ouch! The other was on his wrist. Not pleasant, but not too bad for moving several thousand bees.

And now the bees are in their new home. Lucky them. They have an awesome view and an abundance of pollen right at their doorstep.

Wainui BeesBee View

Mission Stealthy Sting complete. Over and out.

Bruce says:

Kathy had very kindly given me the option of moving just one of the hives — the smaller one, and leaving the large one, which was in a corner of our property, in place during the sale of the house. Since I started bee-keeping, I’ve seen that people really freak out about bees, so it didn’t seem like a good idea to leave a hive at a house we were trying to sell. And moving the bees was such a specialized operation that I wanted to do it all at once.

I didn’t leave Christchurch until 2:30 AM, between taking apart the hives, finishing the distilling, unpacking the van from a timber run for the Merkaba earlier in the day, repacking the van with everything else I could squeeze in as we try to de-clutter our house for the sale, and then getting gas. I only saw one other car for a few blocks in Christchurch during the whole trip. Friend Ali asked if I was worried about falling asleep while driving. Taking apart the hives, wheeling the boxes one at a time into the van, getting stung the first time, putting them back together, and then driving the bees was such a hair-raising experience that there wasn’t much danger of falling asleep.
And Kathy pointed out that even a minor accident with the van would have broken apart the hives and filled the van with thousands of very angry bees. It probably would have been fatal.

Once I got to the property, despite Kathy’s crucial mowing job, I still had to clear the remnants of a thorny rose bush prunings pile from the bee site, and then get a spade (shovel) and level out the site. In my adrenaline-fueled-bee-moving-madness, and my leather-gloved beekeepers outfit, this was surprisingly easy.

It was the first dawn I have seen at the new property, and it was beautiful, with pink tinged hillsides and bird calls and acrobatics. Given my sleeping habits, I don’t usually catch dawns from the morning side, so it was a really lovely end to a long tense day.

Wainui Dawn