Sunday, October 25, 2015

Berta, the Queen Bee, Me, and the 'Miracle'

As my Hunk and I were driving back up the mountain to our place one day this past summer, I looked over to my left as we passed Barney and Berta’s place. If their front door is open, I, and they, always want Tony to ‘toot’ the horn to let them know we are arriving back home. We neighbors way back here in this hollow are very protective of each other; all are closely knit,  all have weapons and each has the other’s back.

As we went on up the mountain a short stretch, I looked to the right and I squealed, “OH MY GOSH! There stands Berta, right in the middle of her bee hives and she is naked!”

Well, in my shock I said naked but what I meant was Berta had no protective bee gear on. No long pants, shirt, gloves, bee bonnet, NOTHING to keep the bees that were swarming all around her from stinging her to death! And she had a hand stuck down inside the guts of one of those hives!

I immediately grabbed my mobile and called Barney, her sweet other half, and the call went to voice mail but I managed, in my highly agitated state, to leave something like, “Have Berta call me if she’s not dead!” About an hour later my dear friend rang and I grabbed that phone and yelled into the receiver “BERTA! ARE YOU CRAZY?”  

This little gal, in her unassuming and gentle way, asked me what I was so excited about and I told what I had witnessed at her bee hives.

Her simple response, “My bees don't sting me Linda, 'cause I'm not afraid of 'em.”

Now that, to me, was a rather profound statement and I began to ponder on that. I could not help but remember a Bible verse from Genesis that says, God blessed the humans by saying to them, “Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it! Be masters over the fish in the ocean, the birds that fly, and every living thing that crawls on the earth!”

I supposed my dear friend had taken that verse literally and had become the master of her bees!

Berta went on to tell me she had walked up to check on her bees and she noted there was a problem. When I asked her what she meant she said there was a decrease in the activity of the bees coming and going from one hive. She said she took the lid off and took out a sash-the vertical wooden structure where the bees store the honey in the honeycomb- and noticed the queen was not laying eggs to produce new bees.

“I checked her and saw she had a problem with one of her legs. I knew it and the bees knew it. An injured queen is a bad thing for any hive. Some bees had already left the hive but others had started trying to hatch a new queen but they were spittin’ in the wind ‘cause that can’t be done. What I needed to do was go buy a new queen.”

I was in too deep to pull out at this juncture. “Berta! Where in the heck do you buy a new queen? I mean, this is not a pet store item, I’m sure. Or is it?
Laughing at my ignorance, Berta continued. “Nope, it's not. I had to go to a fella bee keeper on Beech Mountain, NC and I brought a new queen back. And that started the long, slow process of introducin’ her.”  
Now, I realized this was not going to be like a formal ‘coming out’ party for The Queen of England…but, by golly, I was not far off the mark!

The new lady was carefully carried back to our mountain in a 3 in. long by 1 ½ in. wide wooden box with mesh on the top. Two holes were drilled in each end with a tiny cork stuffed in each hole. The old queen was removed and this box was carefully laid in the hive and the tiny corks removed. Right inside the opening of the uncorked holes was a thick layer of candy-type substance.


Berta continued to enthrall me with her fascinating bee knowledge.
She told me 'her highness' stayed in that box and the bees slowly become accustomed to her sight, smell and sound; the bees get to know her this way. To get to her and her to them, they have to eat their way through the ‘candy’. By the time three to four days have passed, the drilled holes are freed-up from the goop and the lady of the house is able to crawl out to join her new family. Then life is again good in the hood.

I remembered those wonderful pearls of wisdom I’d learned from Berta when my phone rang a couple weeks ago and she told me she was going to visit her hives. This time every year, she informed me, she had to run a fall check to make sure her bees were on track in their preparations for winter. My buddy wanted to know if I wanted to come watch. Was she kidding! Not only yes, but heck yes!

It was a stunning fall afternoon, warm with a light breeze playing with the brilliantly colored leaf canopy in each tree. Berta and I were to meet at her hives in thirty minutes.

When I arrived, I noted that Barney had come too. He and Berta had driven up in their Mule and she was already down by the hives with Barney standing back a good distance. He said there was no way he would get anywhere near her bees; he always stood back “a far piece”.

I walked up and stood beside Barney with my I-Pad in hand and asked if I could video the production for my posterity. Sure. Then it was a matter of the right angle and proper lighting.

Then it happened.

“Berta, I want to come down there and stand beside you. May I?” Now keep in mind…once again my friend did not have on any protective gear. Neither did I.

“Are you sure you want to?”

“Yes, Berta. I am not afraid of the bees. Really, I’m not.”

“I believe you Linda. Come on down here.”

And I did.

I will let the video tell the rest of the story but you need to be reassured that I, nor Berta, received a sting. J



  1. Wow. Interesting. I would have been too afraid.

  2. Wow. Interesting. I would have been too afraid.

  3. Brandy, the key to bees is to not be afraid. Truly. :-)