Illustration by Tiffy Thompson
By Samantha Bennett
Bryan, my Dad and I walk through The Field of Possibilities, an anarchist collective in the heart of Montreal, en route to our hive. It has been nearly a week since we dropped the new queen, in her cage, into said hive. It takes about three days for her to get out, and then on the first clear, calm day, she flies out to mate with hundreds of eager drones from neighbouring hives.…We congratulate ourselves on the back-up plan in place, namely a queen cell at least partly made by our busy gals, which will house another queen, much needed if first monarch, while happily screwing on the wing, is suddenly gulped down by a bird. We fear this is what happened to our very first queen, as she never returned from the air romp.
Bryan carefully lifts the lid of the hive to find the queen still in her cage. She is able to get out, but for some reason known only to the regal mind, she has not budged. Bryan and I let loose colourful strands of profanity, momentarily forgetting the presence of my very British, 84 year old Father, whose thin lips tighten disapprovingly. Bryan coaxes the reluctant royal from her cage, and she joins her subjects. We notice the queen cell has been abandoned due to the felt presence of this new leader. All our hopes now rest on this furry lady. She needs to get out, mate, and start laying eggs. It is now so late in the season and there are only a hundred or so bees here, and not much comb. We decide that we will let the hive grow through October and then marry it with the adjacent anarchist hive. It will mean killing our queen, but it is the sacrifice of the one to preserve the many.
We return a week later and find the hive abandoned. Bees permanently move out of their hive only under two circumstances: one is called absconding, while the other is referred to as swarming. If environmental conditions become too stressful for the bees they can decide to stop their normal activities and abscond. This means closing up the honey shop and moving to another location, as opposed to swarming, in which the colony divides but the old nest continues to function. Bees may abscond because the food resources in the habitat may be inadequate, or the colony may become unmanageably hot due to extreme weather conditions. In the case of our hive, both of these conditions existed. Absconding happens with far greater frequency with new hives. Our hive was new. Three for three.
We are bereft. We fought so hard to give them a chance, and they in turn struggled so valiantly to meet their challenges. We have found Bees to be compelling and complex, a matriarchy like no other, with wise ways and mysterious rituals, only a portion of which have been properly plumbed.……We will try again next year and this time we will start two hives, so there can be an exchange of brood, comb and queen cells, thereby increasing their chance of survival.
We began this project after reading of the colony collapse happening all over the world and how urban beekeeping is such a great way to give back to an environment groaning under our collective weight. Without bees and their pollinating ways, humans are done for.…… Next Spring we will be better armed with hard-won knowledge and new-found determination. This has been a surprisingly moving experience. I encourage you all to give it a try. They – and you – are so worth it.
Samantha is a writer and comic living in Montreal. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. She cheerfully encourages questions and comments.