Unlike cows, sheep, hogs and horses, honeybees are free to stay - or leave. If you have three or more colonies - about 50,000 worker bees in each - you’re classified as a farmer. You can’t be charged rent when bees feed on the neighbor’s pollen and nectar, and you can’t be blamed when they visit a picnic next door or miles away.
It’s easy to get started in beekeeping, but you must know how to keep bees happy or they might depart unannounced and establish their colony in a hollow tree, an old house or a cave.
Chub read bee magazines, talked with beekeepers and was ready when he ordered two cages containing several pounds of workers and one queen in each cage from a company in Texas. No shipping date was certain because Texas weather determined that.
The bees were Chub’s. He had ordered and assembled ready-cut hives and frames and sheets of printed beeswax; he also got beekeepers’ long gloves, wire-faced veil, hive tools and a smoker.
Chub was excited when a friend from the post office, Barton Mitchell, called him at work and said, "Gerard, come get your bees. They’re flying everywhere, and we’re all going to get stung."
Chub went at once, knowing that the loose bees would go with the wood-and-wire cages as he carried them to his pickup truck. Gradually, I learned to help him, and we all enjoyed the honey.
Many years later a near-tragedy occurred. It was when we lived here on the farm, four years before the telephone company extended the phone lines down Vemer’s Ford Road. On a sultry Sunday afternoon Chub had been working with the bees, and he came in the front door mumbling, "Come help ... I’ve been stung ... awful!" I followed him to our back bedroom.
He stretched out on the bed, and we took off his shirt; he asked for water and wanted me to rub his feet and legs. As I gave him a drink I saw the usual one or two stings but nothing unusual. His speaking was almost impossible to understand. I hurried to get a pan of cool water and some washcloths and told Nancy and Walt to help.
"We’ve got to have a doctor... be ... too ... late," Chub mumbled.
The kids removed his shoes and socks; Nancy bathed one foot and leg, and Walt did the other. He nodded approval. His tongue was so swollen that I knew his condition was serious. I propped him up with pillows and watched red hives come out, spreading from his back to his chest. The wet cloths seemed to ease him, but that swollen tongue filled his mouth and could cut off his oxygen! I talked to him constantly and bathed his face. The kids kept rubbing his feet and legs, stroking upward to improve circulation. It seemed like forever, but slowly he relaxed.
When he could stick out his tongue, we saw the deep tooth marks both on its top and underneath. We felt relief, but it was obvious that he had a close call. Right then I assumed the role of Whip-Poor-Will Hill’s beekeeper.
Before dark I talked with James Baker, a local doctor who had seen this happen a few times with wasps, hornets and other stinging insects. He prescribed packets of pills to keep at home, work and in the car and truck - for the rest of his life. Only one other time was he stung - by a wasp. He took the prescribed pills and experienced no discomfort.