Solid Bees


Gary loved to visit Grandpa and Grandma McGregor on their farm near Cardston, Canada. It had been nearly four years since the family had made the long trip there from their home in Quebec. But at last they had reached the farm, and Dad stopped the car by the back gate.

Everything was quiet as they opened the doors. Suddenly Mother whispered, “Sh-h! Don’t move—listen!”

Gary and Dad listened carefully. “What’s the matter, Mom?” Gary asked. “I don’t hear anything.”

“It’s a swarm of bees” Mother answered, “and it’s close by.” She looked around and then pointed toward the lilac bush by the door. “There it is. Look, Gary!”

Gary could hardly believe what he saw. There were bees flying around the lilac bush—more bees than he had ever seen before.

“What are they doing?” Gary almost shouted. “There are thousands of them. Where did they come from?”

“They’re swarming, Gary. Every spring some of the bees leave a hive with a queen,” Mother explained. “We mustn’t get too close to them or they’ll chase and sting us, but I want to show you something special. Do you see that large brownish clump on the underside of the limb?”

Gary looked at the lilac bush. “You mean that big thing hanging down? The bees are flying around it.”

“That’s the swarm of bees. The queen is inside the swarm,” Mother answered.

“You mean that big clump is solid bees?” Gary asked.

“Yes,” Mother replied, “and I haven’t seen one for years.” Then she smiled as she reminisced. “One time a swarm landed on the bottom of Grandpa’s tractor seat, and he couldn’t go to work until he’d put them in a hive. They were hanging almost to the ground. Another time they were so high in the quaking aspen that Grandpa couldn’t get to them. A bad wind came up and the bees blew about so much that part of the swarm broke off and fell to the ground.”

“Can Grandpa get all of these bees out of the lilac tree?” Gary asked. “Where is he, anyway?”

Just then they saw Grandpa coming from the field. Gary ran to meet him. “Oh, Grandpa,” he said, “I just love being back on the farm, even with the bees.”

Grandpa McGregor laughed. “Well, we’ll take care of the bees later, when they’ve settled down a bit. I’ll show you how to handle them so no one will be stung.”

Gary watched the bees from the back porch. He was fascinated by the funnel shape clinging to the branch. Only a bee or two hadn’t settled down with the others. Gary wondered how they could hang on like that and why they didn’t break off and fall to the ground.

When Grandmother called Gary to eat, he was afraid the bees might disappear while he was in the house. Grandpa assured him they would still be in the lilac bush. “Sometimes they’ll stay like that for a day or two. Then if someone doesn’t put them in a hive of their own, they’ll leave.”

“Where would they go?” Gary asked.

“Sometimes they find an old hollow tree and make their home inside it,” Grandpa explained.

“Will you give the bees a hive of their own so they won’t fly away?” Gary wondered.

Grandpa smiled. “After dessert I’ll show you what we’ll do.”

When everyone had finished with supper, Grandpa pushed back his chair and said, “I’d better put on my bee clothes. That’s a large swarm, and I don’t want to lose any bees. They make a lot of honey for us.”

Gary saw Grandpa open the cupboard on the back porch and take out some strange-looking clothes. He watched Grandpa put on the clothes. Grandma tied his gloves at the wrists. “So the bees can’t crawl up his arms,” she explained. Grandma also tied his pants tightly at the ankles over some high boots. But when Grandpa put a big covering over his head, Gary could hardly believe what he saw! A net covered Grandpa’s hat and was tied tightly around his neck. It made him look like a man from outer space.

Grandpa made a little fire in an odd-shaped can. He put some oily rags in the can, touched a lighted match to the rags, and put the lid on. When Grandpa squeezed the handle, smoke came out of the spout on the can.

“What’s that for, Grandpa?” Gary cried.

“Bees don’t like smoke, Gary. If some get angry while I’m working, the smoke will keep them from stinging me.”

Then Grandpa went out to the shed and carried out an empty beehive. Gary watched from the back porch as Grandpa set the beehive directly under the big clump of bees. He removed the lid from the hive, and with a quick movement he shook the limb of the lilac bush. The large cluster of bees fell into the hive. Some of the bees were angry at being disturbed. They began buzzing around Grandpa’s head, but he aimed the smoking can at the bees and puffed some smoke at them. A few bees flew away, but some of them still buzzed around.

When the bees were in the hive, Grandpa put the lid on and carried the beehive out behind the bunkhouse with the others. “That’s one place I’ve never explored,” Gary said to himself.

“I’d like to go out there when the bees are asleep and take a look.”

The next morning after breakfast Gary headed straight for the bunkhouse. Gary looked at the first hive. He thought it was the one Grandpa had put out last night, but then all the beehives looked alike.

Quickly Gary lifted the lid to take a little peek. As if they were waiting for him, the bees swarmed up into the sunlight! Gary turned and ran for the house, but it was too late. The bees were after him. One flew down his shirt. Others flew around his head and hands.

When they heard Gary’s cries, Grandma and Mother came running. They helped chase the bees away, and Grandma put mud on the bee stings. Gary’s face was so swollen, he didn’t look like himself. And his arms and hands were swollen too.

“You know, Grandma,” Gary admitted, “I didn’t want to steal their honey, but I guess the bees didn’t know that. Next time I’ll go with Grandpa and wear bee clothes.”

Then Gary was quiet. He was thinking about the report he’d have for school next fall after learning all about bees. He thought he might leave the bee stings out of the report—but he’d have all summer to decide about that!

[illustrations] Illustrated by Dick Brown