After we had unloaded all the hives from the old Soviet truck it was time to walk back home to have breakfast with our wives. Everyone was interested in knowing what my impressions were. My wife was kept very busy translating both ways as I recounted my experiences. In a few short hours that morning I was privileged to be a part of a roundup that very few Ukrainians have experienced, let alone foreigners. The final adventure would have to wait until noon the next day in order for the bees to have time to rest and adjust.
The morning of the Great Honey Harvest was filled with great expectations and bright sunny skies. It reminded me when I was a boy waiting for Christmas morning to arrive. Today was just as special because I was being allowed to be a part of the honey harvest!
My friend showed me step by step what he wanted me to do. I only understood bits and pieces what he was saying, nonetheless it was enough because I was aware of the danger. I knew that the bees were not going to give up their honey without a struggle.
I was given protective clothing to cover my head, neck, arms and hands. My moment in time had arrived to see if I would pass the final initiation of becoming an official Ukrainian Bee Cowboy.
The first hive was opened and the first frame of honey was removed. It was my job to take it to the two men in a protective room to be processed a short distance away. A blanket was hung in the doorway that allowed me to hand the honey frames to them and received the processed ones back to be returned to the hive.
I watched as the honeycombs were scrapped to expose the honey and then placed into the extractor with a handle. I was given the honor of turning the crank for the first 6 panels to allow me to experience the process for myself.
One by one the frames of honey were removed and I continue to deliver them to a waiting pair of hands behind the blanket and an empty frame was handed back to be returned to the hive.
As we continued the bees begin to resent what was happening in spite of the beekeepers repeated use of smoke to calm them down. After we finished removing the honey from the first hive we put the lid back on and moved on the second hive. In the meantime the colony of bees in the first hive sent out scouts to find their missing honey. They didn’t go far from their hive at first. All continued to go well without any problems. It wasn’t until we were half way through raiding the third hive that the war began. I was now the target of their anger. My friend had his smoke canister to protect him.
I had the evidence on my gloves and it was becoming more difficult every time I took a new panel to be processed. My protective gear was being tested and the bees were not to be deterred. They swarmed around my face trying to get at me under the netting. My protective gloves were covered with bees. I stood calmly without moving for a time as the buzzing of the bees grew louder and louder. It was amazing how I could stand there so calmly and not be frightened. I hadn’t ever experienced the likes of this before.
My friend seeing what was happening motioned with his hands for me to leave the area. He was concerned about my safety and didn’t want me to get stung. He too was under attack, but he had gone through this many times before.
As I left the area I was moving my hands wildly to keep them from following. Many turned back to the hive. However, there were a few that weren’t through with me and followed me everywhere I went. They were very persistent and wanted the honey I stole on my gloves.
I remained outside far from the action for some time before returning. I was replaced by one of the men behind the blanket. When I returned a few bees were still following me and I was met by more angry bees that were still defending their homeland. After the third hive was finally harvested it was decided to stop for the day and let the bees settle down. Today the bees stalled the inevitable, but tomorrow would be another day for the real bee wranglers without their foreign understudy.
As we drove out of the little city with jars of honey from my adventure we left with memories of Olena’s parents who took us in and made us feel like family. To the other Bee Cowboys I have nothing but respect for them. They allowed me the opportunity to share the magic of being a beekeeper and they accepted a complete stranger, an American traveler to come along for the ride!
Yes, I did leave with a few battle scars. A couple of bees did pierce my protective armor and left their mark on my neck just below my right ear.