The Cottage Smallholder

stumbling self sufficiency in a small space

Driving with bees

photo of a nucleus beehive used for transporting bees

A nucleus beehive

One of my earliest activities as a novice beekeper was also my scariest few hours.
I had been helping out on the Cambridge Bee Keeping Association stall at a country fair. One of my co-helpers suggested that I might like to collect a free new colony from his apiary after the fair.
“That’s if you are ready. With all your frames built?”

I was both thrilled and terrified. I had completed the long CBKA course, built my hive and bought my bee suit. All I needed were the bees. If I took these I would be one of the first in my class to get my own bees and they would have all summer to build into a strong colony. On the other hand, one of the reasons I had decided to take up beekeeping was to try to overcome my fear of flying insects. Now was the time to bite the bullet. I tried to look calm and confident.
“Yes I’m ready to go. The only thing is that I’m dropping by to have tea with my mum. Will the bees be alright in the car?”
“They will be fine.”

So later that afternoon we drove in convoy to the old orchard where the beekeeper kept his hives. We walked through the long wet grass to a big semi circle of hives. On the top of one hive was a Nucleus hive (Nuc). These are small five frame hives that are used to create new colonies of bees.

He carefully put a piece of foam to block up the entrance hole and we tramped back to the cars. As he put the Nuc into my car a waft of bees escaped from the lid.
“I wonder where they came from.” He mused. He gave me his card. “Let the bees settle for a few days and then transfer them to your hive. Return the Nuc to the Bee hut. Ring me if you have any problems.”

I stopped for a brief cup of tea at my mum’s house. When I opened her front door to leave I noticed a movement in the car. There were bees on the inside of the windows.
“You can’t drive home in a car full of bees. If one stings you all the others will and then you could die.”
On the course I had learnt that bees can smell fear. And this makes them more likely to sting. I thought it best not to mention this to my mother.

I reached for the beekeeper’s number. He was very laid back.
“Zip up your rain jacket and put up the hood. It’s unlikely that they will sting you. If it all gets too much open the car windows and they will be swept out. ”

Not wanting to take a chance I opened the car windows and the bees flew out. Then I battened down the hatches and we inched our way through the heavy Cambridge traffic. By the time we reached the motorway and were gliding swiftly home more bees had escaped from the Nuc. They were exploring the foot well and batting against the windscreen. Bees like to crawl upwards. Would they climb inside my jeans and up my legs? When I noticed that a posse of bees were crawling up my arms I’d had enough. Thank goodness for electric windows. The car was cleared of bees in seconds.

Eventually I got home. Danny was waiting in the drive with my beesuit and gloves. I stepped out of the car in a waft of bees, wobbly with tears of relief. Miraculously I hadn’t been stung and still had some bees. Later that day I discovered there was a hole in the cover board under the roof and I vowed never to collect bees again without wearing a beesuit, boots and gloves.

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  1. I am a novice beekeeper, I’ve been doing the long course with HRBKA, and I have come to the end of the practicle section of the course. The weather was fine this evening so I finally got to move my bees in the car tonight, we were a nervous pair driving about 8 miles to locate my beautiful Italian looking bees to their new home. It was a quiet trip with us both listening out for buzzing – a stray managed to escape and buzz for some time dive bombing us in the front – I then remenbered your tip – car windows were opened and she disappeared – thanks for a great blog you saved a nervous pair from a painful trip.

  2. Fiona Nevile

    Hello Pickle

    Wow I bet your mum was scared stiff! My bee mentor says that escaping bees happen all the time. The last time that we collected bees we went together, wearing suits and not one bee escaped!

  3. My parents kept bees when we were young, and we had a similar experience driving back from picking up some bees in their VW camper van (this was the 70’s, most definitely no electric windows)
    Didn’t seem to worry us much as kids, but I bet my mum was scared stiff that one of us would get stung.
    Having bees at the bottom of the garden was great, we even had a school trip once to see them. Of course we got stung occasionally, but probably no more than most kids, and it was more than made up for by being able to chew on the combs after the honey had been extracted.

  4. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Paula

    It took me quite some time to feel comfortable handling my bees. When you take out the frames most of the bees continue working and fascination overtakes fear!

    Hi Wendy

    It was more a question of not having the courage to take them back to the beekeeper 🙂

    Hi Pamela

    They sense your fear. If you hold your breath they generally back off.

    Hi Belinda

    I didn’t think that I was brave at the time! I hated the bees in the car!

    I’m feeling very chirpy today but recovery is going to be a very slow road.

    Hi Magic Cochin

    The CBKA course is really good. I think that you’d enjoy it. But keeping bees is quite a commitment time wise.

    I do hope that your bees survive the winter. Ours are fine at the moment.

    Hi Tamar

    I think that you will really enjoy beekeeping. Danny didn’t do the course but he is on duty as beekeeping assistant. The supers can get very heavy.

    Last winter mice nested in our bee suits and D was amazed when he saw me patching them – in no way was I going to tend my bees in a bee suit full of holes!

  5. Someone should start issuing self-sufficiency merit badges, like the Boy Scouts do. Driving home in a car full of bees would definitely earn you the Apiary Badge. My heart rate went up just reading about it — and I don’t have a particular fear of flying insects to get over.

    Like Paula, we’re planning on getting our first hive in the spring, in preparation for which my husband and I are going to Bee School (put on by our local beekeeping association) over the winter.

    After hearing your story, I think I’ll opt for mail-order bees.

  6. magic cochin

    Oh good grief! It’s like a chapter from a horror novel!

    I put my name down to do the CBKA course in the New Year, but in the end I gave up my place to someone else (they are massively oversubscribed this year). After reading the intro letter I thought I might be taking on too much – so decided to set aside beekeeping for another day. And if Cliff reads this post he’ll be very glad about my decision!!!

    We have a colony of honey bees in residence in a disused chimney above the kitchen – they’ve been very busy all summer – I wonder if they will survive the winter? It’s good that they think our home and garden is a nice bee-friendly place to live.

    Hope your bees are happy and healthy.

  7. Hi Fi, You are amazing!!!

    I have no fear of insects (except spiders) but the thought of getting into a car with bees freaks me out. I (Like Wendy) was reading with bated breath, hands to my mouth t hold in the scream. (LOL)

    Goodness me but you are brave.

    Hope you are feeling well today,

  8. I couldn’t even have got into the car with bees flying round, never mind drive with more appearing by the minute. I am totally incapable of remaining calm faced with stinging flying insects. I always used to have to deal with wasps in the classroom instantly – on the pretext that the kids wouldn’t work but mainly because I couldn’t take my eyes off the beast. I don’t mind any insect which respects my space but when they start flying too close it totally freaks me out. But do they know this fact about me? Why is it that any insect, when disturbed, will fly straight for my head and leave me shrieking like an idiot with a pounding heart?

  9. You are so brave!! I was reading this with bated breath. I just could not have done what you did. I am unable to stay near to a wasp without having a stupid shrieking fit. I don’t mind bees in the garden and can keep quite close to them as they are usually very busy collecting pollen and not bothering with me. A car ride with them surveying the route – no chance! x

  10. Ohmygosh! Driving home with bees was very brave of you! I want to keep bees for my garden, but I’m also hoping that it will teach me not to freak out when something lands on me. So kind of for the same reason you started them. Local honey is supposed to be good for allergies as well, and you can’t get any more local than your backyard. There are a lot of really good reasons to keep bees, and I hope to get started next spring. Thanks for the story; I’ll try to keep it in mind if I have second thoughts next spring. If Fiona can do it, I can do it!

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