Flying in the Bees

This is a guest post by Jamie Dehner

I live in a weird place. There’s no question about it. The town is called Point Roberts, a five mile square peninsuala that lies beneath the 49th parallel (making it US land) but is isolated geographically from the rest of the United States by water.  Unless you have a boat or a plane, a drive through Canada replete with two international border crossings is required to get here. As you can imagine, there are some annoyances associated with living here, from a logistics standpoint, but it’s a quirky town where I’ve somehow become a (quirky)  local, and I guess for now at least I’m here to stay.

And since I’m here to stay, so are my bees. I’d have a hard time moving them, too, even if I had to. It was tough to get them here.

Would you believe me if I told you I had to charter a private airplane in order to transport my two nucs of bees bred by Dan and Judy Harvey of Olympic Wilderness Apiaries? Turns out bees don’t carry enhanced driver’s licenses, much less passports. And honeybees are NOT allowed to cross the US/Canadian border, passport issues aside, despite the fact that they do it all the time (shhh, that’s classified information).

When it came time for me to finally “start beekeeping” and set up my first two hives, I decided that I wanted to start with locally raised bees showing at least some tolerance for nosema and varroa (I don’t choose to use chemical miticides on my bees so this was important) along with the seemingly endless amount of rainfall we get in the Pacific Northwest some years. That meant I was going to start with a nuc instead of packaged bees. Usually, finding nucs is not that difficult. I reserved my bees well in advance so that availability would only be an issue if the year was especially bad and for some reason the bees weren’t there.

Transport of the nuc boxes is really quite easy. They are screened in and quite easy to handle in that regard. Picking the bees up on the Olympic Peninsula necessitated a long drive and a ferry trip, too, but I was okay with this. The little bit extra that made this excursion something special was that after the bees were driven and ferried, they had to be flown the last 20 miles or so to their new home in Point Roberts.

You can imagine reading this that not all pilots would feel ultra excited about taking even a short flight with two boxes containing several thousand bees each, regardless of their genetics and winter hardiness. I had heard about Northwest Sky Ferry from a friend in town who had acquired a large pig through a pig rescue program. She had Georgia (the pig) flown in with these guys and I hoped that after helping pigs to fly they’d be willing to consider my situation.

Happily, the folks at Northwest Sky Ferry not only agreed to transport my new charges, but chuckled good naturedly…when it comes to taking weird border restricted things to Point Roberts they’ve heard it all now, I think.  The cost of the chartered flight was under $150.00. I can’t remember exactly what it cost, but it was worth it.

The whole experience was humorous. We arrived at the Sky Ferry with our bees, removing them carefully from the trunk and placing them on the scales in the office to be weighed pre-flight. General amusement and curiosity greeted these two fine smelling, buzzing nuc boxes. Their plane was ready. The pilot was a fellow younger than me who talked with us a bit about his love of piloting as we carried our nucs out to the tarmac. He wasn’t concerned at all about transporting the bees though he was glad to see how effective the screens in the nuc box were at keeping the bees contained.

Turns out this was the same fellow who flew Georgia the Pig across the water and the bees were relatively easier to transport, in some ways (no worries about air sickness, anyway!) We put the two nucs into the back seat, feeling slightly ridiculous but enjoying the process immensely (as you must learn to if you are going to live successfully in a geographically anomalous place). We closed the door on them securely and listened as the plane revved up. We skedaddled back to our car. It would take us longer to drive to Point Roberts than for the bees to arrive there by plane.

Once we got back to the Point, it was a quick trip across town to the local airfield, operated by a man who used to help his dad keep bees in Saskatchewan (I think it was Saskatchewan). He was tickled about their arrival and a couple of other fellows in town were also at the airfield when we arrived to pick up our winged friends. To this day, those two fellows, Tom and Gerry, always ask after the bees. Once the bees were re-established in the trunk of the car (which had to seem like relatively tame transportation to these bees given their numerous and varied air experiences), it was back across town to install the nucs at their new, permanently grounded location which just happens to be…within 1500 feet of the international border.

Jamie picking up the bees

As the responsible (if amused) adult in this scenario, I try to always impress upon the bees that they must never, ever cross the border without first chartering a flight and flying only over US airspace since they refuse, one and all, to carry their passports. I like to think that they are paying attention.

Jamie and Shawn Dehner live in Point Roberts and run their own small business where they sell plans for small houses.  You can see a picture of their small home here and learn more about The Small House Catalog Here.

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