After a long art show weekend we finally found the time to check the bees again. We weren’t too far behind our normal two to three-week check up on our pollinating friends.
So far this year the two remaining hives we have, or I should say the one remaining and one new hive, have been seemingly doing well. Hive No. 1 has been growing and hive No. 3 has been the best performer this year.
We recently had an inspection by the county. It’s a voluntary program where by an inspector checks out your hives. They said hive No. 1 had a queen and hive No. 3 was building queen cells and had some mites. Nothing outside the normal for our hives. Nothing we were worried about. We treated for the mites, and we go through 1-2 queens a year it seems.
Today we opened up hive No. 3 and everything looked pretty good. We did not see eggs or a queen, but saw lots of bees being born, capped brood and a few queen cells. So theoretically if there’s no queen, they’re in the process of making one.
There were a ton of bees flying about, not too thrilled that we were checking them.
We did pull off about six frames of honey from the hive. One of the mid-sized supers was full of honey, and all the frames without brood on them are ours now. About 20 lbs. of honey I’d wager. We replaced the frames with some of the frames from the top super, and actually took the top super off. I’ll look to extract honey this week.
We set the honey frames in a food safe bin, and set the bin off to the side while we checked hive No. 1.
The wife and I took the inner cover off of hive No. 1 and you could tell right away its single super was full of honey too. I removed the super and the middle deep sized box, setting them down on nearby hay bales. Upon returning to the hive the air was thick with honey bees. Quickly though there were more bees than I could handle.
The sound was deafening really. I could feel their bodies bouncing off my bee suit. Taking two steps back I could tell there was a problem. Checking hive No. 3 there were a lot of bees, thick in the air for example but this was different.
I turned around and took a few more steps and knew I was in trouble. I briskly walked a dozen yards towards the garden but that made no difference. That’s when I felt the first sting through my bee suit.
“I gotta go!” I yelled out to my wife.
Usually I’m the one who gets bothered by the bees, so quite honestly I thought this was just another little episode.
Soon my calculated walk away from the hive turned into a quicker jog; intermittent running. I could feel bees all over me. Two maybe three stings through my jeans. Like getting hit with a hot pin point for a split second.
My bee suit just covers my torso and arms, long thick leather gloves cover up to my elbows. Regular jeans, shoes and sock round out my defenses. My wife’s suit is a whole body suit.
I reached the driveway covered in bees. The sound of buzzing was as loud as when I was near the hive seemingly. I turned back briefly wondering about my wife. Fortunately she had started towards the drive as well. Unfortunately at that point my defenses all failed. The bees had found the opening of my pant legs and I could feel them inside of my jeans. Inexplicably one was inside my suit, crawling on my neck.
As I got stung quickly in succession by several bees I went from trying to brush them off to actively killing them. Still the air was thick around me with them. And every crevice of my clothing had bees in various states of stinging and dying. Many having stung nothing but folds of my bee suit, jeans or gloves. They wouldn’t get off of me. I would rake one gloved hand over my arm with little effect. Next thing I know my sleeve is pushed up and there’s exposed skin on my arm, covered in a half-dozen bees.
I spun around not knowing what to do. I could feel them in the pockets of my jeans even. My wife came at me, two smoking smudge pellets in her hands, trying to smoke away the bees from me. I frantically swatted at my arms and legs, trying to kill every bee I could see. Twenty more yards down the driveway I sprinted. Only a handful of bees remained. In my mind I had bee stung countless times. I stepped on the bees in the gravel.
At some point my only option was to take all of my clothes off and chance it with the few remaining bees. There were too many INSIDE my suit and only one way to get away from them. I peeled off my bee suit and stepped on it repeatedly with my shoe. I kicked off my shoes and they flew inside of my shoes. I dropped my jeans, bees examining my pockets for loose change.
We spent another five minutes finishing off the remaining bees, knocking them down and stepping on them. The last bee I thought was in my hair, I could hear it like it was in my brain actually. Me begging my wife to find it and kill it. Turns out it was under my chin, and flew off as I stood up.
Eventually we made it inside my studio. Me standing in my underwear, red welts swelling on my arms. My wife took her boots off and three bees flew out. With the help of a ladder and fly swatter I made quick work of them as they buzzed about the north studio window.
After catching our breath, I took the time to put on tougher canvas pants, a sweatshirt and double socks. We had to go back out and re-assemble hive No. 1.
The wife lead the way with her smoker in hand. The bees had settled down a bit. I quickly lifted the middle deep into place, and then the upper mid-size box on top of it, not caring too much if I crushed any honey bees. We did add one completely new, empty mid-sized box to the top of the hive. We then replaced the inner and outer covers to the hive, and returned all of our frames, honey and tools to the driveway area. Technically we could have pulled probably six to ten frames of honey from hive No. 1 if it wasn’t for our bee attack escapade.
Back inside the house we counted about 9-10 definite stings on me, mostly my arms. The wife had a few stings on her legs. Her full suit afforded her better protection. And I think the bees keyed in on my as their primary target, feeding off of their attack and my eventual fear.
Once they got going, there was no stopping them.
I believe my clothing, despite only being a half suit and jeans, minimized the effectiveness of their stings, with many of the stings not fully registering. I easily felt a dozen stings on my legs, but there’s only one really visible. Same goes for my arms. Of the eight or so I can see, there were probably twice as many that I felt during the attack.
The fault is all ours, or mine. Our laziness, cockiness and / or stupidity is why it happened. First off it was a rainy overcast day, so the entire hive was basically at home – probably well over 40,000 bees when we opened it up. Secondly, with us being so busy, we hadn’t had a chance to add another box or clear out the upper mid-size box, so the bees were probably pissed that their hive was so full – no room. Lastly we didn’t smoke them at all. We’ve gotten in the habit of not smoking the bees when we check them because old hive No. 1 was so docile. And even No. 3 was pretty docile. Last year’s No. 2 hive package, and this new No. 1 hive package are extremely aggressive. We need to smoke them, and we need to wait for a sunny day when most of the bees are out foraging.
Long term our problem is just going to be our schedule. We may be too busy for bees. At the very least once these colonies die out, we may not be in such a rush to replace them. Bee keeping is an incredible hobby, but it does require time and consistent checking of the hives. Maybe our lifestyle or life requirements aren’t congruent with those needs. We’ll see. We also talk about making our sphere smaller so to speak. We’ve got too many irons in too many fires, and it’s starting to show.
It was a pretty freaky, scary experience today.
(P.S. speaking of making my sphere smaller, you’ll notice I don’t write as much anymore. There are two reasons, one is there’s not much going on. I’m either working or looking for work. And two by time ten o’clock rolls around I just don’t feel like writing. It’s not like the old days where writing and art were fun creative releases in the evenings. I need to figure out what’s going to stay in my sphere of things that are important to me and my happiness, and what is going to have to go by the wayside. Hopefully writing will manifest itself either in this blog or some other way, but I just have to wait and see and figure it out. Something has to give because I’m basically burnt out mentally. Need to focus on what’s important and adjust my sphere accordingly. Thanks again to everyone who reads my miscellaneous ramblings. Hopefully there will be many more to come. I think my goal is to force myself to write 2 days a week, like Tuesday and Thursday. We’ll see.