Friday, September 18, 2009

My mistake. So sorry bees.

Ever have days when you are just not paying attention. Days when if you had your mind on what you were doing you could saved yourself a whole mess of trouble. I sure do. Like today.

I woke up this morning thinking, I gotta' get that honey out of the hive before it gets cold. Seems kind of rude to me to take the roof off of some-body's house during the cold months. So I got up bright and early, forgetting everything I know about working with bees and ready to work--yep, it was a gorgeous, gorgeous day. Check it sky, wispy clouds, and the freshest air.
I was loving it.

The second the guys left for school and work (around 7:20 am), I went in search of all my bee gear (which had been relocated out of the barn to make room for camp this August). It took me a while to find it, even though Becca had neatly stacked everything right in the place she told me she would. I just didn't see it the first couple of times I looked (maybe this was a hint, don't do bees now!) Eventually I found everything, lit my smoker, piled all the gear into the garden cart and went off through the cow pasture.

Inadvertently, when I was pulling the cart through the first gate Gilly almost barged out. Phew on that one cuz he doesn't wear a halter and it could have been an all day project catching and herding him back behind the fence. I think I must be big and scary because the second I glared at him and said "NO, Gilly", he trotted right back inside the fence looking very contrite. Thinking back on it now though, I think Gilly might have been clue number two--don't do the bees now. Usually, he is sooo well behaved.

Then when I was opening up the second fence that led right to the bees, the sheep went ballistic and started charging the gate, the fence and me. Clearly this was very unsheeplike behavior. Gilly followed suit and came racing up behind me and charged right back at the sheep. This was unnerving, to say the least, as he is a big boy and has big horns and seemed fighting mad. Hmm, hint number three, not that I was noticing.

After I navigated the charging sheep and the fence, Brigid came tearing around the corner of the barn and decided to charge towards me too. (Hint four. Are you paying attention yet, she seemed to say.)

I started to think somebody painted a red bulls eye on the back of my bee suit that I can't see. Charge here, it seemed to say. She won't mind, in fact she won't even notice. Luckily before Brigid gored me, she spied her beloved boy Gilly and was so happy to see him she stopped short and went right up to nuzzle him up. They were so happy to see each other after spending a couple months on opposite sides of the fence.

By this point, I was starting to wonder what was up with everyone this morning, but it was early and I probably wasn't thinking straight cuz it didn't stop me. Still determined to get that super of honey out of the hive and into jars, I kept at it. It was a really nice day and I had enough time to do it. In my life it's hard to find a day with both of those characteristics.

So with as much peace in my heart as I could muster after being charged at by 20 animals, I walked up to the hive and took off the lid. Hmmm, thousands and thousands of bees were sitting right on top. That is unusual but I thought I can deal with this. Though I really wasn't sure how. I gently smoked the hive which usually causes the bees to settle down further into the hive and protect the queen. Not this time, hundreds of bees rose up and flew right at my face. Hmm, that's interesting I thought. They don't usually do this.

I could have stopped at this point. A smarter girl might have. But there I was, I had the time, the equipment, the will and the sunny day. Nothing was going to stop me.

So I kept at it, quietly, gently. And the bees just kept being crazy. When I finally got a single frame out to look at the honey, I saw what the bees already knew. It was not quite done. They were still fanning the nectar and evaporating the excess water out to make the honey. All those hundreds of bees were sitting on the top of the hive for a reason. They had been making late season honey from the Japanese knot weed, which is many people's favorite honey. I just hadn't given them enough time to finish.

Now that I got it, it was easy: just put the hive back together and try again in a couple of weeks when everything is done and it is another nice day. So I lifted the super to carry it back to the hive but by this time the bees are pissed. Royally pissed. Queen bee throwing a tantrum kind of pissed.

Every time I lifted the super hundreds of bees flew at my face. They were crawling on my arms and my legs, on the netting by my nose. It took a great deal of focus to stay calm. And if there is one thing I know, you have to be calm when working a hive.

Every time it got really bad I put down whatever I was doing and walked away allowing the bees to settle down. I walked around the pasture slowly, hoping they would fly away from me and go home. Eventually, they flew back to the hive and I would slowly walk back and try again. Must have done this five times.

It took awhile, and three stings (which is more than the total number of stings I have gotten in all 4 years of keeping bees) but the hive is back together. The bees have calmed down and things are ok.

Next time I feel like being that industrious at 7:30 in the morning, I am going to pick tomatoes and make tomato sauce. I am going to leave working with the bees until the sun has warmed the hive and they have had that second cup of coffee.

No doubt about it, early morning honey gathering is just plain a mistake. Mea culpa bees. So sorry. Sometimes I learn things the hard way. Even when everyone (and I mean everyone) is trying to warn me.


  1. Great story Patti. I have so much to learn and haven't even started. So far just a Warre hive in my garage in pieces. I'm loving your blog. Keep up the great writing!

  2. hehe! all those animals!!