15 October, 2010

I HAD Never Been Stung Before...

Original Photo of the Hive, About 500 Bees  

When the call came Wednesday evening, I glanced at my watch. 5:30. That would give me enough time, I thought and I'd still make my 7:30 PM meeting. 
One of my former students had called about a few bees. He sent me a photo of some bees clustered on a wall – about 18 inches long, he said. I looked at the bees in the photo. It would be a cakewalk. I'd go over there, sweep these bees into a hive box, close the lid and be gone with enough time to make the meeting and not even break a sweat. I checked the equipment I had with me – I hadn't planned any thing bee-related so I had only my veil and a few things, but for 500 bees it would be a breeze.

Later, When The Hive Was Appraised at 10,000 Bees
When I got there, he said the bees had moved from the wall to the lemon tree. OK, no big deal, but that would be a little more challenging, but I was still on schedule. I went over to the lemon tree – I could hear the buzzing, but I had a hard time seeing the bees. It was now dusk and I needed a flashlight. I clipped a few leaves away here and there. It seemed that there were more bees, but, you know, the bees on the wall had been spaced out, these bees were bunched up – could have been an optical illusion. Ron, the man helping me, clipped off a branch and the hive rolled to my left about a foot. I was about 18 inches from it and as it rolled, I realized my little 500 bee project was more like 10,000 or more bees. Mind you I had seen 10,000 bees once before and my reaction both times has been one that starts, “Oh My God!” trailing off into stunned silence. As I watched that hive roll around two things occurred: 1. I realized we were in way over our heads and 2. I got stung on the neck and the butt in quick succession. It was the first time in beekeeping I had ever been stung and I was more emotionally hurt by it than physically.

At this point, even knowing I wasn't going to come out of this looking like a knight in shining armor, I paused to put on my veil and gloves – the hive and the branches it occupied were now cut free, we just had to pick it up and put it in the box I had brought – if you'll take the words “we just had to” with a drop of salted honey. This was a five frame wooden 'nuc' box I use to pick up wild swarms, not really all that big – fine for 500 to 5000 bees, but cramped for as many as we had. 
I climbed back into the tree to get my side of the branch holding the hive. There was a bad sting on the back of my leg – it really hurt. I paused while Ron got into position. In my head I was giving myself a pep talk. I'd not been stung before and I held that my calm and peaceful demeanor had kept me in good stead. I now began to chant to myself, “Calm and easy as you go...” only to be stung under my left arm as I lifted up on my side of the branch. That one did the trick, we were now moving this hive quickly from the tree and into the box. A few glitches and stings later, we pulled this mass of buzzing bees from the tree and deposited it into the box.

It didn't fit – the bees were clustered around several branches and we had the whole kit and kaboodle in the box with branches sticking hither and thither out of the box. Nope, I thought with a sigh, it didn't fit and it wasn't going to fit unless I fought with the bees some more to get them all inside. I could cut off the overflowing foliage, at risk of further stings – that would not be an easy or a pleasant job or I could pull the foliage out and sweep the bees off the branches until they were mostly clear of the foliage and I could close the lid. Neither seemed like a holiday assignment. When I then realized bees had found their way into my shirt, I was disturbed, but when I saw two swarms coming up the inside seam of my pant's legs, I had the same reaction any normal male would have: Utter terror. I swept the offenders away from my jeans and with the rapid long legged stride of a six foot man, made it to the far side of the yard with amazing rapidity. 
There I stood looking at my overflowing box of bees and sighed. I didn't want to leave this job half done, but it was looking bad for the happy ending. The home-owner gave me the out – she had to leave for an appointment and she was fine with leaving it as it lay and I could come back in the morning to finish the job. What a relief! I could come back with my whole kit and take care of this, besides I was already late to my 7:30 meeting.

I went to my meeting. Late, I had to sit in the back, which I deemed a saving grace when I felt a 'drip of sweat somehow going up my neck' – a perfect description of the phenomena of a bee walking on your skin. There was a bee heading towards my hair! I had already been stung eight times and I didn't want the ninth. Arms and hands flying, I leaned over trying to wildly brush her from head. I shook my head vigorously, up and down, side to side, hoping to dislodge her from me. She got me – on the right side of my neck; a perfect set to go with the sting on my left and the two on the back of my neck. Four stings on one neck. I was more concerned that no one saw my contortions to avoid the sting.

After the meeting, I went back to my office at the Garden to get my full suit, my smoker and any thing else that might even remotely make this an easier task in the morning. I half hoped the bees would take a cue and head on out on their own.

I got the call early enough the next morning. The bees were still there. I headed back to the scene of the crime – this time well-prepared. Things went as smoothly on Thursday as they had badly on Wednesday. I brushed all the bees from the branches and got 90% of them into the hive box before sealing it shut for transport, leaving another box there to collect the remaining bees by nightfall. It had taken about 20 minutes and I got zero stings.

I think it's been pointed out before that is way way better to be overprepared vs. underprepared! I hate having to be the one to second a motion, but by golly I do. 

And the second thing I learned was, I'm not allergic to bee stings.  They hurt in the moment, but don't last long, well, except for the one under my arm, that one hurt for awhile.  

There is only one way to learn beekeeping:  work with bees and keep working with bees.  I love the meditative aspect to working with bees - they pace you and you don't get to pace them.  I like that.