Monday, September 26, 2011

Almost Got Away With It

Yesterday was my target day to get back in the hives. My last encounter left me with one eye swollen shut for two days, after which my face was merely frightfully puffy and distorted, so I didn't venture close to the hives until Thursday. I am reminded of lessons about trust which we taught to our children. It is easier to keep trust than it is to regain it. I was feeling pretty rocky about all those girls. When I visited on Thursday afternoon I was happy to see lots of bright yellow pollen being carried into all three hives. I'm guessing that the pollen is from the goldenrod that is blooming in nearby weedy places. The nurse bees feed pollen to the larvae, so seeing it going into the hive is a good thing.

However, the bees needed to be dusted again with powdered sugar, they needed new pollen patties and they needed syrup, doubly sweet, in their hive top feeders so they would have enough food to sustain them through the winter. So, I gamely suited up and staged everything near the hives: syrup in covered containers, pollen patties, many bags of powdered sugar, stoked smoker, tool basket and hive top feeders.

A new item in my tool basket is a bottle of A1 Sauce. At the beeyard on Wednesday, I got to hear many stories from sadder but wiser beekeepers who have been at it longer than I have so they have had more opportunities to make stupid mistakes. State inspector Barb told me about being nearby when someone dropped a whole hive box fully loaded with bees. There were no happy beekeepers there that day. Barb's favorite topical treatment for a fresh sting: A1 Sauce. There is something about that tasty stuff that breaks down the enzymes in bee venom. She should know, right? I have room in my basket for something like that.

Meanwhile, back in the meadow, I had to decide which hive to open first. Since Hive 3 was the cranky one last time, I decided to start on the left with Hive 1 and save those nasty girls for last. Maybe the ladies in Hive 3 are jealous because Hive 1 is full of goody goody girls who are calm and just do what bees do without any attitude. Things in Hive 1 looked good, as usual. There was brood way up in the 3rd box up, so I switched boxes around to try to get the queen back down to the bottom. Many frames were heavy with capped honey.

On to Hive 2. I was surprised to find the queen. The colonies are now so full of bees that it is more difficult than ever to spot the queen. I really wasn't even trying to find her and would had been content to find larvae, but there she was. I do have concerns about this colony. It is only 3 boxes tall and many of the low frames have empty cells where bees have emerged but no new eggs have been laid. I was so intent on staying calm and radiating calm that I forgot to examine one of the hive boxes. I saw plenty of stored pollen and honey and I do hope that the frames I didn't examine are full of brood. Perhaps this Ohio queen is slowing down her egg-laying as winter approaches. There are plenty of bees, lovely calm bees, in the colony right now, but the newly emerged bees will be old bees, if not dead bees, come spring.

On to Hive 3, my nemesis. My smoker had not been producing as much smoke as I would have liked, but since the bees in the first two hives were so docile, I wasn't too concerned. Approaching Hive 3 without clouds of thick smoke didn't seem like what I wanted to do. I worked those bellows until sparks were flying out of the spout (not really the goal), cracked the cover, puffed in some smoke and did the same at the front door. I opened the lid.

When I started getting ready to head into the bee yard, it was a sunny, cool fall day, perfect beekeeping weather. By the time I got to Hive 3, the weather had changed. The sun was gone and it left behind a gloomy gray sky. This is not what I want the weather to be when I work on the hives. I hadn't yet noticed how the weather had changed, but the bees had. Or maybe the personality of Hive 3 is just all cranky, all the time. Bees were flying everywhere. They were banging into my hood, clinging to the screened face. I knew I was as protected as I could be, but still, it's disconcerting to have 4 or 5 bees angrily buzzing a mere inch away from my face. I talked to the bees, encouraged them to be calm, and went about my business.

Then I felt it. It was at the base of my thumb, right through the goatskin glove. It was not a loud, ouchy sting, but a minor annoying one. I applied more smoke to the frames and blew some on myself. I finished my work, feeding and dusting and got the hive buttoned up again. I was feeling pretty stressed and hurried to get away from the hives and back into the house, all the way across the meadow with bees crashing into my suit. It was then that I realized the weather had changed.

When I was safely back in the garage, I gratefully unzipped the hood and jacket. Even on a cool fall day it gets hot in the protective clothing. The adrenaline was pumping, I was sweating (or do lady beekeepers only glow?) and breathing hard from schlepping and tromping through the meadow in rubber boots. And I wanted to crack open that bottle of A1 Sauce. The smoker was finally producing great clouds of cool smoke, just in time for me to cork it closed to snuff the fire.

My body's response to the sting through the glove was slight. The leather didn't prevent the sting altogether, but it did keep the stinger from embedding in my skin where it would have pumped venom until I could remove it. I'm sure the A1 Sauce helped. Well, not really, but who knows? While I am sorry to have suffered yet another sting, this one is no worse than an itchy mosquito bite and has resulted in a non-eventful aftermath. I took another Benadryl, shed the rest of my protective clothing and spent the next hour in cool down mode.

Sting count: 13.

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