Mistakes Can Sting A Little

Last time I promised to tell you guys a little bit about the bees, and lo and behold, the planets aligned, the children didn’t get sick, no one (me) had any meltdowns, our plans turned from fantasy into reality and we met our goals with the bees! Adult beverages all around!

Some of our hives were acting a little…feisty. On one of my very first visits to the bee yard, I went completely unprepared, even though I knew a couple of the hives were somewhat aggressive. I was only going to take documentation photos and didn’t listen to my father-in-law (our personal bee guru). I just thought I’d keep my distance, take some photos, and scoot back home. I did not wear protective gear, and I even had on a black shirt. Apparently, bees hate dark colors and they let you know…and I got stung. It was my first bee sting EVER and it HURT. I decided that day that I was probably not a beekeeper and pouted at home with a benadryl.

Todd, being Todd, read and researched - and read and researched – and found a nearby apiary known for mite-resistant bees. Staying in line with our pastured-raised meat philosophy, we have a goal of providing treatment-free local honey, and naturally mite-resistant bees will help us reach that goal. Bonus – all the reviews noted how even-tempered and gentle the bees from this apiary tend to be. You guys, I have two young kids. The last thing I need in my life is cranky bees. We decided to buy queens from this apiary to requeen our hives.

After we had ordered the new queens, and both kids were at school, I went with Todd back to the bee yard. This time, I was physically prepared - but nervous. Even if I got stung this time, I had to work through it so I didn’t drop a hot smoker or a hive box. Todd wanted to go through the meaner hives to locate the queens. Our plan was to isolate the queens to one hive box in each respective hive with a queen excluder. Then once we picked up the new queens, we would have a much smaller search area to go through. I put on my suit and veil and worked the smoker for Todd. Upon opening the first hive, the bees quickly began to defend their space. They flew around our heads and thwacked (that is the ACTUAL sound) into our veils. They tried to sting our hands and left stingers in our gloves. All I could focus on was each individual bee as it flew around me and hit me. I instinctively tried to cover my face, but that didn’t work so well with gloves and a veil. My heart was racing and I left that day thinking that I was probably not a beekeeper.

 Looking for the queen

Looking for the queen

I tend to be a stubborn person and went back with Todd and his dad again. We had our new queens and I knew that we would be in the bee yard for quite some time as we located the existing queens in each hive. I was physically AND mentally prepared this time. Instead of focusing on each individual bee, I listened to them as a group. The sound of them hitting my veil became a part of their overall buzz. Bees work as a unit – so I listened to them as a unit. Instead of characterizing them as “angry”, I thought of them as “protective”. I breathed deeply, and listened to the buzzing chorus. My anxiety subsided, and I asked questions of the people with me who knew more than I did. I listened. I participated, fully knowing that I can only keep learning more from this point forward. I left the bee yard that day thinking that I probably actually was a beekeeper, and eager for my next experience.

 One of the hives after we had lifted every frame out looking for the queen

One of the hives after we had lifted every frame out looking for the queen

We have checked on the hives a few times since requeening them, and everything is moving along as it should. Once the new queens lay eggs and those eggs hatch, we should have refreshed hives. They will always instinctively protect themselves and their queens when we work them, but our understanding of their behavior will only increase, and hopefully result in minimal stings and a steady flow of sweet honey.

 Capped and uncapped brood - you can see the white bee larvae in the uncapped cells. Aren't the adults beautiful??

Capped and uncapped brood - you can see the white bee larvae in the uncapped cells. Aren't the adults beautiful??