Beetastrophe!

A Sazerac at 626 Rood on Saturday night took a bit of the sting out of a traumatic hive opening Saturday morning. Picked up a friend at the airport and treated ourselves to a fancy meal, before coming home to deal with the aftermath of the morning’s beetrastrophe.

The yard looks entirely different to me when the bees are angry. The pervasive, comforting hum I’ve grown accustomed to has become an ominous, threatening buzz. For three days I couldn’t walk through the yard even to move a hose without an angry bee dive-bombing my head.

I had to suit up Saturday afternoon to water the potted patio plants, after we had opened the hive in the morning. I could appreciate that. Opening the hive was traumatic for everyone. The combs were crooked and not well attached to the bars, and we ended up having to remove three of them. Each one came out in sections, falling to the hive floor, dropping lots of honey, smothering bees. We filled three pots with pieces of dripping comb, trapped and dying bees, only later discovering a few sections with larvae. We had inadvertently removed some brood comb as well. No wonder they were so angry.

We scooped what we could from the hive floor, a mess of honey and honey-covered bees, but left plenty they’d have to clean up themselves. Joseph was matter-of-fact and calm, and so I was. It could have been worse. They were agitated as we did this operation, but not overly aggressive. Ideally, we would have taken one or two combs of capped honey, and they would have been hanging cleanly on the bars and come out easily, with minimal disruption to bee harmony.

Aftermath: we left pans of carnage and honey near the hive for a few hours so that what bees could would fly back into the hive.

We had the best intentions. Removing these combs in early August theoretically ensured that they did not get honey-locked and swarm out looking for a new home too soon before cold weather. It gave them space to rebuild and have a hive just full enough to provide thermal mass and food for winter. Had it gone well, I might have gone in another time or two to remove a comb before fall, keeping pace with their construction frenzy.

I removed every bee from each pan as quickly as I could, setting aside those still alive, sticky with honey, and putting them a dozen at a time in grass under a running sprinkler, hoping some would survive the rinsing.

By the time I got to the last bowl they had all died, along with some larvae. So sad! But the honey that emerged from the strainer was clear and good.

Know that it broke my heart to see these hundreds of bees drowned in their own gold. I kept a stiff upper lip and did what I had to do to salvage something good from the mess we made of harvesting, but I did not enjoy it.

Sunday morning a bee buzzed the head of my out-of-town guest, driving us inside from tea at the pond. That afternoon I got stung on the shoulder as soon as I started with the watering wand. Monday I was almost done, two pots left, when I was stung on the elbow. These two bees didn’t even threaten me. While another bee was distracting me, they each settled quietly, flattened onto my arm, and stung so subtly it took a second to realize what was happening.

This last sting felt inconsequential at the time, but overnight swelled into a big red knot with a quarter-sized white center, and I began to worry. What if I develop an allergy? Have I created a monster superorganism that will keep me locked inside all summer? Will they ever settle down, forgive me, let me be a peaceful bee guardian again? Can I ever again sit in a silk slip three feet from the hive with a friend drinking cocktails and marvel at their industry and beauty? Is there a standard time limit on their aggravation? Does saving wild bees really mean that much to me? Does honey?

Some of these questions matter more than others. I can live without sitting near the hive, but I can’t keep the bees if I develop an allergy to their stings. I made a substantial commitment, both emotionally and financially, to being a Bee Guardian. I believe in the philosophy, and I do like honey. I’ve been growing a wildlife habitat yard for almost twenty years, and I’m committed to providing birds, insects, and any animal in the vicinity who can benefit from my yard with  sanctuary in a human-dominated world that is increasingly hostile to wild life. I’ve made a haven for creatures of all species, and now my newest, most precious golden children have locked me in the tower, shut me out of the wild flowering, ripening landscape humming with life.

What to do?

Joseph suggested I go back in in a few days to see if they’re building straight comb, and straighten it if necessary, before they get too far along. He also suggested putting a full, capped comb from another hive midway to prevent the queen from laying brood comb too far back in the hive. I am currently inclined to leave them alone until spring, because I don’t want to go through another week under house arrest this summer. More company is coming, more weeds growing that must be pulled, more vegetables to harvest. I can’t afford more inside time.

“It’s a long-term relationship,” Joseph reminded me in a cloud of angry bees, after we’d closed up the hive on Saturday. Hmmm. I’ve never been very good at those. But I’ve been learning in recent years to let things go; I’ve been practicing forgiveness; I’ve formed a secret group of two, so far, whose motto is Love ‘em anyway. I can only hope the bees will do the same.

Both Joseph and Corwin Bell have shown me by example with bees, When in doubt, wait it out. So I will find plenty of projects to accomplish inside for the next few days, and sneak out periodically to slip unobtrusively along the paths moving hoses, and wear the damn bee suit to water the patio plants, and send the damn bees my loving intentions. I will juggle the fear that rises when I hear their buzzing close to me, with the investment I’ve made in their future, with the satisfaction I feel in those six small jars of golden honey on my kitchen counter, and the taste of it with toast and tea. In the words of Favorite Auntie, “We’ll know more later.”

5 thoughts on “Beetastrophe!

  1. Who knew that bees could hold a grudge for so many days? I do hope you don’t develop an allergy. My darling Cavalier, Spencer, got stung a few years ago and had a severe reaction, which required a weekend stay at the vet. Hopefully, they won’t go after your dogs, too.
    The pictures are great!
    Norma

    • thanks, norma! raven got buzzed this morning. i saw her running and snapping above her head and called her inside quickly and don’t think she got stung. she gets pretty puffy and lethargic when she’s gotten wasp stings, so i’m pretty much keeping them under house arrest too.

  2. I*’m sure you have already heard this, Honey is the perfect healer for stings. I also thought I had developed an allergy until I began treating stings with Honey and intention. Also works very well for wasp stings. Again you are amazing!

    • thanks for the tip, patricia. i wondered about honey, had it somewhere in the back of my mind, but didn’t think about it at the moment. i’ll remember for next time. i’ve heard lots of other cures, too: vinegar poultice, baking soda and salt paste, peppermint oil, arnica… two benadryls last night seems to have licked this last one.

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