I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. ~ Thoreau

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Bee tenacious...

Guess what I’m doing right now? Right this very second as I type this blog. I am squinting one eye shut against the excruciating pain of failure and even more so against the suicide-invoking level of pain from a scalp sting. OH YES you read it correctly, a scalp sting, to add insult to injury on the exact spot where I stood up and whacked my head against a cabinet door not even a mere week ago. And just to make it all extra special I took two Benadryl, rubbed a sting swab into my scalp and then to round out the triumvirate by rubbing a baking soda concoction into my head. I cannot even begin to tell you how attractive I look right now sitting here typing this suffering from mild heat exhaustion, and trying to stay alert for any signs of anaphylaxis.

I have been stung multiple times in my short yet illustrious bee keeping career. I really thought that nothing could beat the agony of being stung on the arch of my foot but guess what? I was wrong, dead wrong. Being stung on the scalp is, by far, my most painful bee keeping experience to date. That is, if you put aside the pain my pride has suffered from being such a complete bee keeping twit.

For the immediate clarification of this entry I will refer to my three hives as follows: large hive, small hive and new hive. The new hive is the one that I recently split off from the large hive and the large and small hives are the two originals we bought to start our apiary.

Today was the first really pretty day that I have been able to get in the hives. We had several days of rain which are not good bee keeping days and I knew we had to get in the hives soon. I spent the better part of the morning and early afternoon painting the chicken coop so I was unable to get to the beehives till about 2:30PM. This is actually about the perfect time to get in them because it is the warmest part of the day and most of the bees will be out foraging. I decided to start with the large hive because the bee inspector said I needed to check it for queen cells. I had spent the last of the daylight, when I spoke to him on Thursday, going through the new hive so I had not been able to go through the large one and look for queen cells like he had instructed me.

Well I should have. I think I have lost a swarm. Even after all of the time and struggle and effort to split the hive and create the new colony I think my large hive swarmed anyway. When I popped the top on it and looked at the two supers above the queen excluder there was nothing except the foundations we had put in them to begin with. Not a single drop of honey, nothing. I pulled off the top two supers and moved down into the super below the queen excluder. Well there were lots of bees and lots of brood but only a nominal amount of honey and not nearly the amount that was there last week. This is pretty indicative of a swarm. When the old queen leaves she takes half the bees and they take half (or more) of everything in the hive. What I also found, to my great disappointment, were empty queen cells.

I don’t know how I missed them last week. I looked, last time I was in that hive I pulled out every frame out of every super and the brood box. But today I found two empty queen cells and one with a partially emerged queen. So this is pretty much a sure sign that I have already lost the swarm and that the new queen is in charge. The good thing, or so I have read, about a new reared queen versus an emergency queen is that they colony has had more time to prepare for her so she is better fed and tended and will probably be a good layer. This became evident as I moved through the frames in the super and in the brood box. The cells were full of larva and eggs in all different stages of development. That is a good sign. Hopefully the colony can successfully rebuild before winter and hopefully we will not suffer any more setbacks.

After the disappointment of finding two empty supers and a seriously robbed super and brood box I put the hive back together and moved over to the new hive just to take a peek. I did not intend to disturb them too much I just wanted to make sure there were still bees in there. The activity coming and going from the new hive has begun to drop off, again, and I am concerned that they just will not make it. I cracked the top and removed the inner lid and saw there were still a significant number of bees moving about. So I put the lid back on, left them to their own devices and moved back to start on the small hive. Whose name may very shortly need to be changed. Oh let me also point out that in the hour plus that I spent messing in the large hive I was STILL unable to locate the queen, new, old, dressed in drag, whatever, no queen.

I moved to the small hive with heavy looks. If I had lost the majority of the large hive I figured my small hive had suffered a similar fate. Well, not so much. Apparently in our inept fumbling last week when we tried to super the hive and add a queen excluder, we managed to exclude the queen, all right. Exclude her from the lower super and the brood box! UGH, can you say frustration? Needless to say, almost every frame of the super was filled with brood and drone cells and very little capped honey. I was so angry at myself and so frustrated and so hot and exhausted and tired I just slapped the lid back on and went to the building to sit down.

Fred came home shortly to find me sitting in the building looking like someone had run over Louie. I explained to him how in only a matter of two weeks, give or take, we had managed to probably kill the new hive, loose a swarm from the large hive and trap the queen in a single super on the small hive. Fred tried to put it in perspective. He said, “Look, we are new at this. We still have bees. If we killed the new hive then that is sad but we didn’t have them to begin with.”

After I calmed down a little we talked about what to do next. We knew we had to leave the new hive alone to sink or swim. We figured the best thing to do with the small hive was just give the egg filled super to the colony and move the queen excluder out and we figured with the large hive we needed to get at least one of those supers off the hive. We were also concerned about the ventilation in the new hive. The other two hives have screened bottoms so that air can circulate; the new one has a solid bottom so we figured we need to ventilate a little better. We geared back up, stoked the smoker and headed back to the hives.

We started with the small hive and removed the queen excluder and put it back together. Then we moved over to the large hive and stole one of the empty supers. We doused it really well with sugar water and peppermint oil because there were just a couple of bees milling about on it and we thought we would stick it above the queen excluder on the small hive and let them, hopefully, fill it. So we lifted the lid on the small hive again, sprayed them all down and added the super. At this point I was trashed. I had been working in the sun all day and sweating buckets. Fred agreed to cut the notch in the inner lid of the new hive and I went back to the building to take off my gear.

After I had stripped and sat down to cool off Fred came walking back to the building. When he started to remove his veil I noticed he had dragged one of the more tenacious girls back over to the building with him. I said, “Be careful, you’ve got one of the girls on the back of your jacket.” He stepped over so I could brush her away. Well apparently she was having a really bad day too. She flew back into the building. Fred took his gear off and started to do something on the workbench, I got up to head into the house well she somehow got in my hair. I yelled for Fred to help me I shook my head like a middle aged man jamming out to Teen-Spirit on Rock Band but it was too late she stung me on the head.

(I will pause here to apologize to any of my neighbors who heard me scream anything inappropriate this afternoon. Please do not call the police. Fred and I are not involved in any kind of domestic dispute and I am human. That was my Christmas Story/flat tire moment.)

Now, here I sit, feeling like a complete failure. Still unable to locate any of my queens and wondering if I will have any bees alive come this time next year with the absolute worst headache imaginable. Take two parts migraine and mix with one part sledgehammer to the skull and you could closely approximate what it feels like to be stung on the scalp. Of course my head hurts and I am upset about my latest in a grow collection of exotic bee sting locales but what I am most upset about is my total inability to find the queen. How am I supposed to ever be any good at this if I cannot find her?

Oh, and for any of you who are wondering about my lesson with the state inspector, he blew me off. Well, not really, but he could not come today he had to be in the southern part of the state and so he will not be able to get here until next week. I hope I still have bees to inspect by then. We will keep trying, Ecclesiastes 9: 10 “Whatever your hand finds to do, verily, do it with all your might…”


As for the chicks, they are still alive (at least they were when I started this blog) and they are still living in the bathtub in my bathroom. They are still unbelievably tiny but they have more than doubled their size since we got them. The Jersey Giants, the breed we chose, is supposed to be a very large docile bird that does not mind being held or played with. One of my friends, who raises chickens, actually referred to them as the “great dane” of the chicken world. I do not know. So far our chicks are really skittish. We have not let the kids hold them yet for fear of dropping them or holding them too tight or just twisting them funny and hurting them but Fred and I have been trying to hold them and touch them so they will get used to interacting with people and not be so afraid.

What is really funny is how interested our dog Louie is. I take the chickens outside every day and put them in a box with the bottom cut out so they can get some sunshine and spend some time in the grass. Today I had to run inside to get something while I was painting the chicken coop and I said to Louie, “Watch the babies!” I hesitated and asked myself “Am I asking the fox to watch the hen house?” But I did it anyway I often tell him to watch my niece when I go into the next room and he always dutifully follows her around (this may be due to the raisins she is always sneaking him) and barks if she starts to pull books off the shelf or whatnot. So I ran inside for a moment and when I came back out he lay at the corner of the box. When I looked inside the chicks lay at the same corner. Apparently I have a WV brown dog/ mother hen. I had to laugh.

So that was today’s drama. I will post pictures of the coop in a few days it is really close to being finished.

Thank you for reading,
Much love,

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