The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Routed by the bees

Capped honeyI've been known to tell prospective apiarists that bee stings don't hurt.  "It's about like getting a shot," I tell them.  "You feel it for a minute, but pretty soon you've forgotten it even happened."  Friday, I learned that I was lying.

I've been going into the hives every week lately, trying to keep the brood boxes open while the bees try to fill them with honey in preparation for an eventual swarm that I'm determined won't happen.  Last week, I added a second brood box on one of the hives, checkerboarding empty frames and full frames so that the hive now had two half empty brood boxes rather than one mostly full one.  I wanted to see how that experiment was working out, but when I opened the hive all I saw was honey.

We've barely had any rain in the last few weeks, so I shouldn't have been too surprised to see that two supers were chock full of mostly or completely capped honey.  I carefully removed two frames for extraction, and paged through the other frames to make sure the queen hadn't moved up to lay in the supers.  So far so good --- all twenty frames were brood free.  But there was just so much honey that I accidentally nicked a couple of frames, and sweet, gooey honey dripped down through the hive.

Maybe the open honey got the bees' dander up, or more likely the bees sensed the first few clouds converging and the dropping barometric pressure that forecast a storm moving into our neighborhood.  All I know is that halfway through my inspection of the top brood box, a bee stung me on the arm.  Whatever --- no big deal.  But I know that when one bee stings, the other bees can smell it and I should close up the hive.  Unfortunately, a sting also jars me out of my "bee zone" --- a zen-like state where I move slowly and the bees barely know I'm there.  I started to close the hive too quickly and the second sting came, then the third.

Those of you who've been following along at home have probably noticed that I wear a pretty tight shirt when checking on the hive.  It shouldn't be that tight since having cloth appressed to skin makes it easy for a bee to sting through, but it's the only light-weight, non-button-up, long-sleeved shirt I own (a wardrobe choice that is soon to be remedied.)  Anyway, the bees were mad, and they made straight for the big things bulging out at them, which unfortunately happened to be a very sensitive portion of my anatomy.  Ten stings later, the hive was closed, and I was nearly in tears.

Jar of honeyOnce I calmed back down and did a bit of research, I discovered that --- as usual when I get stung --- I was doing several things wrong.  As soon as I noticed the first clouds gathering, I should have packed everything up and gone home.  Secondly, I should have stuck to either checking on the brood box or robbing honey, not both.  Finally, when I did get stung, I should have immediately left the hive, puffed a little smoke on the wound, and given both the bees and myself a couple of minutes to calm down.  I suspect if I'd taken that first sting as a warning, brought myself back to the bee zone, and closed up the hive slowly, all would have been well.  I certainly don't want to leave any potential beekeepers thinking that the hive is a dangerous place, but it is quite easy to get stupid, especially as a newbie.

One final note: Although the bees clearly won that round, as you'll see in my next post, the ending was sweet....

Our homemade chicken waterer makes poultry care quick, easy, and clean.

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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Sorry to hear they got you. I love bees too but I remember well being stung as a kid by 5 bees. A few years ago a bumblebee flew up my sleeve and stung me, poor fellow. That sting repeated and repeated for quite a while. It was my first bumble sting. I too don't mind needles but that one I would not want to have again. As you say, most times they are no problem at all. Hope you feel better soon. Maybe some baking soda on the stings?
Comment by id [] Sun Jun 6 11:51:15 2010
I did the above comment but I can't figure out how to sign in with my name, like I did before.
Comment by id [] Sun Jun 6 11:53:17 2010

To sign in with your name, click on the option for "other" at the end of the list of choices. I know it's a bit confusing --- my brother's getting ready to roll out the software I'm using for use by the general public, and he's making a lot of changes to test them out on us. :-)

I agree that bumblebees are much more painful than honeybees! Luckily, my stings stopped hurting pretty quickly, though I was a bit sore the next day. I think I was mostly just shocked that my sweet little bees had been so angry.

Comment by anna Sun Jun 6 12:37:33 2010

Get a secondhand denim jacket, have Mark cut an old oil drum into pieces, get a bucketload of rivets, and make yourself a brigandine. Ok, it's a bit of work, but no bee is going to sting through that! :-)

Comment by Roland_Smith Mon Jun 7 13:21:21 2010
Why are the plates on the inside? That seems weird, and somewhat uncomfortable. (Although probably less uncomfortable than multiple bee stings to the boobs, so.)
Comment by irilyth [] Mon Jun 7 15:09:10 2010

The version with plates on the outside is the much earlier scale armor or lorica squamata.

The brigandine looked a lot like the contemporary civilian doublet while still providing good protection and freedom of movement, and being much lighter and cheaper than plate armor. With the cloth on the outside it was easily decorated, and possibly less vulnerable to an up thrusting sword or dagger. It was commonly worn over a padded jacket, to cushion impacts.

Comment by Roland_Smith Mon Jun 7 16:46:23 2010
Roland --- Ha! I love it! :-) We may end up adding a bit of padding on the front, but I don't think we'll go quite that far...
Comment by anna Mon Jun 7 18:11:37 2010

On second thought, using metal plates is probably overdoing it. (unless you're also expecting zombies. :-) )

Maybe even pieces of a plastic milk jug would suffice instead.

Alternatively, you can get woven steel mesh with up to 600 threads/inch, which is still quite light. Can't imagine a bee stinging through that!

Comment by Roland_Smith Mon Jun 7 19:12:58 2010
I like the milk jug idea! Light is essential --- it gets hot out there, and there's no need to wear yourself out unnecessarily.
Comment by anna Mon Jun 7 19:22:12 2010

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