LOVING & HATING BEES
The week started out with a quick hive inspection since we finally got some decent weather. I’d been so proud of my little bees and thought they must be the smartest bees ever. I’d read all these horror stories about bees making helter-skelter comb in all sorts of wrong directions leading to huge headaches for the beekeeper. Well, not my bees. My girls were making perfectly straight comb and only in one tiny spot at the entrance had they stuck the comb to the side of the beehive.
Plus, I hadn’t even come close to getting stung.
Apparently I got too cocky over my bees’ superiority. Sunday when I looked in there was one comb with a side shoot being built in the wrong direction (known as cross comb in the bee world since it crosses over more than one bar). Not only that but they were building their comb way too fat so the tops of the combs were meshing together. I should have been happy because this is honeycomb (the fat comb perhaps a reminder of what will happen if I eat too much honey), but the fat comb was making a mess of my nice, orderly hive. I cut away the cross comb, but had no idea what to do about the fatties.
I continued my inspection. Things looked normal (I guess, normal for my hive anyway). Until I got to Bar 5. I pulled the bar out and, keeping it in the right orientation to avoid breaking the comb, I set it bar-end down to give myself a little more room to move the other combs. About 20 seconds after I set the comb down, SPLAT! It bent over about 2 inches down from the bar.
I managed to pick the bar up and turn it carefully back over. The floppy comb held so I figured I would simply put it back into the hive and see if they would repair it. Since I had a mess to clean up from where the bar fell. I gave up on the rest of the inspection and set about to tidying up…the bees seemed glad to assist.
Sunday night was spent absorbing information from my bee books and a few bee websites. Apparently I needed to cut back the fatty comb to the width of the top bar and either add spacers or add more bars between the fatty comb (beekeeping advice is very inconsistent). I couldn’t find any info about floppy comb but I was still hoping the bees would work their magic and shore it up.
Then came Monday. This ended up being the day I wanted to give all my bees dunce caps. And the day of my first stings. Yes, STINGS, as in more than one.
Now, I don’t normally open the hive two days in a row because I tend to not want to irritate things that can cause me harm. After Sunday’s fiasco, the bees were already annoyed and opening the hive the next day didn’t boost their mood. I managed to cut away some of the fatty comb and added a few new bars between some and spacers between others (experimenting to see which works best).
Then I moved the bars down until I was near Bar 5. I removed the bar next to it and a sailor would have been embarrassed by the words that came out of my mouth. There was the comb sticking up from the floor and no longer attached to Bar 5. I knew I needed to clean it up but there were bees everywhere and I had no idea what to do. The only thing I could think of was to use tongs to keep my hands out of the hoard of bees. I managed to get the tongs in and got stung. Not a bad hit, easily flicked away, not painful in the least. I spritzed my glove with vinegar and went in again.
This time I managed to break off a chunk and set it aside for the bees to clean up. I tried to go in again and BAM! This time the sting hurt and the bees were getting more and more agitated. I needed to close up and rethink my battle plan. Let’s just say trying to close up a hive of pissed off bees is not the best beekeeping experience. I was electrified with adrenaline by the time I was done.
I hated my bees. I wanted someone to come right then and cart off the damn hive.
I put some thought into it. I needed to clean up the mess but needed the bees out of the way. ALL the way out of the way. The only thing I could think of was to move everything down to the far end of the hive and block off the mess with follower boards (solid boards that fit snugly into the hive). The weather had turned cold and cloudy so I was planning to wait until the sun reappears (supposedly tomorrow).
I left the bees completely alone for a few days then decided to take a peek in the observation window on Thursday. I’m once again thinking my bees may be super-geniuses. I kept seeing bees wandering around inside moving from the entrance end of the hive to the honey end of the hive carrying tiny bits of wax.
Now, I had trimmed off some fatty wax from the honeycombs but the bees were traveling from farther up the hive than that. I looked more closely and OMG! the mess that was once Bar 5 looks like it’s been cleared out. I’ll be able to tell better when I get in there (tomorrow I hope), but the bees seem to have cleaned up most of the wax and muck and are reusing the wax to build more honeycomb. Bees are freakin’ amazing little critters!
Which is why it was especially anger-inducing to see on the front page of The Oregonian yesterday that 25,000 bees (along with other beneficial insects) were found dead in a Target parking lot in Oregon. The parking lot trees had been sprayed with pesticides. Way to go, idiots. So, I’m feeling very protective of my bees right now and will accept the stings and the messes as they come.
If you’re a beekeeper, I’d love to hear how your bees are doing and what you’re seeing in your hive right now. Send a note and let everyone know just how fascinating bees can be. I’d also be glad to take any tips or advice you have regarding any aspect of beekeeping.