Saturday, August 1, 2009

Lesson learned: How to 'tick off' a hive of bees!

Those of you who follow my adventures will know that I've been keeping a more watchful eye over my bees lately. That's because they've been "bearding" quite a bit. On Thursday night it was the most I've seen yet, the entire front of the brood box was completely covered, and the entrance was clogged up with bees. Although I know it is natural for them to beard, I've also read that after awhile, if it continues to stay hot and humid in the hive, they could very likely abscond to escape the heat, and maybe I should work on more ventilation.

I decided that to help in ventilation, and to aid in varroa mite control, my best bet was to get a screened bottom board. So with the Chatham, Virginia, branch of Dadant & Sons being just 45 minutes away, I made the trip on Friday morning and picked up two of the heavy duty plastic bottom boards, one for my hive now and another for next spring when I do a split. When I got home, I attached some one inch plank risers on the new bottom board (so more air will circulate under it) and decided to install it on Saturday afternoon.

So the time comes for me to install the new screened bottom board, and while I was at it, do a powdered sugar dusting for the mites. While I haven't seen any yet, I figured now would be a good time to do it since I have the new bottom, and knock out two things at once. So this afternoon, when I figured most would be out in the field, I go about smoking them and planning my course of action.

You've heard that saying that if something can go will? Let me attest, my friends, I am the prime example of that saying today. It wasn't pretty, and pardon me for saying it, pretty damn scary.

First of all, things were fine when I opened the hive. But when I tried to lift the brood box off the wooden bottom board, and believe me, it was heavy -- it wouldn't come apart, not even with my hive tool. It was like it was glued tight. So here I stand, holding a brood box full of bees, who are a little irritated by now, wondering what to do next. So I sat the whole thing on the ground and quickly put the new screened bottom board on the pedestal that holds my hive. I decided that I would have to transfer all of the frames to another deep box, the one I usually put over the hive-top feeder, so I put it together quickly, and decided that I would add the frames to the new set-up. Plus it would allow me to do an inspection while I was at it.

Here's where it gets a little scary. I took each frame out, one by one, and transferred it directly to the new deep super. Things looked good, some of the frames were totally heavy with capped honey, one side of a frame was totally white, while others had capped brood. I didn't see larvae, to be honest, I didn't look -- I was trying to get it all over with as quickly as I could because it was obvious I was irritating them...the buzzing was getting into a somewhat loud frenzied sound by this time.

I finally finished the transfer of all ten frames, taking care not to squish anyone if I could help it, but the inside walls of the deep (the one attached to the wooden bottom board) was covered with bees. Making sure I didn't see the queen, I decided the best course would be to shake them out.

BIG MISTAKE! While shaking them, I misjudged and hit the top of the hive -- and all hell broke loose. It was like something you would see out of a bad horror movie. The buzzing was at a frenzied pace and loud, bees were flying everywhere, and they were head butting me so hard, they were bouncing off the top of my hat and veil.

Truthfully, I panicked. Finally gathering my wits, I told myself to just walk away and let them settle down, plus it would give me time to calm down too. So after a few minutes of everybody calming down, I went back to work, and they were still irritated, but nothing like moments before.

Figuring that they were totally ticked with me, I decided to go ahead and do the powdered sugar dusting anyway to get it over with...and not wait for a couple of weeks and irritate them again. So I did it, using a flour sifter, and coated the top of the frames, then brushed the excess sugar down into the hive and off the frames. And after doing that, I decided to put the hive-top feeder back on, added syrup, closed it all up and got my tools.

I wish I'd had my camera. The funniest part of the whole operation was seeing this flurry of white honey bees flying all in front of the hive. They looked like little ghosts. and I thought, maybe they'll busy themselves grooming each other and forget about that man in the white overalls with the smoker. Least I hope so.

Today was a learning experience. I am totally amazed that I didn't get stung. And I have to admit, it was the most scared I've been since working my bees. Usually I am really calm and enjoy myself, but today was a day that I really hope to never repeat as long as I keep bees. I do hear old time beekeeps say "you'll make mistakes..everyone does" and all of that. But even though I know we all make mistakes, I somehow feel in my head that I screwed up today, I rushed though working my girls, and I'm afraid that more events like today will make them unmanageable. That's the last thing I want...for them to become unruly and for me to be afraid of them and avoid them.

I won't go back in the hive for another couple of weeks except to feed them, and even then, I just have to open the top of the hive. Maybe they'll have forgotten this day by them. Least I hope anyway. I want to.


  1. Hi Mark. Just popped on late to see if anything was happening and, sorry, but I had to laugh. Check out my post on 3-3-09. As new beekeepers, we all make mistakes. I've made many. You will survive and so will your bees. :)

  2. I can certainly relate. I've had to tell myself to slow down and especially not to make hasty decisions - I really like the quote on Lynn's site (she commented above) about doing nothing is often better than doing something. A beekeeper friend also told me that you're not a real beekeeper until you've had your bees chase you out of the bee yard. I'm not sure I want that to happen ! :)



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