Friday, October 9, 2009

Inspection in a word: FRENZIED!

Thursday was the perfect day for an inspection here. It was sunny, the temperature was 71 degrees, and no wind. It seemed more like spring than fall, and I figured I would do an inspection and a powdered sugar dusting in case any new varroa mites have sprung up. So I suited up, lit the smoker, and went down to the hive. Things were just fine while I dismantled the hive components; I took off the hive top feeder, then lugged the honey chamber off, and got down into the brood chamber to see what is happening there. And here is what I found.

Pardon the slightly off-center angle of the picture above, but as you can see, and like I've said before, this colony is booming. If I didn't know that fall was coming and that a lot of them will die out before winter, I would swear this hive is a candidate for swarming. Is seemed that most of them were packed in the brood nest (above) and not all that many in the honey chamber. And shortly after I snapped this picture, there were so many on the tops of the frames, I would have to smoke them to run them down into the box. Believe me, after what I started out with, I'm not complaining at all. Just my observation that a lot of bees inhabit this hive.
It had been awhile since I'd done a full-fledged inspection, and it was obvious the girls had been busy in both chambers, but they were making their fair share of burr comb too. When I pulled the honey box off, I pulled apart some of the comb that was full of honey attacked to the bottoms of the frames -- and of course the dripping honey went all across the top bars. So I had to scrape it off and into a bucket, then I had to scrape it off the bottoms of the frames in the top chamber which is packed with honey. There you see the majority of it in the bottom of the bucket (which I use for yard work). You can see the bees at the bottom that just didn't want to give it up.

Here is where it gets interesting. As I said before, I decided to do a powdered sugar dusting to catch any mites, so after I scraped off all the burr comb, I started my task with the honey chamber. I put the powdered sugar in the sifter and dusted it, and it was like someone sounded an air raid siren. They went ballistic! Ahhh, but the best is yet to come -- I had to do the brood chamber next -- and I just knew it was going to be one wild ride. And I didn't disappoint myself -- it was! Look carefully at the picture (to the left of the hive body) and you'll see a bee butting my camera. See her?

After I smoked them down into the brood chamber, I powdered them as well. And while I was doing it, the roar of the buzzing was quite loud and it looked like I was in the middle of a swarm. Some flying around were white, some their natural yellow -- and all were totally irritated. The head butting was turned up a couple of notches..and I looked down to see my overall pants all dotted with bees. They were on my gloves, on my smoker, inside my tool box -- everywhere I looked, there they were. Although I've never received a sting wound on my skin from this colony whatsoever, I found one on my glove and spinning around -- she stung my glove and her stinger was still partially inside her and lodged in my glove so I pulled her off and scraped the stinger out of the leather. They were not happy.

Although I wasn't scared (actually I was fascinated) -- I decided that this was the time to close up shop. I put the hive back together again in the midst of this cyclone of bees, and as soon as I got it together, they started hanging to the front of the hive. As you can see if you click on the picture, they're all on the front of the hive, covering the front of the screened hive stand, and a few clumps were on the ground in front of the stand. Some were returning foragers with pollen on their legs, probably wondering just what the heck was going on, but I think its safe to say that 95% were the ones that just got a dusting.

Take a look at this one. Yeah, that's a lot of ticked off bees. I know why they're so many there -- as soon as the sugar dusting began they took to the air and were now returning. They were hanging everywhere, but the ones that really bothered me were the ones that hung onto the underside of the hive stand and the ones that clumped on the ground. What scared me, and I know it probably didn't happen, but it scared me nonetheless -- was that maybe the queen was under that mass. Could she have dropped off during my inspection? Did she flee when the sugar dusting started? But then I thought it out and realized that I never examine my frames over the grass, I always hold the frames over the hive bodies in case she drops, so chances are her lying in the front of the hive and in the grass seemed really remote.

Take a look at the girls festooning under the hive stand. I watched the bees on the front of the hive slowly make their way back into the hive through the hole in the mouse guard, but then I noticed this clump under the stand. As you can see, it almost looks like a tiny swarm of bees that you might find under the eve of a house or something. While I was being dive-bombed by other bees flying around, these bees didn't do anything other than hang on to each other and wait it out. I guess they were waiting their turn to get back into the a less crowded space.

Meanwhile, three bees followed me inside my house. I was able to get one of them back outside, but the other two I had to eliminate...which bothered me a lot. One reason I eliminated it is because of my significant other, who is just fine as long as the bees are outside. And the other is because I have a 13-year-old Dachshund who is almost totally blind -- so I just couldn't take a chance of him getting stung. Oh, and that didn't include the ones that flew around the back door for awhile -- almost like, "You invaded our space, so now its your turn, buddy!" 

In the end it took a couple of hours...but the majority finally made their way back into the hive. By nightfall, only a few guard bees were on the entrance going back and forth. And then today, things seemed pretty normal, a lot of flying around in the front of the hive and crawling up the front, but otherwise it seemed fine.

Truthfully, I don't know if my experience yesterday is normal or not. Since I don't have the luxury of a mentor, I don't have anyone to readily I have to depend on asking other beekeepers online for their advice. I can say that I've never seen my bees become this aggressive was even worse than the time I accidentally banged the hive during an inspection. And I realize they're protecting their honey store and usually become a little testy in the fall -- so maybe it isn't that unusual after all. So maybe my first-time experience just seemed a little more ominous than it really was.

ADDENDUM: A few other beekeepers on the forum tell me that they're running into the very same situation when doing their inspections now. It seems to be that "its our honey and our home...leave us alone" mentality (right word?) that the bees have this time of year. It usually disappears in the spring. So it may not be that unusual after all.

Comments and ideas, good or bad, I'll readily accept. Anyone have a simular experience? Please share your thoughts.

I'll BEE anxious to hear from you all!


  1. Interesting discussion. I haven't dusted my hives with sugar before so I can't comment on that. I have insepcted deeply a couple times, and they became quite upset. Not to that degree, but taking to the air in a great cloud (and yes, frenzy). That's a little unnerving for me at times, more out of amazement and a reluctance to disturb them so much. Mine can head butt a lot, but are not prone to sting unless I bang the hive around too much. By the way, I bought a child's butterful net, and if I have stray bees in the house/garage after extracting, I just catch them and take them outside. Thanks for sharing the experience.

  2. Hi Mark,

    Great website. Really neat pictures.Didn't have a chance to dust the bees.The temperature is staying around 50F. If I do dust
    I will keep what happenned to yo in the back of my mind.


  3. I think your freak'in brave! I haven't done a whole hive sugar shake. I'm too scared to!



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