The BIRDS Versus The BEES!

Friday, May 1, 2009

If someone ever predicted that one day I would be going into battle against a hive of bees -- I would have asked "and what have you been smoking?"

I never imagined that I'd actually invest in a hive of bees someday, and would actually be required to tend to said hive of bees and sometimes take steps that the hive would not like.

This was just one of those procedures. It had to be done. If I Venus and I were to have a healthy hive of bees that would be around to pollinate all of the trees in our "all you can eat fruit salad" backyard, the job had to be done.

The time had come to remove the waxy, burr comb buildup in our hive so a missing slat could fit inside. A normal hive contains ten slats -- and it's very important that the hive have access to each and every one. A missing slat could mean a weakened hive, so it had to go back in.

I was forced to remove this slat from the hive during the actual "hiving" process. The all important Queen of this hive arrived in our "package" of bees encased in a very small cage. The bees were not comfortable with the new Queen just yet. She had to be kept inside her small cage, and that cage had to be placed in the hive.

This would give the rest of our colony a chance to introduce themselves -- and get comfortable with the new Queen so to speak. Following instructions to the letter I removed a slat to place the caged Queen inside, then covered the hive back up. In three days I returned to free the Queen, only to find that worker bees had build a waxy honeycomb called "burr wax" in place of the missing slat.

It had to come out. It was covered with bees -- bees that got quite upset anytime my gloved hand got near it. I would need the assistance of my fine wife, who is just as inexperienced at beekeeping as I am, and just as nervous.

The battle commenced...

This is Venus showing off her special "costume" before taking on the hive. If she only knew what was coming. If I only knew! Not shown in this photo? The heavy gloves she would wear before the assault.

This was the problem right here. This missing slat was leaned up against the beehive, but would not fit inside. We were using a standard smoker to calm the hive at this point, and I could hear the colony nervously start buzzing when they got a whiff of that smoke. They knew something was up. They just didn't know what.

They were about to find out.

This is exactly what greeted Venus and I when we opened the top of the hive. The photos do not do a whole lot of justice here. Yes -- you can see the burr comb wax in this photo. And yes -- you can also see bees welling up from the hive to greet us. What you cannot see is the hundreds of bees that began to nervously swarm around us.

When you open up a hive -- this is the kind of treatment you can expect. Bees are insects. Their first instinct is to protect the Queen from danger. The second instinct is to protect the hive. And my job -- the job that would really make them mad -- was to remove that waxy, white comb covered with hundreds of nervous bees.

If I could only tell them I was just as terrified.

Venus is also doing her part during this process. She is armed with a sprayer bottle containing equal parts sugar and water. Bees LOVE sugar water. And once they are sprayed with it -- they can't fly. They no longer have any interest in the two strange creatures who are knocking on the front door. They're busy lapping up a sugary treat.

But -- try as she might -- try as I might -- you can't spray all of them. The bees that were already swarming us and landing on our clothes? We couldn't get them. I don't know if I would ever reccommend the experience of bees climbing all over your body -- but it is something special. It's not for the faint of heart.

After spraying as much sugar water as possible I used a standard hive tool -- a metal prong) and ordinary kitchen tongs, I managed to remove one slat from the hive, tearing away the burr comb buildup that fell to the bottom of the hive.

You can't see the angry bees that are swarming me at this moment. I didn't pay much attention to them. I couldn't. But one of them managed to get my attention. I felt this growing pain in my armpit, and it was then that I realized one of these very annoyed bees had just delivered an extra-strong mesage that he didn't like what we were doing and I'd better wipe that cheesy smile off my face.

I had been STUNG! For the first time since I was six-years old -- I HAD BEEN STUNG! But, that was just the first sting. More were to come.

As I mentioned earlier, when I removed one of the slats to get the burr comb out (it easily fell away from the slat) -- a large chunk of it fell directly into the hive. A hive full of very pissed off bees at this point. I was destroying a lot of their hard work. And they were defending the hive.

As I stared into the depths of this angry hive, I used the kitchen tongs to bring up the burr comb, covered with bees, and place it on the ground in front of the hive. Not all of it would come out at once. Pieces of it would break off and fall back into the hive. This meant several return trips.

It was during this time when I noticed that more than one bee had managed to slip under the cover of my sweat pants at the ankles and were slowly climbing up my bare legs to my stomach. Now, that did bother me somewhat. I can only go so far without getting worried. And -- it was at that point that another angry bee delivered another angry jolt -- this one in the stomach. Sting #2!

Bees can smell fear -- if you let them. If they notice any weakness -- they will exploit it. I could not let this angry hive know that the stings were having any effect. That would only invite more stinging. I had a job to finish.

Covered with bees -- with burr comb removed -- Venus handed me the all important tenth slat and I gently placed it in its rightful spot inside the hive. The bees responded with another jolt to my lower belly. And -- unlike the previous two -- this one really hurt. A bee had crawled all the way up my leg and delivered his stinger into the biggest, softest part of Bill Bird's body.


But -- by this time -- the job was completed. Burr wax removed -- Venus and I retreated. The bees followed. If any neighbors were watching at this point -- they saw a husband and wife streaking down a concrete walkway to the safety of a garage, stripping off bee covered clothing along the way.

It was only after I was safely inside did Venus notice that I'd brought a few friends with me. We managed to brush them off without anymore damage, and actually let them back outside.

I dearly hope that this is a project that I will not have to attempt again, but I know I probably will. At some point Venus and I will be forced to go back out to the hive and inspect the frames for the presence of the Queen, and to see what kind of a job the Queen is doing.

Time to invest in a BEE SUIT!


Garry said...

hey bill,

your coming along just fine. one tip - do the hive work earlier in the day (pix look like late evening) this will have a lot of the bees out foraging - thus reducing the numbers of bees you will duke it out with. less bees are always better.


Bill Bird said...

Good tip Garry. I'll tell the wife. I'm a tad jealous of your fruit forest BTW. Yeah, I've seen the photos....

Daffodil Planter said...

I just discovered your blog via the FB group. Who needs Indiana Jones movies when you have a bee hive in the garden? I'm waiting for the next installment!

I'm in Nevada City, CA and will add you to my local blogroll--glad to have found you.

Bill Bird said...

Why thank you and much appreciated!