This winter has been an odd season in Maine. Every storm that might have brought an insulating blanket of snow has made rain instead, an endless mud season. We’ve had cold nights lately but yesterday it was warm enough to check and feed the bees. It was a little breezier than I’d like, but sunny days with temps in the low forties are rare enough when I’m off from work that I felt I had to take advantage.
This year I’m feeding granulated sugar mixed 1:1 with organic (no GMOs) corn syrup. It’s much easier than cooking just the granulated sugar down to candy, and I’ve read research that indicates some added value in the composition of corn syrup, particularly for spring feeding. This being a discussion involving beekeepers there is, of course, a dissenting opinion or several. I’ve decided to try out this new mixture as long as I have a source for the non-GMO corn syrup and a small number of hives. This would be an expensive way to feed a larger operation.
I brought my equipment down to the hives at 1:00 pm yesterday. The hives were still in the sun – not much shadow with no leaves on the trees – at the temp was 42 F. I went to the first hive and took apart the telescoping cover and the layer of newspaper insulation, popped the inner lid and dozens of bees boiled out at me like water from behind a dam. I was so shocked that I dropped the full baggie of syrup onto the frames and pulled the inner cover back down while I backed up and tried to brush bees off my ungloved hands. I was wearing my suit and veil, fortunately, but I never work with gloves unless I know in advance that a colony has been hostile. “Pistachio” has always been a very social, forgiving colony but with a large population near the end of their food stores they were defensive and easily aroused.
I found my hive tool and used it to brush 8 stingers off my right hand on my way back to the house to regroup. The old adage is true – try to brush the barb away from your skin because squeezing it releases more venom. Guard bees followed me for about 50′, trying to get past my veil and generally harassing my retreat. Now that’s a vigorous winter colony!
I gave them half an hour to settle down and then suited up (with gloves) and returned to the bee yard to put the telescoping cover back on Pistachio and check a few more hives. There were no bees out – it’s possible that they had already found their food. I popped the cover on the next hive, Vanilla, and the insulating layer of newsprint had been chewed on – a bad sign. I lifted the inner cover and sure enough, a field mouse was looking back at me from between the frames. Cute in other circumstances, mice make a mess of the hive innards. Bees can usually defend against rodent invasions but Vanilla had been a rather quirky colony from the start and I wasn’t all that surprised to lose them. I took apart the upper sections to chase the mice out over night and will take the rest of it apart this afternoon to start the long process of making the boxes habitable for a new colony in a month or so.
This morning I’m paying the price for being stung. It’s not as painful as stings I’ve had to the scalp although the swelling limits my mobility a bit. In five years of beekeeping this is only the second time I’ve had multiple stings over a small area, but it does happen. Lessons learned. . .