Thursday was a beautiful day and I had it off from work (thank you, Uncle Dwight, who was a Chosin Marine). I checked on the bees and “Stripey” was doing very well – lots of full comb and traffic, some bees were even landing with dark orange pollen. I’ve given up trying to figure out where the flowers are at odd times of the year; I’m sure some wealthy summer person’s gardens are full of alpine poppies down in Northeast Harbor, blooming orange and purple in mid-November. It wouldn’t be the first time I wished I could travel with the bees.
I realized I was in trouble when I took the top cover off to check the level of sugar in the feeder box. The syrup was shot through with green mold that looked like seaweed and smelled like vinegar. The bees hadn’t touched it and all the previous week while I was hoping they were happily stocking up while trapped in their hives by wind and rain. The week of damp, 65 degree weather might have encouraged mold, and this year I bought cheap, store brand sugar for 1/3 the price of Domino’s in 15 lb bags so perhaps that was a factor, too. In any case, I pulled the feeder box off the hive (heavy!), cleaned and bleached it, dried it in the sun and then refilled it and went to check on Hive Two (Two Bee).
Two Bee, sadly, was empty. The top box had comb on only three frames, so I took it off and poked around a bit. The remaining boxes smelled good – honey and beeswax – so I put the top cover on, blocked the entrances and walked away, figuring I would use the set-up for the new package bees on order from R. Weaver Apiaries in the spring. My only excuse here is that this is normally the time of year I lose a hive and I was rushed.
Yesterday was another beautiful day – 60 degrees and perfectly still – and the bees in Stripey were out and about in force. I went out to check the sugar level (about two days depleted, perfect) and then realized I heard buzzing – from both hives. I knocked the wooden door cover off the “dead” hive and bees immediately boiled out. And kept coming. Pissed at having been cooped up all day Friday, they formed a cloud in front of the hive and began making foraging sorties, and boy, did I feel stupid. I ran in the house and made them a batch of fall syrup, grabbed the clean feeder box out of the hoop house and promptly made my second mistake in two days.
Lore and practice suggest wearing white, smooth clothing while tending bees. Popular reasoning goes that most bee predators are dark and fuzzy: bears, skunks, raccoons, etc. I’ve never had a problem wearing work clothes around my hives, but I do “dress up” in a white beekeeping outfit with a full hood when doing anything invasive. Yesterday morning I was wearing a dark red long-sleeved shirt and a black skirt with black tights and shoes. When I popped the cover off the second hive to put a shim and feeder on top four guard bees immediately settled on my right forearm and stung me as a group. I had the feeder box in my hands and couldn’t brush them off for a few seconds – it felt like my arm was on fire.
Now, Sunday evening, my arm is red and swollen hard from elbow to about 2″ above my wrist. I don’t typically react very much to bee stings, but perhaps four at once was a shock to the system. I’ll try not to do that again right away.