Every time I work my beehives I get Harry Nilsson’s _The Point_ in my head. There’s one specific line in the album. “You’ve been goofing with the bees?” Yesterday I was definitely goofing with the bees.
It’s nectar season here. The blackberries are finishing out their bloom and the bees are building wax and making honey as fast as they possibly can. Some of my hives are ready for their first harvest. In the preceding days I had inserted escape boards on four of my hives. These escape boards allow bees to exit a specific part of the hive, but is too complicated to allow them re-entry. We beekeepers use these to get out bees out of honey supers that we need to harvest. Once all the bees exit the honey super it’s a relatively easy process of lifting the boxes off the hive, collecting the honey, and returning them.
Or at least, that’s the theory….
Tiffany was still exhausted from the end of the school year, I was too anxious to harvest my honey. We started with the eight hives we had in the middle of the main field on the farm. Once thing I’d learned from working my hives from the back of my truck is that I need a driver. I keep my hives on a raised apiary to protect them from water and varmints. I designed the whole system so that I could stand on my tailgate and work the hives. The preceding days had taught me that I couldn’t both work the hives and drive at the same time. Angry bees won’t allow me to reenter my truck and drive away.
We worked the first hive. as I was tearing it apart I realized that the hive was so strong that there was simply not enough room in the existing hive to allow the bees to exit their honey supers. In order to get them to exit I had to give them somewhere to go. This means inserting a empty honey super below the escape board. After getting suited up to work the hives, I went ahead and started working. Though I was suited, I couldn’t find all of my tools, particularly my hive tool. On the first hives this wasn’t much of an issue. I managed to take the cover off, lift off the full supers, which are very heavy, insert the empty super and get everything reassembled without much fuss.
The only exception to the simplicity of the process was Tiffany. As she backed up a second time she managed to hit the apiary with the tailgate of the truck. Thankfully it didn’t get knocked over, but it now has a bit of a list to it. I fully admit that this was my fault. I asked my wife to do something that she’s not particularly good at and I got her best effort. At this point, fearing for the future of my hives, I was very angry. Anger and bees don’t mix. Anger and marriages don’t mix either. I managed to get the second hive worked, and it was time to head to the second apiary at the front of the farm.
As we drove to the front of the farm I was irrationally angry at my poor wife, I was short critical tools for my beekeeping activities, and I was overall distracted from my task. At this point I should have had the common sense to stop what I was doing, but I so badly wanted to harvest my hives so that we would have more than eggs to sell down at the farm. So I made Tiffany sit in the passenger seat while I lined up the truck to work the front hives. My alignment was poor and the working site was not correct for what I needed. Regardless I pushed on, wanting the honey from the hives.
I lifted the cover off the first hive. All I had to do was lift off the two full honey supers, remove the escape board, insert a fresh super, and replace the supers and escape board. This hive was stronger than the first two I had worked. They had completely glued the two supers and escape board into place. Lacking the correct tools I used the closest thing I could find, a hammer. As much as I tried I could not get the two supers apart. I could, however, get the mated supers and the escape board to move. At this point the bees were obviously agitated, but I went ahead with what I was doing.
I tried lifting the paired supers off the hive. Supers when full of honey weigh about 65 pounds, a pair of them, with an escape board is easily over 120 pounds. Needless to say, I dropped the paired supers due to their weight. The best part is that I dropped them directly on top of the hive full of agitated bees. Seconds later I was literally covered with angry bees, all trying their best to sting me for stealing their honey. Very rapidly I learned that denim jeans and a bee jacket are not sufficient protection from a horde of angry bees.
Covered with stinging bees I fled the hive and ran from the apiary up to the front of the farm. Cars driving by got to watch the spectacle of me trying to get the bees off of me. I ran there because the wind wash from the cars helped to pull the bees away from me. In my anger and pain I flagged down Tiffany and jumped into the back of the truck. I managed to get her to understand that we needed to get home. At this point my tragedy turns to comedy. Here I am, in my bee suit, covered in angry stinging bees, standing in the bed of my truck clinging to the ladder rack as my poor wife drives 50 mph towards Sultan. as I flailed around knocking bees off of me they were swallowed up by the wind. By the time we turned off of the highway I was bee free and able to jump into the truck. I must have been quite a sight to the other drivers on highway 2.
When I got into the truck and calmed myself a hair I realized that we had to go back to the farm and fix the hive. It didn’t matter what condition I left it in, I had to get the bee boxes sorted out. At this point my poor wife was ready to cry. I was mad and she was my target. We then proceeded to drive back down to the farm. With the truck windows closed we drove up to look at the angry hive. They were still buzzing about the hive, but I was able to see what needed to be done. I had to rescue the cover, realign the supers, and put the last super on the hive. I had Tiffany drive to the entrance to the farm. I knew my work would require a rapid exit.
Even at the entrance to the farm I found myself attacked by angry bees. It was a process of running about while pulling on my bee gloves to stay clear. Bee stings, in general, do not bother me too much, but if I get them on my hands or forearms I swell like a balloon. With my kit on, I ran down the driveway and grabbed the super I had managed to remove and run away with before. I deposited it by the hive and was immediately attacked. In the process of realigning the empty super, escape board and full super I caused the entire hive to go into attack mode. Swarmed worse than the first time I got them aligned, but wasn’t able to get the last super back on the hive nor the cover. I ran. I ran and dove into the bed of the truck signaling Tiffany to drive.
As Tiffany took off towards sultan I was again clinging to the ladder rack on the truck flailing around knocking bees off of me. Ironically, all I could think about is what the people in the truck behind us must be thinking. A grown man, in a bee suit, in the bed of a truck, flailing around like a maniac at 50 mph. It must have been a hysterical sight. Needless to say, we are still providing entertainment to those who drive past our farm.
At home I stripped of my bee suit and clothes, still partially covered in angry bees. Swallowing down some benadryl we did a sting count. It was at least 30 stings all over my legs and arms. The worst was the sting on my backside. Every time I tried to sit down it flared up. We opted, at this point, to let the bees calm down. Just before sunset I went back down to the farm to claim the abandoned honey super and put the cover back on the hive. This time I only had a few angry bees and was able to get rid of them.
Just another day of chaos on the farm.