On Saturday, my problem was one million bees.
Let me explain.
On Friday night, the weather cleared up and I decided I'd install the bees in the hive. I imagined my worst case scenario which hilariously went something like; if I forget to put a tool in my box and then have to run off and get it mid-install, that will be really embarrassing.
I'm totally laughing at that right now. Because I'm delusional.
So, I went out to install the hive wearing the full bee suit that I bought and realized I didn't necessarily need but should definitely wear while it's cool enough not to be a death bag and oh I'll just wear the jacket and veil set, which I've worn for every other beekeeping scenario, some other time.
So, you know I strutted out there for my #1 install wearing a suit I'd never worn before.
|Except when I got it and tried it on with flip-flops to be extra authentic.|
My years of running failures stemming from trying things on race day that I'd never tried before should have told me this was a bad idea, but no.
Immediately I realized that the hat was ill-fitting. And that it was a hat style veil rather than a hood, like my now much beloved jacket. This hat business popped up and down and got in my face pretty much from the word, Go. The thing was falling over my face even when all I was doing was carring my little crate of tools out to the hive.
Again, I should have realized this was a bad idea, but no. I forged ahead.
Which is when Thing #1 That No One Emphasizes Strongly Enough presented itself: Queen bees are fast bitches.
And not, like, fast in the she's streaking around topless being featured on Bees Gone Wild kind of fast. No, fast, like, if, once you've plucked the cork from her cage you don't immediately slide your thumb to cover the hole while you then carefully smush in a marshmallow to close it up again, girlfriend will just slip out and fly off, giving you the finger all the way.
Seriously, she gave me a very small bee finger as she hovered around my big eyeballed face while I fruitlessly but carefully swiped after her with the queen cage. Yes, a queen cage is small with a small hole in it. It could never *catch* an escaped queen bee. Or any other kind of bee for that matter if they're on the lamb like this gal was.
She flew up into my neighbor's tree, at which time I took to swearing enthusiastically, and then she buzzed me one more time before heading up over the fence into the never never.
I'd lost my queen.
Fuck fuck fuck shit damn it crap.
So - know this new beekeepers - queen bees are fucking fast so don't dilly dally when swapping the cork for candy. Don't wear giant bee gloves and expect to have the dexterity of bare hands. Just wear bare hands. I'd say wear tightly fitting gloves, but I *was* and that didn't help. Usually I work the hives at work barehanded, so I'll just have to do that at home, too. I don't know why this isn't emphasized more strongly - particularly in the classes I've attended, books I've read, instructions in the bee box and beekeepers I've talked to (until today that is), but it should be.
Girls have been in their cages for more than 48 hours by the time you see them - they want out.
So yeah, I went to bed last night with a queenless colony hived in my yard.
The book said to just install the colony as planned and go order a new queen. So I did. And then I kicked myself all night about having lost this one bee. Granted, an important bee - all too important, but one bee.
I got up this morning, went out there to see what was going on and saw nothing.
No activity, no movement, no visible change in levels of sugar syrup in the feeder. So I popped the top real quick to make sure something was in there and they were. A quietly buzzing, crawling mass of bees milled about looking vaguely normal.
OK, I thought, maybe a few will come out later and check the place out. That'd be nice. I'll go for a run and when I get home I'll hope for some life back here.
So I went for a run and when I got home THERE WAS SOME LIFE BACK THERE.
My problem was now not the loss of one bee, but the accumulation of, oh I don't know, *one million* bees.
They were all over the place and in a big buzzing ball all at once. They were climbing on the front of the hive, shoving their way in and out of the hive, swirling above and around the hive and darting in and out of my yard in the direction of the hive. And they didn't even pause at any of the blossoming trees or plants.
They were not harvesting pollen. They were robbing my hive.
My queenless brand new hasn't been together for more than a few days hive was getting its ass kicked by some nearby, probably feral, hive that took one look at the entrance feeder and called all its buddies.
Which brings me to the #2 and #3 Things That No One Emphasize Strongly Enough.
First - entrance feeders should never be used to feed a brand new colony of bees in a brand new hive or otherwise. Because they are, apparently, a god damned all points bulletin smorgasbord.
Instead, you should use a hive top feeder arrangement, which is nothing more than the jar and lid from the entrance feeder overturned on the inner cover and then covered with an empty super and then hive lid. Which thank god I had someone to tell me this later in the day because I HAD NO IDEA BECAUSE THEY JUST SELL THESE THINGS AS THOUGH IT DOESN'T MATTER.
I was told that perhaps only use the entrance feeder to provide water for the bees.
The other thing was that OH MY WORD was in no way emphasized appropriately, which I think could probably use some bold lettering or maybe some red ink, is that if you install a queenless colony, you will set off a chain of events that will have you contemplating burning your house down to resolve.
|Deliver me from this chaos! I said - BRING ME A MATCH!|
See, a queenless new hive is about the most vulnerable COME KICK MY ASS scenario in all of BeeLand. And a queenless new hive is also a completely rudderless entity that behaves exactly like you'd expect 10,000 directionless people to behave - everyone goes everywhere, some clump together, some fight each other. Madness ensues. Then introduce another group of directionFULL folks that want to take over the house and you can kind of imagine what happens.
All that stuff I said before but bigger.
Except I never heard of this threat. Maybe the books and bee yards and classes don't want to scare you with the what ifs, but apparently this kind of What If is sort of understood by experienced beekeepers which I came to know later on when, as the bubble of panic was rising slowly from my feet I punted and called a local beekeeper who'd I once talked to about an apprenticeship.
[FYI: A few other creative ideas were tried to recapture the swarm, stop the robbing and get the directionless half hive that'd taken up residence on my neighbor's fence to come back to my hive, but I'll spare you those stories. Just imagine bees everywhere, boxes and other trapping mechanisms everywhere, a wet sheet, sugar syrup NO WHERE and me looking like a deranged and frightened lunatic trying to keep my panic below my bulging eyeballs so that Bubba didn't call the cops.]
Well, thank god this beekeeper is obviously a saint who reads email on Saturday afternoons and will pick up a phone and call a new beekeeper in distress because otherwise I might be striking a match on our garage instead of typing this post.
Steve, let's call him Steve because that's his name, not only helped me come up with some next steps to put my hive back into some semblance of order and in the best position to actually survive, but also made me feel better about having created a hailstorm of stingers in my yard.
He was the one who explained how a queenless hive is a serious situation and can have some equally serious results. He was the one who said UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES should I ever use an entrance feeder to establish a new colony. He was the one that said to put the queen cage back in the hive, capture the half swarm from the fence, shove them all in the hive together, put the improvised hive top feeder in the hive and call it quits for the night. He also told me that I'd done everything right (except the whole queen thing) and that he'd lost flighty queens before, too, so don't be suicidal.
The best beekeepers are the ones who fail and stick with it, he said. Because they learn the most and have the most successful hives in the long run.
Oh, that was Thing #4 That No One Emphasizes Strongly Enough: don't throw out the queen cage if you lose the queen.
It's THE ONLY THING that will keep your miscreants together until their new lady arrives. Put the queen cage in the hive, let them smell it and reminisce about their queen, and wait for reinforcements to arrive.
Don't, say, lose the queen, swear for half an hour, hive the colony, throw the queen cage away and then go in the house for a night of self-indulgent cocktails and whining.
Do you know that Steve offered to bring over some brood frames (frames with babies in them) to fill my hive back up if it turned out I didn't have enough bees for my new queen? He said it. Oh, and he also said give me a call tomorrow night and let me know how things are going. Oh, and next time you need to buy bees, let me know because I buy them in bulk from the same yard and go pick them up myself so you won't have to pay shipping.
Oh and I'm rad! No, he didn't say that. But I was sure thinking it. Also, thank gawd. Thank fucking gawd because whoa.
So, that's where I am people - we had a big OH NOoooooooooooooooo on Friday, an even bigger OH Noooooooooooooooooo about five times today and, with any luck, the OH Noooooooooos are over except I'm not counting my bees until they're hived. They could do the whole swarming thing tomorrow and I'd be back to super fucked square one again, but even Steve says that, at that point, it's a loss and he'll just start me over with one of the swarms he captured over the weekend. Who knows, maybe that's the one with my escaped queen. Beotch.
Thankfully, we got to have dinner tonight and BBQ just a few feet from this hive because they'd calmed down and gone to bed. So, you know, for now all's quiet on the western front.
Isn't this FUN? Isn't it exciting to go through the entire "Common problems and their easy answers" section of your beekeeping book on the first day? Doesn't this sound like a good way to test your Losing Your Shit threshold?
I'm pretty sure I'm a real crazy person now. Perhaps I need a beard of bees to match my newly discovered persona.
Please cross your fingers that tomorrow goes somewhat to plan. I'll be back. And don't you judge me.