Saturday, April 09, 2011

Oh nooooooooooooooobbbbbbbbbzzzzzzzzzzzzzzoooooooooooo

On Friday, my problem was one bee.
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.

I was suddenly VERY GLAD that Bubba was on a long bike ride. For the whole day.

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. 

No-no feeder.

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.

We'll see.

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.


  1. YIKES. That's WAY more stressful than trying (and failing) to herd sheep. At least sheep follow corn.

    It sounds like you're recovering nicely, though (fingers crossed). It also sounds like Steve may be eligible for beatification in the near future.

  2. Sorry to hear about your flitty queen. If she was so much trouble in the beginning, maybe it was a good thing she took off? I never heard of opening the queen cage. We put ours candy side down in the middle of the hive (between frames) and make them work to get the candy out. We check on the cage and if they don't make an opening in the candy about 3 days later, we then help them out. Queens can be divas. Last year one colony decided they had enough and started raising possible new queens before she was overthrown. And bad ass bee keepers don't wear gloves. You'll get there- promise!

  3. Finny, you make me laugh so hard! You write like I think...but can never actually get it down on paper.

    I hope the new queen is not such a wandering lady and sticks with the hive.

    Thank goodness for Steve the beekeeper. He seems like a real gem.

  4. Oh holy shit.

    But I kinda like the idea of a bee beard. Or a bee wig! YES! BEE WIG!

  5. The picture with all the bees made my anxiety skyrocket. Thank GOD Bubba wasn't there otherwise he'd be clutching an Epi pen in a dark closet somewhere.

  6. All I can say is hat I am glad it is you in San Jose and not you in Pacifica or me in Pacifica. I love bees at a great distance!

  7. Holy Crap Finny! Good for you that you've kept your sense of humor. I hope things go better today -- what an adventure!

  8. Oh my god that's a lot of fucking bees! My husband is allergic to bees too and he'd be crapping his pants big time lol

  9. Oh wow! You know, the funny thing is that I was thinking of you and your bees as I made breakfast this morning. Which is potentially creepy sounding but I really love your blog and your writing style. And I was baking with honey. Anyway, I just had this feeling that I'd be reading about some bee-adventures when I checked my blog reader this morning. Lo and behold.

    You'll get the hang of it. And now you have this awesome and hilarious story to tell. Life is just boring if everything goes according to plan.

  10. OH MY GOD. I've never had the desire to have a bee hive in my yard, and you have just now totally confirmed that because I would have cried, passed out, and then burned my house down had that scene occured in my very own back yard. I feel sort of woozy just reading about it.

    That said, I am SO glad you have Steve, The Local Helpful Beekeeper. I'll keep my fingers crossed that your hive survives in a nice, well-controlled manner.

  11. Dude. You didn't need a self center beotch like that anyway...

  12. Oh my god, I love you.

    Is it wrong that this makes me want bees even more?

  13. LoL that is hilarious. I am sorry you lost your queen! It was nice of Steve to help you though. Cant wait to hear how it turns out.

  14. Ugh. Blogger just swallowed my comment. Boo. Let's see if I can somewhat remember my lengthy comment ...

    Your story has totally intimidated me. I'm not sure if I'm going to be cut out for beekeeping (or collecting.)

    At least you can find humor in the situation. Or, so it appears, from your writing.

    How long will it take to get your new queen???

    (And, YES! I found orange grosgrain ribbon. Spenser picked a plastic Easter egg at the register and we got an additional 30% off our order!!! I think I'll need your address again, if you can email it to me. It's been awhile.)

  15. So I was wondering how things went...

    Yeah, I see how things went.


  16. Oh no, is right! I have a very low Losing Your Shit threshold, so I would have been absolutely hysterical. And the image of you trying to capture the queen in that little box? I totally would have tried that.

    I really hope things are going better!

    But just think of how much value you are providing us potential bee-hive owning readers. Lots, is how much.

  17. Fingers crossed, boss.

  18. Damn. I feel like a total ass for my last comment now. I didn't really think they'd all whoosh on out of there. Figures you get stuck with the rowdy bees next door coming over and menacing your innocent little queenless hive.

    Good luck with round 2! I promise I'm thinking only happy thoughts about it!

  19. I am LOVING catching up on your bee adventures! WOW. You are amazing and skillful and smart. I think I may have indulged in cocktails and whining.

    You look very cute in that bee suit. I see why you wore it.

    Like Wendy, I love the image of you flailing the box at that bitchy queen.

  20. This is great... but causes me some heart ache.. as I have just installed into a Top Bar Hive.. and am using a front entrance feeder. I don't really have another option.

    I've linked you on my own blogadventure at :)


[2013 update: You can't comment as an anonymous person anymore. Too many douchebags were leaving bullshit SPAM comments and my inbox was getting flooded, but if you're here to comment in a real way like a real person, go to it.]

Look at you commenting, that's fun.

So, here's the thing with commenting, unless you have an email address associated with your own profile, your comment will still post, but I won't have an email address with which to reply to you personally.

Sucks, right?

Anyway, to remedy this, I usually come back to my posts and post replies in the comment field with you.

But, if you ever want to email me directly to talk about pumpkins or shoes or what it's like to spend a good part of your day Swiffering - shoot me an email to finnyknitsATgmailDOTcom.