Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Getting Stung Sucks Big Time

This is what I aspire to. I want to be the kind of beekeeper that is simply fearless and unwavering in confidence. When I began this endeavor I imagined I would be one of those beekeepers who worked the hives maybe wearing a veil, maybe not. Who the hell wore those bulky bee suites?

This of course if Marla, my other girlfriend, entomologist and beekeeper extraordinaire. She makes me weak in the knees and when she speaks I come undone.  Let me reassure my readers, Tina is the love of my life this is just a silly junior high like crush, I am sure we all have them.  Besides, Marla doesn't give me the time of day.  I don't think she even noticed when I was one of about 10 in a crowd of 200 that raised my hand when asked who had a good harvest this year during the Minnesota Hobby Beekeepers Meeting last night. Seriously Marla? I was one of a handful, don't you want to know what I did to get 20 gallons of honey? I may not have imagined donning a bee beard but I surely expected to be opening up hives with my bare hands, unencumbered by additional protective clothing. Then I got consumed by the idea of getting a tic, deer or wood, didn't matter and I went into full combat mode and ordered the bee suite, the veil, gloves and then some.

Well things have not panned out as I imagined.  For awhile I convinced myself I was just protecting myself from the tics. Then I started getting stung and the protective gear got a little more, well shall we say complicated. Now I can not imagine going into the bee yard without my veil, bee suite, gloves and today I am kicking myself in the butt for not putting on the calf high boots I usually wear.

My stings seem to get worse and worse each time I get stung. I would have expected them to temper over time but no such luck.  Paula and I had lofty ideas today, hoping to pull all of our empty boxes, 11 of them. We started with Mr. Abbott, the smallest and weakest hive. Good golly can you say population explosion! The bees had made their way up four boxes and while they did do some cleaning they mostly capped off small bits of honey in two full boxes of frames. Its all patchy and there isn't a prayer we could extract it, nor is it enough that it would be worth moving to another hive. It just isn't worthy of winter food stores. So we got started and dang if those girls didn't get agitated beyond measure. Paula got stung first and left the bee yard while I made a fleeting attempt to carry on but then I got stung and by the time I got to the car Paula got stung again. I got stung in the exact same spot as last time, right over the medial aspect of my ankle joint. I know perfectly well that by tomorrow morning my ankle is going to be so stiff and swollen that I won't be able to walk for a day or so. Paula, well she got stung in the same place on both of her ankles. Typically she doesn't react like I do but both of us felt like we got a hefty dose of venom.

We quickly regrouped and considered our situation, the bee yard now loaded with warning pheromone would not be too welcoming. We'd only pulled two out of 11 boxes. I suggested we go at this piecemeal and take it a hive a visit. Paula agreed but when we got back into the bee yard we decided to try to pull a few more boxes. All in all I think we pulled five which is a good start. The bees did an excellent job of cleaning the frames and the boxes. They are dry as a bone.  We put all the frames inside  four or five large construction bags and just tossed the boxes into the car. When we got in the car we sat in silence for a moment or two, listening to a few bees trapped inside the bags buzzing away. It is such a lovely sound in an odd sort of way.

During our ride home we tried in earnest to talk about the pros and cons of wintering and not wintering the bees. It is such an ethical dilemma for me personally. How can we not try to overwinter all of them? How can we deliberately compromise their ability to overwinter? I am not going to get into the merits of this conversation today, trust me it is a hard one to have. A beekeeping peer of mine likened it to feeling like the sorcerer's apprentice in that Mickey Mouse cartoon from Fantasia in which the brooms kept multiplying and Mickey kept falling further and further behind. Coming out of last winter with two hives that became five. Going into winter now with five could mean 10 in the spring and going into the following winter with 10 could me 20 in the spring and so on and so forth. You can see the problem at hand I am sure. I just want to be a four colony hobby beekeeper, nothing more, nothing less. How do I accomplish that in a way that is responsible and ethical and economical?

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