June Bee Update
If you’ve been following my bee adventures, you’ll notice that I’ve been quiet about the bees for a long time. As you might have read, my last hive opening was less than successful. The ending wasn’t happy for me. I was stung across the thighs more than a dozen times. I was also stung on my foot, through my sock, once. My foot was so swollen that I couldn’t wear shoes for several days, and I made another trip to the doctor. (While not systemically allergic, I suffer from a Large Localized Reaction from bee stings, just as I always have from mosquitoes and spiders.)
I thought the bees’ temper would subside, but each time I changed the feeder, now on the front of the hive, they were still pissed with me. I was finding that I could no longer refill the feeder without full body armor. I started approaching the hive stealthily from the rear, and they still buzzed around me before I touched a thing. To make matters worse, the bees seemed to be getting hungrier, and the feeder needed filling every other day. Needless to say, my trauma was more lasting than I anticipated.
The hive continued to buzz away busily, seemingly healthy and strong. I was hesitant to open things up and confirm. In mid-June, just as I arrived home from work, Howard and Bella were playing in the yard, no where near the feeder, and some bees were buzzing them. As I was helping Howard get Bella into the house with the briefest of door openings, I was stung again on the bare skin of my foot. Another several days without shoes.
Even as a novice beekeeper, from everything I’ve read about bees, this aggressive behavior is just not normal. Howard gently suggested that beekeeping might not be the right hobby for me. As disappointed as it made me, I was starting to agree.
Since then, my friend Laury and I attended a meeting of the Middlesex County Beekeepers’ Association. There, we met other beekeepers, both novices like us and more experienced ones. When I shared my tale of woe, they gave two suggestions. The first, was to change the feeder location from the front, back to the top, or to stop feeding altogether. Feeding from the front can attract robber bees which will make a hive’s bees very protective.
The second idea, which is more involved, is to requeen the hive. If the behavior is genetic, all the eggs from my current queen could have the same nasty disposition. By changing the queen, in about a month, new bees with different genetics will start to populate the hive. Option #2 is more intimidating because I have to find a new queen (which I can buy, it’s not like I have to search the wild). Then I have to locate my existing queen in the hive and kill her. Finally, I introduce the new queen into the hive as I did when I first set up the hive.
My immediate course of action was the easier one. The bees emptied the feeder, so I just took it away. Now, a bit of “wait and see” to find out whether they will mellow.
Along with the time to stop feeding is the time to add another box of frames that, once filled, will be “honey for me”. If I wanted to add the box, there was no avoiding at least opening the hive up because I had to move the inner cover above the new honey super.
I was home alone, so it’s debatable whether it was a wise decision to proceed, but I wanted to face my fears and move on to the next phase of beekeeping. I suited up: the hooded jacket, the gloves, two pairs of socks, and rubber bands around my jeans. My cell phone was stashed in my jacket pocket, though now that I think about it, I wouldn’t be able to dial without removing my gloves. (Note to self: next time, use the cordless house phone.)
I’m happy to report that it was a small victory for me! I creeped though the bushes to the back of the hive, and the bees ignored me. I smoked the entrance and under the lid. I lifted the lid, no reaction. I even pried off the inner cover, and the bees were mellow. I peeked at a few of the frames. All were built out with wax. There were bees, capped brood, eggs, and honey. I was nervous to linger and didn’t spend any more time looking than that. I slid the new box on top, replaced the inner cover and lid, and walked away. The bees didn’t seem to even notice I was there. What a relief! Maybe the bees were getting robbed or maybe it was the time of day, but I feel much better about whatever’s next.
Alone, with the anxiety I had, it was impossible to photograph what I saw inside the hive. You’re just getting a shot of the (now) three-story hive. Maybe next time, Howard will be able to take pictures of the activity. Until then…