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Medium Dawn Felagund of the Fountain

Attached to My Bees ... Literally

The (Cyber) Bag of Weasels

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"About as much fun as a bag of weasels"...when I first saw this Irish adage, it made me think of the life of a writer: sometimes perilous, sometimes painful, certainly interesting. My paper journal has always been called "The Bag of Weasels." This is the Bag of Weasels' online home.

Attached to My Bees ... Literally

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give bees a chance
We had our first encounter with our bees in a bad mood today. It was a confluence of factors that caused it to happen. It is extremely hot today, which makes the bees cranky, and makes us cranky ... and sweaty, which the bees don't like. We had to disassemble the whole hive because we had to get the small hive beetle trap out of the bottom box and move it to the top box so that we could check it weekly. This meant that we were in the hive much longer than usual and ended up squishing more bees than usual too. Squished bees release a pheromone that alerts their hivemates to stand guard.

They started at Bobby first, pinging off of him. One tried to crawl down his glove. He asked if I could handle putting the honey super back by myself, since he was starting to get nervous, and my number-one beekeeping rule is to only work at your comfort level. I'd rather work alone than with someone fumbling and bumbling and making stupid mistakes because of nerves. So he excused himself, and a bee followed him all around to the back of the house. When he came back around front, she started at him again, so I told him to go into the house, and I'd finish up.

I stepped back at one point, and two bounced into me, so I moved further back, and another bounced into my arm ... and stuck. She'd stung me in the right forearm. I scratched out the stinger and went back to my business. While putting the hive-top feeder back into place, another one stung me in the other forearm, and a third stung me right over that bony spot behind the ear.

Honeybees have a barbed stinger, so after they sting, they either pull hard enough to break away from the stinger, disemboweling themselves in the process (which is gross and upsetting to see), or they remain attached to the stinger ... and you. The stinger can be scraped out with a fingernail or the hive tool, and the bee flies off.

Both bees remained attached to me. There wasn't much I could do. I couldn't let go of the feeder or else I'd end up covered in sugar water, so I got it about two-thirds into place and then stepped back and scraped off the bee from my arm. The one behind my ear was trickier. I could hear and feel her buzzing, but it hurt less than you might expect; at first, I wasn't even completely sure if she'd stung me or if she was just caught in my hair. I went and knocked on the front door because I didn't want to bring her into the house. Bobby answered the door, but he's not yet been stung, and I could tell he wasn't comfortable removing her with a fingernail, so I told him to go get a butterknife from the house. There I stood, on my front porch, with a bee stuck behind my ear, still buzzing away.

He got her out with the butterknife, but then he couldn't get her out of my hair. What a scene we must have been on the front porch!

When she was finally out of my hair, I could feel the stinger still attached, so Bobby plucked it out for me with a pair of tweezers. We let the bees cool off for a few minutes, then went back and got the feeder fully into place and the inner and outer covers back onto the hive.

This certainly wasn't our most fun experience going into the bees, but I'm also glad that handling a hot hive for the first time is behind us! I know much more what to expect and will try not to make the same mistakes again.

This post was originally posted on Dreamwidth and, using my Felagundish Elf magic, crossposted to LiveJournal. You can comment here or there!

  • This is actually fascinating. (Though not your being stung!) My Mum is very interested in bees, and wants to persuade her fiance to keep honeybees, so I read this with so much interest. Beekeeping always seemed to me almost mystical and very complex!
    • Beekeeping is really fun and cool! :) It is worth being stung occasionally. If it interests you, I've posted lots of pictures and accounts from the installation and past inspections under my bees tag.

      Your mum can give her fiance the assurance that he'll never know the bees are there, unless he wants to become involved with them. ;) They may become aggressive sometimes when opening the hive, but otherwise, they just do their thing. I always tell my husband that they're my kind of pet--they take care of themselves almost completely! :) We go into the hive once per week to check on them, and on the advice of our local beekeeping club, we're feeding them all summer (they recommended this for first-year beekeepers so that we don't have to guess about when to start feeding them for the winter), so we slosh sugar water into the feeder mid-week as well. They're really a joy to have (even after this afternoon, yes! :)
  • I admire your calm reaction! Last year, a bee did get stuck in my hair, which naturally made her angry, and I was so panicked that she might sting me that I dropped everything I was holding (fortunately, it was only the smoker and the hive tool) and danced around while trying to open my hair bun and get the bee out.

    Ironically, she only stung me once I had shaken my hair open - apparently by then she decided she had enough of all the dancing around, so when she got out of my hair she stung me in the jaw. Meanwhile, other bees had been alerted and two more stung me in the face before I managed to get the smoker and neutralise the alarm pheromones.

    Fortunately, even from the start my body didn't react much to the stings - it naturally hurt, for about half an hour, and felt hot to the touch, but there was not much swelling (in the face, what's more!). Supposedly a beekeeper needs about 10 - 20 stings to get to that point. So I felt sorry for the poor bee - it needn't have stung! it needn't have died - and didn't suffer much. From the sting, anyway! I was VERY embarrassed at having dropped my stuff like that. >_> So kudos to you for staying calm and finishing your work first!
    • The smoker was another part of the problem. Last week, a block of smoker fuel would not go out until being completely doused with water, so we didn't have the smoker since the fuel was still soaked from last week! It's now out drying in the sun ... won't make that mistake again!

      I'm thinking your situation sounds much scarier! :D Bees in the face ... not fun. (I thought you might scold me for not wearing a veil, but it seems you weren't either! :D It was too hot for all that today, although I did put it on when we went back to finish putting the hive together, which took all of one minute, thankfully.)

      I've been stung so many times (as a kid who wanted to be an entomologist and played with bees ... only four times as a beekeeper) that I'm really not afraid of it. I think that helped today. :)

      I always feel bad for the bees who die, they think, protecting their hive. I wish I could tell them I mean no harm! :(
  • O.O

    I don't think I'd make a very good beekeeper.
  • Ouch! I like bees, but I have never been stung by one!
    • I've been stung more times than I can count--four times as a beekeeper--thanks to a fascination with insects when I was a kid. I find that the sting itself doesn't hurt, but the venom makes it ache afterwards. (All three of mine are currently aching. Meh.)
  • That's really fascinating! I'm afraid I wouldn't be able to keep my cool with a bee in my hair like you did!

    I haven't been bee-stung since I was a small child, but I've had a bad reaction to wasp-stings as an adult (not serious, but definitely allergic) so I am probably allergic to bee-stings as well.

    (BTW: Did you know that wet tobacco applied to a sting helps? Something I learned from my late M-i-L when our son was stung as a child.)
    • That's good to know! :) We might have to grow tobacco in the herb garden next year ...

      I've been stung so much that I worry I will one day develop an allergic reaction. This happened to my uncle, who had been stung hundreds of times without a problem, then developed a reaction one day when he stepped into a nest while cleaning out a pasture. I love my bees too much to want to give up interacting with them because of allergies, so I'm hoping I don't develop problems.

      Once I figured out I'd been stung behind the ear, that was actually calming ... the damage was done, so I just needed to bide my time till I could get her off of me! I think that oloriel's bee-in-the-hair story up-thread sounds much scarier than mine!
  • Um… could you cut this please? *is phobic after being stung twice*
  • *shudders* bees in the hair, bees on the neck. I would have been in a panic. I admire how you kept your cool under fire stinging.
    • I think most normal people would. ;) I'm glad to have had this experience today, believe it or not. It's good to know one's limits when working with the bees, methinks.
  • Fascinating! I'm sorry for both the bees and you. :-( I love bees, though we are unlikely to become formal beekeepers any time soon (informally is another matter altogether). Hope you don't develop allergies--that would be too bad!
    • That's my biggest fear, mostly because I've been stung so much, and I seem to recall that the more you're stung, the more susceptible you become. Well, I'm sure there are beekeepers out there who have been stung more than me (one beekeeper we heard speak at a beekeeper's meeting recently has been keeping bees for about 25 years and said she gets stung an average of one time whenever she goes into her hives) and are still kicking, so I'm hoping my fears are unfounded!
  • That sounds very scary. I like bees but only at a safe distance.
    • It sounds worse than it was! Well, I might not be the best person to make that call ... :D but it all turned out okay!
  • These chapters in Dawn and Bobby's Most Excellent Adventures in Bee-keeping are very entertaining, stings and all. I adore honey bees. We had a hive in our orchard on the farm — a largely undisturbed hive that harbored a bee colony for many years. We never took honey from the hive, and just let the bees do their thing as wonderful pollinators of our apple and cherry trees. The bees would often drink at "the horse tank" as we called the big concrete trough from which the horse and the cattle drank their water (also the home of large goldfish that ate mosquito larvae). Some bees would fall in, and as a little kid who loved them, I made it a point of rescuing them. Even under wet duress, the gentle honey bees never stung me.

    Bumble bees though. That's another story. Those suckers have stung me multiple times (and I deserved it). Their stingers are retractable, too, so the sting is painful and multiplied. In fact, when I got my tattoo on my back, that was the first thing I thought of when I experienced the sensation of the needle — like a bumble bee stinging me many times over but without the itch.
    • Thank you! I've enjoyed writing up our adventures! :)

      I frequently have to rescue bees from the sugar water in their feeder when I change it. I've only been stung once ... and it was my fault. She fell into the grass, and when I picked her up, I wasn't paying attention and caught her between the grass and my hand. And she stung me. I deserved it--I should have been paying more attention!

      I don't think I've ever been stung by a bumblebee; mostly yellowjackets and wasps. Honeybees only when I do something wrong to cause it.

      The itchiness ... my arms are puffy and so itchy today. I woke up at 3:30 AM, digging at them in my sleep and had to put on cortisone because I was afraid I'd scratch myself up and be a bloody mess in the morning!
  • Poor you and Bobby AND the bees. Hard on all of you.

    Here's an old 'home remedy' type trick that helped me and others with stingers stuck in the skin. Make a paste of baking soda and water, apply to spot where the stinger is. It helps - especially with hornet and wasp stings even though there is no stinger in the wound. Reduces the irritation and pain as it seems to neutralize the sting. Makes it easier to remove the stingers of the bees as well. DOES NOT replace the value of an epi-pen for those who are allergic.
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