Adventures with Bees: Our First Swarm and Why I Now Have Baking Soda on My Nose ...
Honeybees swarm around this time of the year in order to make new colonies. If the colony is large and healthy enough, the workers will make a new queen, and the colony will essentially half itself, with one of the queens and about half of the workers leaving to establish a new colony. We did a hive inspection a couple of weeks ago, and I thought I saw swarm cells--used to grow the new queens--on the base of some of the frames, but I wasn't 100% sure since it's been a while since we had the beekeeping course and we've never, to the best of my knowledge, had a swarm. I made a mental note to look it up but then got busy and forgot.
Bobby discovered them right as they were beginning to swarm. There was a cloud of bees around the Halloween tree (of course it would be the Halloween tree!), coalescing into a mass of bees on one of the branches. You could hear them buzzing from the front of the house. It was wild.
Swarms are loved and hated by beekeepers. You love when other people have them because you can collect them and basically get a bee colony for free. You hate when they happen to your colony because you lose half of your bees. Ideally, if one of your colonies swarms, you can find where it went and collect it, which essentially divides your colony in half. (Which a lot of beekeepers will do with healthy colonies anyway.)
We are leaving on vacation tomorrow and will be dropping off the Goldens tonight at my inlaws and staying overnight with my parents. So that left us with precious little time to deal with a swarm and no extra hive to put it in anyway. Bobby was calling around to some local beekeepers to see if anyone wanted to come collect it but didn't do any better than getting a few voicemail systems. I was showering when he came in and decided that we had enough equipment to collect it ourselves. Of course I was cool with that, since we've wanted to start a second colony for a while anyway.
Collecting swarms is supposed to be very easy. Because the bees are essentially homeless, they are not at all territorial or defensive and therefore are not aggressive. In theory. Many beekeepers wear no protective equipment when collecting a swarm. This was our first swarm collection, however, and my philosophy is that when doing something with the bees for the first time, it is best to wear full protective gear so that you do not get midway through the procedure and discover that the bees are pissed, start getting stung, panic, and really screw things up. So we both donned our full protective gear. Am I glad we did.
This year's colony is very saucy. In the past, our colonies have been so docile that I usually work with them with no protective equipment or just a veil. I've been wearing the full outfit, including gloves, which I never wear, each time we've gone into the colony this year. They will frequently "ping" me and I often end up with them stinging my suit and getting stuck in the fabric, so it is safe to assume that I would be getting stung at least once every time I went into the hive, without protective gear. And beestings aren't that bad, but they swell and ache and itch, so I'd rather avoid them if I can.
The swarm extended along the trunk of the Halloween tree, which meant we couldn't simply shake them off of the branch, which is how swarm collection is usually done. They were also rather high up, so Bobby got the stepladder, and I climbed up into the branches. The Halloween tree is really scraggly, so there were branches and twigs everywhere. Bobby trimmed some of them for me, but I told him to go easy, since the tree was heavily damaged already from the ice this past winter and I didn't want to traumatize it even more. I started brushing the swarm into the box we were collecting them in. At first that was fine, as they were at eye-level. But a big mass of them were further up the trunk, so I had to look up to see them, and when I did, my veil slid back on my head, and the tip of my nose was pressed against the mesh. So a whole whopping 1 square centimeter of skin was exposed ... so of course, a bee stung me directly on the tip of my nose.
Across my life, I have been stung many, many times, more times than I can remember. I've been stung on the bottom of the foot, the lip, and under the eye. I've been stung on the heel of the hand (which actually really hurt) and even got stung in the ass when I was two years old. I've never been stung on the nose and, let me tell you, that hurt like a bitch. There isn't a lot of flesh there to take the sting. And, of course, I was on a ladder when all this happened, in a tree, holding a cardboard box full of bees. Bobby tried to get the box from me, but I said, "No, I'm finishing this!" My eyes were streaming from the pain. My whole face was soaked by the time I managed to climb down the ladder with my box of bees. My nose was running, and I was having a respiratory allergy. Bobby checked me for bees stuck on my suit, and I couldn't get that damned suit off soon enough. By the time I got in the house, I was having shortness of breath. I don't know if it was an allergic reaction or the effects of being able to panic a little at last. I plucked the stinger out--it was directly center on the tip of my nose and left a nice red hole--and grabbed the Benadryl, and my hands were trembling so it was hard to open the blister because I was thinking, "Shit, I'm having an allergic reaction!" But as soon as I swallowed the Benadryl, everything was fine within thirty seconds. It still hurt like a mother, but my face was no longer pouring liquid, and I was breathing okay. I mixed up a baking soda paste and put it on the end of my nose. I'm still wearing it and look stupid, but the pain is gone. The swelling, because of the location, is minimal, thankfully. I am capable of swelling badly from a beesting. I have a little swelling on the bridge of my nose and a little under my right eye, and I can feel a little swelling where my upper lip and gum connect, which is a new and very weird sensation.
The time I got stung under the eye was not only the day before my birthday but the day before traveling with my family. I should know not to mess with my bees right before leaving on a trip! At first, I was mortified, thinking that I'd be spending most of my time in Ocean City looking like a freak, but it seems the swelling will be minor, and I should be able to cover up any scabs and redness with makeup. For all the confidence I've gotten over the past ten years, I remain very self-conscious about some things, and I guess having severe facial swelling is one of them.
I have pictures of the swarm but have things I need to get done before leaving in two hours, so they'll have to wait for later. The good news is that bees are going into their new digs, so hopefully the colony will take, and we'll have two colonies this year. The worst that can happen is that they'll decide they'd rather live somewhere else and leave. There's still a lot of them in the tree, but that's supposed to be normal. The old hive has a normal amount of activity. We'll see what happens when we return home.
This post was originally posted on Dreamwidth and, using my Felagundish Elf magic, crossposted to LiveJournal. You can comment here or there!