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Medium Dawn Felagund of the Fountain

Things with Stings

The (Cyber) Bag of Weasels

bread and puppet

"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.

Things with Stings

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give bees a chance
We have had some record-breaking cloudy, chilly weather, along with the rest of the east coast, since April. There were April showers, but there ain't been many May flowers because there ain't been no sun. It was sunny on Friday, and I had outside recess duty at the end of the day, and the staff and kids who went outside were capering around gleefully like the kids in Ray Bradbury's All Summer in a Day. Yesterday, the weather started sunny and nice; Bobby and I went to a workshop on invasive plants in the morning, and by the time noon was rolling around, the breeze was starting to hint at chilliness and dampness to come.

Bobby and I worked outside once we were home to get done what we could before the raininess began again. I was weeding the raised beds and the new plantings from last fall when Bobby came out and told me that he was using the guest bathroom when not one, not two. Not three. Not four BUT FIVE PAPER WASPS came out of the fan in the ceiling!

We'd been getting the odd paper wasp in the house, but they nest prolifically in one of our sheds, and the back screen door on the house doesn't close fully, so I assumed they were getting in through there, since I only found them in the house on days when we were using the back screen door. It's not a big deal; I catch the wasp in a Mason jar and return it whence it came. They're beneficial insects, so we try not to kill them or destroy their nests. But this was too fucking much! Five paper wasps! I happened to be facing the house as we were having this conversation, and I noticed then the giant wasp nest under the eaves. It seems they've been slipping into the crawl space and then finding their way through the fan vents into the house. One every now and then is one thing! But five at a time is really beyond the pale.

So Bobby sprayed the nest and I will put on my bee suit and knock it down in the middle of the week.

Speaking of bees. AND BEE SUITS. *ahem* We were due to pick up our bee colony yesterday in Westfield. Driving out we encountered the first splatters of rain.


Working with honeybees in the rain falls somewhere between the categories of Not Fun and Imminent Clusterfuckery. The day before my 30th birthday, I was feeding my bees in the rain when this happened. Last night, we arrived at the apiary and were waiting in line for our nuc* while one of the apiary staff was talking to a guy behind us, telling him that it was okay to wait a couple of days to install the bees as long as we pulled out the plug in the nuc box. But the rain, last I heard, was supposed to last Sunday and Monday, and two days was pushing it. And he also said that they had to have the nuc pickup so early in the season because the bees have been extremely prolific and were on the verge of swarming, and some of the nucs would have more bees than they should, which always puts them at risk of swarming before you even get them into their hive!

* A nuc is a box of bees that includes five frames of brood and honey, a queen, and of course enough workers to care for her and the brood. Basically, it's a tiny starter colony, and all you have to do--in theory!--is pop the frames into your supers and let the bees do their thing. We've never ordered a nuc before; in Maryland, we always ordered boxes of bees. (A "box of bees" is a wood-and-wire box with a can of syrup stuck in the middle, 3 lbs of workers, and a caged queen. If you want to see Bobby and me install a box of bees, here you go. I didn't document the installation of the fucking nuc today.)

After a half-hour of bouncing the bees home, about half on dirt roads, we set the nuc down by the hive. They were pissed! Pissed-off bees sound different than bees normally sound. They sound scary, even to someone used to working with bees! When I popped the plug out of the nuc, they poured out and immediately started pinging us. We were fully suited, so it was no matter, but we were glad to not have to stick around.

Because of the risk of swarming, we really wanted to get our nuc in today. Bobby watched the weather, and when the rain stopped briefly, we flew into action! I donned my bee suit and veil and friendly browns (my barn boots) and gloves. Those who have followed my beekeeping over the years might remember that I used to do "naked beekeeping": No, I was not actually naked, but I used to work my colonies without protective equipment. But the last few stings I've had swelled up alarmingly, and I would rather avoid developing a severe allergy, so no more naked beekeeping. Also, with the cool, damp weather and overcrowded as they were, I knew the bees were not going to be happy with us.

Still, nuc installation is supposed to be very easy, so one-two-three-done, right?

We gathered our gear and opened the nuc. They poured out of the box, and I was covered in about a hundred bees within a few seconds. I have learned that working carefully, slowly, and deliberately is the best approach, no matter how quickly you want to be done with them. And I wanted to be done with them! But I carefully lifted out the first frame, heavy with bees, and got it into the super. One down, four to go! As I bent down to lift the second frame, I felt the feathery sensation of a bee crawling down my chest, not only inside my suit but inside my shirt.

Impossible! I assumed I was imagining it the way one will feel creepy-crawly while watching or reading about insects--the way some of you are feeling right now! ;) But no ... there it was again, definitely a bee crawling around on my chest, up my sternum to my neck, then back down again.

Well, there was nothing to be done at that moment. I had a full frame of bees and was covered with about one hundred more with three frames to go. If I got stung, I got stung; it won't be the first or even hundredth time. I've been stung more times than I can count across my life.

And then I felt another bee. Behind my ear.

I was getting ready to lift the third frame out of the box. "Bobby, bees are getting into my suit." (I take the lead in beekeeping because he's not afraid but highly respectful of them, so he stands back and assists me when I need it and has permission to leave whenever he feels uncomfortable.)

I felt feathery feet behind my ear but no pain, so I didn't think I was stung. But she was stuck and buzzing like she had stung me. Trust me, I wanted to peel off that suit and run! I could feel more crawling and buzzing inside my veil. But we walked slowly and carefully away, and it felt like forever while he brushed all of the bees off me with the bee brush. There were also guard bees that had followed us and were still very determined that I wasn't going to come out of that suit without regrets if they had anything to do with it! Finally, my suit was clear and most of the bees were gone, so I peeled off my suit and was ready to take off my shirt too and fuck it just be in the yard in my bra (not having many neighbors has its benefits), but the one down my shirt shook out easily ... and she was done there for a good three minutes and never stung me!

But the one behind my ear did sting me, even though I didn't feel it at the time. And there were a few more in my veil; I had to flick out three who had hunkered into the seams. When Bobby unzipped my suit, he noticed a tiny gap between my suit and veil where, because I was covered in so many bees, they were easily gaining entrance. I was only stung once, which was kind of miraculous and, I hope, given the amount of stress we were causing them while all this was going down, suggests they will be a docile colony. (They are northern-bred, which removes the risk of Africanization, at least.)

In the meantime, a woman visiting our neighbor wandered over and was going to come down to watch the rest of the installation, but the bees just looked angry, and she got pinged a couple of times and decided against it. (She was also a beekeeper, so she knew the drill.) I suited up again (Bobby checked my suit and veil carefully this time for gaps) and back in I went. By now, he was totally freaked out and didn't want much of anything to do with them, so I told him to stand back and I'd finish. Three more frames went in easily, then I dumped in the bees still crowded on the sides of the box and lid (where they'd already started to draw out comb!) and got the hive closed up and the equipment put away.

It took a while to get them all off of us and a couple of tenacious guards followed us all the way back to the house, so we had to wait a few minutes for them to give up and decide we were done messing with them (they were especially interested in me because, of course, I was the one with the stinger hanging out behind my ear, putting off pheromones that alerted them that I'd killed one of their sisters) but given what we put them through, they were really good. And when I took off my suit a second time, Bobby found a bee on the back of my shirt that had been riding along with me the whole time! Our first colony was incredibly docile--they were the ones I worked without equipment for most of the season--and I'm hoping this bodes well for another calm colony that's easy to work with.

Once back in the house, Bobby tweezed the stinger out from behind my ear; I can tell it's there--it's a little achy and hot and the surrounding area is tender to the touch and itchy--but it's really not bad. I've been stung behind the ear before--the same ear! shocking! there are few body parts I haven't been stung on by now, and no, bees, that is not a challenge!--and it hurts less than I always think it should, right over bone like that.

Beekeeping is not supposed to be this dramatic! I assumed that once I gave up naked beekeeping and started wearing proper equipment, the bee-related hijinks would decrease, but it seems that is not to be so.

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

  • I find these stories fascinating. I think I may have mentioned that my in-laws have a bee box in their apple orchard in northern Michigan, but they don't mess with it-- it was installed at the request of one of the colleges and Ag students come out to deal with it-- it's a win-win: the apple trees get pollinated, and the students collect data on the colony. I got stung in November for only the second time in my life when I reached into an open bag of horse treats. I felt bad for the bee-- it just wanted to eat molasses in peace! Someone told me to put a raw onion on it... fortunately we were at a horse show with a hamburger truck and, though they looked at me funny (and asked "red or white?"), it worked like a charm! Glad it was my hand and not my head, though!
  • We had a wasp nest in my bedroom under the top of a chest of drawers. Luckily my husband and daughter found it while I was away a took care of it. Awful!!!

    I love your bee stories!

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