I had an excruciatingly funny-not-funny episode in the field today. Funny for me. Not funny for the other beekeeper I was with.
Funny not funny
David had arranged for me to help out a mate of his with his hives who had initially started with two and within a few months had been offered a small commercial outfit for a price he couldn’t refuse. Very much threw himself in the deep end. He was concerned that he had lost a few queens through swarming and also suspected he’d accidentally rolled a few during inspections. The plan was to check for queenlessness, and to create some splits to help regrow the apiary and to assist with swarm management.
When we looked through the first hive we saw evidence that it had swarmed but had a new queen present. We didn’t see her. But we saw eggs and young larvae. It wasn’t drone brood so we knew that a queen was there and not a laying worker.
In the next hive we found the queen. An unmarked queen. We marked her. Yellow for 2021. We assessed the brood and instead of rotating some brood frames into the super above we decided it was strong enough to split. So we created a split.
Then we opened another hive which had double brood boxes and decided that he would do an even split another day. He didn’t need my assistance with that.
Then we opened the next hive.
Wow! David and I had a feral swarm hive many years ago that was super productive. But unmanageable. We always struggled to get into the bottom brood box. We were running double brood back then. We had decided to requeen them and in searching for the queen, to snuff her, I scored thirteen stings through the suit with another hundred or more that did not make it through to my delicate skin. I nicknamed this hive ‘Dave’s B!$@*es’.
Now this hive we just opened behaved in much the same way. I instantly smelled banana. The scent of their defence pheromone. The last thing we needed was for these bees to stir up the rest of the apiary with their banana bombs. I made the decision to close it up and deal with it another day. This was just as my buddy walked away saying he had a bee inside his veil. Eeek. Then they started hammering my gloves and I was also forced to walk away.
Nose Hair or Bee Legs?
I approached my bee buddy (I’ll call him Fred as I’m sure he’d rather stay anonymous!). I asked if he was okay. I wasn’t quite sure whether he’d had a bee inside his veil before and I didn’t want him freaking out. That’s one of the best ways to get yourself stung.
Are you okay? Yes, but I have a bee up my nose.
Oh my golly! Fred, you have a bee up your nose. I can see it.
Right up there. The entire bee was all the way up his nose. I could just see the back legs wiggling around up there. Or were they nose hairs? Nope. Definitely bee legs. Never did I think I’d be inspecting the nostril of one of my husband’s former work colleagues. Someone I’d only ever met twice.
Um. Fred, are you okay? Is it still there? Yes it is.
We couldn’t take the veil off to remove the bee from his nose. Nor could we dispose of the bee without having a zillion other bees taking advantage of a veil pressed up against a face. Bees are opportunists.
Oh, it’s on my cheek now.
Phew. Thank goodness it’s not up his nose anymore.
It’s on my right eyebrow now. Where? I can’t see it. It’s just stung me above the eye.
Relief. Not ideal. But at least it didn’t sting him up the nose. Or on the eyeball. And it can’t sting him a second time.
The bees must have found a way into my suit. I can feel them stinging me above my chest.
Oh dear! I get Fred to take his hand away from the zipper where he thought they were getting in. He does so rather reluctantly. I place my hand there instead and I check it over. Nope, can’t see too much with all those bees launching a coordinated air strike. Opportunists.
There’s another one inside my veil.
Fred, you need to walk away and get them away from you. Walk back towards the house if you need to (it was a fair way from the apiary site). I’ll finish off here and close up that hive. I’ll be right behind you.
Fred walks away. With frequent glances towards Fred to make sure he was still doing okay I close up the hive. It takes me a few attempts. I had to walk away twice before being able to put the two supers back on and ratchet it up. Another glance towards Fred. I would have been freaking out if it were me. Yep. He’s still on his feet. And breathing. Not anaphylactic then. And he hasn’t started any frenzied running activity.
The hive is all closed up. I must have scored a dozen or more stings through my gloves in the process. Plus all the ones that didn’t take purchase. I walk back over to Fred. He’s holding the top of his suit where the bees are trying their darndest to access his face.
Fred, are you okay? Yes. But I’ve been stung a few times on my face and quite a few more on my chest.
A few of the bees are starting to return to their base now that we are not so close to the hives. So I have a closer look at Fred’s suit. Yep. There it is. I should have known. I used to have a suit just like it. Worse, in fact. It used to take me longer to tape up the holes in the suit than it did to light the smoker!!
The bees had found the gap where the Velcro can’t Velcro across the zipper heading up to the veil. And the zippers attaching the veil to the main suit don't join properly together. It only takes one to find the gap. If bees could talk we’d be able to hear that first bee shouting ‘I’VE FOUND IT LADIES. FOLLOW ME. PARTY’S UP TOP!!’.
Let Them Be
By this time, I’ve packed everything into the back of the ute. Well, except the plunger from my queen bee marker. Which I don't realise until later. I suspect it’s still sitting out there in the field. Sigh. Fred is still holding his suit closed. I wouldn’t be taking any chances either. I did offer to drive back to the house but he assured me he was happy to drive through the paddocks with one hand. We head back and have a little debrief. Fred suggests he continues with the splits later this afternoon. Brave man.
Nope. Leave them for at least 24 hours. At least a few days if you can. They need to settle down. And wash your suit and gloves. Especially your gloves. The pheromone they’ve left on them will act as a trigger when you get back into the other hives. And don’t split that narky hive unless you plan on introducing eggs from another (nice and docile) hive. Or introducing a nice new queen with good genetics.
Another Job For Another Day
As a beekeeper you need to know when to walk away and try again later. This was definitely one of those times.
How are you Fred? Are you okay? Yes. I’m okay. Oh my goodness. I can’t believe you had a bee up your nose.
Like, right up his nose. I can’t get over how calm he was.
I’ll be dreaming tonight about bees up noses…
So what is the purpose of sharing this story? Well, it makes for a rather entertaining story. At least I think so. But there are also many things we can learn from this experience.
Work your hives from the most placid to the least placid.
Inspect your narky hives last, not first. But keep in mind, that ‘narky hive’ you always do last may just be reacting to the pheromones already on your suit from the hives you’ve always inspected first! Catch 22. Just something to be aware of.
Perform regular checks on your bee suit. Check for holes. Bee holes. If there are any, they’ll find them.
Make a habit of checking your buddy's suit is properly zipped up before walking into the apiary. Even if they are an experienced beekeeper.
EXPERT TIP: If you can’t afford a new suit, gaffa tape is your best friend. Not black. Trust me. Bees don’t like black gaffa tape. White is best.
If you find a bee in your veil… don’t panic. Stay calm and walk away. Or you may find yourself stung up the nose. Or worse.
Fred is not the first person to have a bee in his veil. And he won’t be the last...
Helen Humphreys Passionate Beekeeper Trainer | Mentor | Producer