A Peek Into an Apiary

by Vanessa Newswanger | Oct 1, 2023 | 0 comments

I stared at the thermometer. “Eighty degrees. That’s a little warm to be in the sun, don’t you think?” I asked Mom.

“It’s perfect weather to check the bees,” Mom assured me as she filled her bucket with bee equipment. Grabbing her bee suit, she marched out the door with a “hurry up,” directed at me.

Every spring, as soon as it warms up, we inspect our hives. This year it was warm enough in April. Pitching my flip-flops into the corner, I pulled on my boots and veil before joining Mom out in the bee yard.

Mom was dressed in a full bee suit, complete with boots and gloves. We have only one set of gloves, so I went without. I held the smoker in my bare hands, ready to smoke any bees daring enough to come close to me.

Cracking the lid of hive #1, Mom pulled frame after frame out. This single super was a split from the big hive. After careful inspection, we dropped the last frame back into the box. We were a little worried, as we had found no brood, which meant no queen either. And no queen meant no more brood unless we gave them some; otherwise they would die off. Closing the hive, we went on to the next.

This one had two deeps and one super. We were alarmed to find emergency queen cells located on the bottom of the frames. And on further investigation, we discovered this energetic queen had laid eggs in the two deeps and up into the first super. We gave them another super for honey, then took the queen cells and plopped the entire frame into the first hive so they could make themselves a queen. Then we smashed the other queen cells in hopes of deterring them from swarming for a couple of days yet. Mom set the lid back on, and I weighted it down with a rock.

emergency queen cell and female worker honeybees in hive
An emergency queen cell and female workers. Photo © Vanessa Newswanger.

On to hive #3. This one was a split nuc, and it had died off. We must have put too many foragers in the hive and not enough nurse bees. The foragers went off to forage, then returned to their former hive after a couple of days. The nurse bees died before the brood hatched. Since there were no bees left to feed the brood, they also died. We’ll have to clean it out shortly to avoid an excessive number of mites and ants invading the frames.

In hive #4, we discovered the bees were a bit feisty. They buzzed around us, quite annoyed, and bounced off our veils, clearly telling us we were in dangerous territory. I spent some time with my head in the pine tree, trying to distract the bees away from me. But investigating a hive with approximately 80,000 bees isn’t always the easiest—or the quietest. With the air thick with flying, buzzing bees, it sounded like a miniature Niagara Falls roaring on and on. Thankfully, we were all bee proof and, after giving them another super, we closed the hive without a single bee sting.

The day hadn’t gotten any cooler, and bee suits weren’t designed for coolness, so we decided to leave the rest of the hives for a different day. Mom took care of her equipment, and I headed for the house.

In the mudroom, I kicked off my boots, then wiggled out of my jacket and veil. That’s when I felt and heard a slight bzzzz on my back. I grabbed for my dress, but not quickly enough. That bee gave me a full injection of stinging toxic venom. I hastily pulled the bee out and checked her over. Amazingly, she still had her stinger attached, but I killed her anyway and chucked her into the trash. Bees are nice for their pollination and honey, but their stings are powerful.*

Honeybees are actually the only insects that produce something humans consume. Insects CAN be useful.

*Some people are highly allergic to bee stings and have a potentially life-threatening reaction called anaphylactic shock. The airway can swell, and sometimes it swells completely shut. Benadryl, Zyrtec, or EpiPens® can reverse the reaction; however, still seek medical attention quickly. Reactions can recur.

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