One year ago yesterday, I began my foray into this magical, mystical, and at times crazy, world of Apis mellifera. I have Learned, I have Loved, I have Lost. And yes, I have been Stung…. and not in the figurative or allegorical sense. I’m talking Literally. I have literally been Stung.
What’s that ?? Where have I been, you say? There haven’t been any updates in AGES…. the Middle Ages… or maybe the Dark Ages !!
There are a lot of reasons, as well as no reasons, for the negligence. This will be long…. so grab some wine… or something stronger. The last update was in October 2012 and things appeared to be going well. November rolled in and the weather was still warm, but starting to chill. Thanksgiving came along and the Girls were still bringing in pollen. I chuckled, thinking their bright orange pollen packs on Thanksgiving Day were like tiny little “bee pumpkins.” All they needed were little bee pilgrim hats!
I also installed the insulation panels on Thanksgiving Day and added crumpled newspaper to the back of the hive behind the follower board. I hadn’t seen Queen Vicky, but I hadn’t opened the hive due to cooler temps. I had feed the Girls quite regularly, and they probably had nine or ten full combs. I crossed my fingers this would get them through the winter.
But then along came December. It was WET…. like hurricane storms WET. And then the COLD set in immediately afterwards. Bone Chilling Cold. I worried. I worried a lot. I wasn’t seeing anything. Christmas came and went and still nothing.
On January 6th, the weather warmed up. I thought I could take a quick peek through the window by moving the insulation panel. I didn’t see any activity and saw some dead bees at the back of the hive and in the entrance. I still offered up a prayer and hoped, but my fear was that they were gone.
On January 13th, it got up to 70 degrees. Yes… 70 degrees in January. Who still doesn’t believe in Global Warming ? Raise your hands. Back to the Girls. I had to Know. I had to LOOK. I opened the hive and my fear turned to reality. They were gone. There weren’t more than a few hundred. Some were butt out in the comb. Tell tale sign of starved in the cold. I’m sure there weren’t enough to stay warm in their cluster and they perished. The inside of the hive felt a tiny bit damp, probably from the Tennessee Hurricane Winter Storms. I had intended on trying to find Vicky, but then just wanted to clean up the hive. I sprinkled the bodies of my poor little Girls over the patch of crocuses that I had planted for them in November.
I decided to harvest two combs.
This was the first time I had harvested any honey. It was an interesting process and a sticky process. The honey was dark, leading me to think it might be goldenrod, which bloomed everywhere here in the fall. There was also pollen in the combs so my honey wasn’t clear, but it sure is delicious.
I left the majority of the honey in the hive, hoping it will provide a jump-start to next year’s hive. I pushed wire mesh into the front of the hive to deter anything from entering and taking the honey, especially the Ferals. All I could do now was order more Girls and WAIT.
And WAIT… through February…. and WAIT… through March… and WAIT…. through the beginning of April… until ….. Wednesday… April 17, 2013…. the Best Day and the Worst Day (in more ways than one…. remember that part…. in MORE ways than One).
Today I get my new Girls (this is the Best Day part). I modified my order this year after reading an article last fall. The article recommended for foundationless hives, like my Top Bar Hive and Warre Hives, to start off with five pounds of bees. So I met John, my dealer… my Bee dealer, in front of the Sam’s Club, along with about 5 other Apis mellifera aficionados, and picked up a three pound package with Queen and a two pound package, sans Queen. I loaded up the Girls and headed home.
Alas, the trip home was a somewhat sad and disheartening ride because I knew that when I got home, the home of the Ferals would be gone (this is a Worst Day part). Yes… it’s sad but true… our neighbor evicted the Ferals, and their eviction was occurring on the same day as the arrival of my new Girls. The poor Ferals. At least there were being relocated, to hopefully thrive and fly some other beautiful place in the rolling hills of Nashville. It is against the law in Tennessee to kill honeybees. The eviction lasted the better part of the morning and early afternoon. Their beautiful home was systematically dismantled, and they were BeeVac’ed up into a large bee transport vessel. Yes… they were literally VACUUMED up. They weren’t happy, not in the least. The neighbor across the street received 5 stings earlier in the day. After it was over, he tried to show his wife what was left of the tree and she was stung as well on her hand.
I let my Girls kick back and relax close to their new home. I planned to install them at dusk, hoping it would somewhat calm them. I periodically checked on them and found quite a few straggling Ferals hanging on the outside of the package boxes. Maybe they were asking to join the group….. since they no longer had a home…. or maybe they were just bitchin’ and gossiping all the low down and dirt about the neighborhood.
So as dusk approached, I put on my jeans and long sleeve white t-shirt. After my experience with the Girls last year, and everything I’d read and everything I’d heard, I didn’t think I needed to go full regalia. But I took my quickie veil and gloves along….. just in case.
So I popped the lid off the 2lb package and took out the syrup can. I learned from last year and brought everything I needed…. screw driver, pliers, can opener, kitchen sink (no.. not really the kitchen sink). I then popped the lid off the 3lb package and removed that syrup can as well. I then carefully remove the new HRH…. name to still be determined. I could go Russian… since they have a smidge of that. Or maybe something Italian… since they are somewhat that as well. I believe they may be some sort of Italian – Feral cross breed… so I guess maybe an Italian Hillbilly!
I carefully pinned the cage of HRH into a top bar, including her already new acquaintances.
I then prepared to install the 2lb package, thinking that since she was hanging in the 3lb package that I would get the 2lb package in first. I took the two pounder, bonked the package, tossed the lid and began pouring the Girls in.
Everything was going swimmingly. So far so good. Look at me… doin’ this “au naturelle” …. “sans gear”… I’m a rock star!
Second bonk, and poured the remainder in. At this point, the buzzing around me starts to get noticeably louder and a little closer to my ears. “Maybe better put the veil on,” I say to myself. Which I do. I picked up the 3lb package, bonk, pour, bonk, pour. Girls are everywhere now, and I feel the first burning sensation on my hand. Damn… better put the gloves on. Crap … another one on the hand.
I hurriedly put on my gloves as I still needed to close up the hive. Closing up a top-bar hive is probably more difficult than a traditional Langstroth hive, (my personal opinion even though I’ve never closed a Langstroth) because one must replace the bars and attempt to avoid being a murder. Sometimes it’s a breeze, today… not so much. The Girls were not co-operating. But could you really blame them, after the day they were having? Sadly in the process, I heard one or two “squishes”. The buzzing is getting louder again, but I’m almost finished with the close up.
Shiiiiiiiiit !! There are Girls INSIDE the veil! Double Shiiiiiiiiiiiit !! And inside my gloves !! OMG… why does it feel like someone is pushing a burning needle into the top of my head ! What is going on !!! I hurriedly exit the hive vicinity and ripe the veil and gloves off. But my head is still burning. I take my fingers and try to remove the little female Brutus… Et tu, Brute ??
I can’t get her out of my hair. I’m not “swatting”…. never ever ever “swatting.” I am calmly trying to use my fingers and get her out of my hair… off my scalp… wherever the hell she is…. I can’t see… she’s on the top of my head…
There is no other option… There’s only one thing that can be done… to put an abrupt end to her heinous attack. I start smacking the top my head with my hand. Ouch.. smack… still burning… smack… smack… SMACK! I’m deathly afraid to even consider what a sight it must have been to the neighbors to the rear of our property. Another sting to my hand. Now the other hand… Aaaaaaa… now one through my shirt. And another to my ear, then behind my ear. All hell is breaking loose !! It’s a freakin’ Free-For-All (this was that “other” Worst Day part)!!
Somehow, I manage to make sure there are no more Girls inside my veil, or in my gloves, or in my hair and get re-dressed. Remember, I still have to close the hive ! I’m goin’ back in.
“Can these really be MY Girls?” I keep asking myself. They were so much calmer last year. Maybe it’s those hitchhiking Ferals. “That must be it” I tell myself. “It’s those pissed off Feral Girls that lost their home today and are trying to take it out on me!”
I succeeded in closing up the hive, used the can opener to pop open the syrup can (see… thinking ahead…. what I learned from last year), filled the feeder and slide it into the new feeder hole in the false back in the hive. Now the Girls will have access to “food” right at the back ! No more worrying about having to fully open the hive to insert the feeder, or putting a feeder out in the open… not that it matters now…. since the Ferals are gone. But I did notice a few times last year of Girls “taking off” towards the front of the house after getting some water. So I have often wondered if there isn’t ANOTHER Feral colony somewhere in the ‘hood.
April 19, 2013, I switched out the feeder with more left over syrup from the packages. April 21, 2013, again I switched out the feeder with the last remains of the package syrup. I wonder if I can order cans of this stuff… it sure is super easy to just pop open the can. To my joy and surprise, I noticed pollen being brought in, pale yellow and bright yellow. Woo Hoo !
I waited until Tuesday, April 23, 2013, to open the hive and check on the release of HRH. Success!! She was out and about and the entire candy plug was gone. Additionally, there was no burr comb built onto her cage, unlike last year. So I simply removed it and will keep it for a souvenir! The Girls were, again, NOT in a good mood that the hive was opened. Is this becoming a habit? Is it possible that maybe there are just some cranky Ferals that have joined the kingdom and they have become the Guards? I did not see any eggs in the little bit of new comb that I inspected; however, I did not perform a full inspection…. mainly because …. it was after work… and it was dinner time… for me… and for them… as I replaced the feeder again. And again noted pale yellow pollen being brought in. I read something recently stated, pollen being brought into a hive is a sign that the Queen is laying. So I’m crossing my fingers that she’s already doing her thing…. (doin’ her ‘thang) !!!!
I have been taking quick peeks through the window and the Girls have been building new comb gang buster style! Everything is looking spectacular so far which is making me hopeful for an excellent year. I also noticed there were quite a few Boys that came along for the ride. I’ll be interested to see what the Girls make of them. We have had a beautiful spring so far. Good amounts of rain so everything is blooming incredibly.
Here is what I’ve noticed in bloom:
- Dandelions (already at the tail end and they are going to seed)
- Nashville Breadroot (very rarely do I see the Girls on it, but the Bumbles LOVE, LOVE it)
- Fragrant Sumac
- Daffodils (already losing the flowers)
- Chokeberry (MANY pollinators loving this, but not really the Girls)
- Rosemary, not seem to be as attractive this year as last year
- Tangerine Crossvine just about to flower out
- American Wisteria just about to flower out
- Dutchman’s Pipevine, never seen any pollinator activity on this
Now I just need to name my Queen !