Tag Archives: Tragedy

One year of “Beeing” a Girl Guardian – May 2, 2013

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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!

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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.

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 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.  

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.  

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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 !

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Hell Hath No Fury……

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It had been seven days since my last disastrous encounter with the girls.

I had left some pieces of the collapsed comb in the hive in hopes that the girls would partially rectify my heavy handedness.  I had watched intently over the past week, and they had cleaned out the two smaller pieces.  I didn’t know what was going on with the larger piece.  I did notice some of the cells had started to be open.  I didn’t know if that meant the girls were cleaning them out or what was happening.  However, at least once a day, typically in the morning, I would notice one of the girls removing a little white pupa.  I didn’t know if it was coming from the broken piece or not.

My original thought was to leave the large piece until the time frame indicated that any developing bees would have hatched.  But I noticed that their comb building had significantly slowed.  Perhaps there were more concerned with cleaning up the mess than with expanding the comb.  So before going in on Saturday morning, I had to make the call.  Leave it… or Clean it.

I choose Clean it.  So I opened the hive probably around 10:30 am, to encourage the forager girls to get out of the way.  I slowly removed the top and the cover and then began to pry open the back top bars (“TBs”) immediately in front of the false back.  I removed two of the TBs to give myself some working space.  I slowly inserted my hive tool into the hive to begin removing the smaller pieces.  No sooner had I gotten the tool down to the small pieces when …. WHAM…. Burning Hot Needle Poker… right into my index finger knuckle closest to my finger nail.  “WTF???” I think to myself, “I’ve just started and I already got stung!”  Ok, on go the gloves right after I flick the stinger out.  This is not a good start to my day.

I remove the smaller pieces of comb that I had left and they had completely cleaned them out.  Next, I remove the larger comb piece.  I take it out of the hive and attempt to brush the girls off.  They aren’t in a good mood today and I can already tell by their hum.  There are still pupae in the comb.  Some are white, others seem sort of grayish.   They won’t go to waste I tell myself.  I shall provide nutrients to the birds as a final sacrifice for my clumsiness.

I start to methodically process through the TBs.  I work slowly and use the hive tool to disconnect the burr comb, which the girls build to attach the comb to the side wall.  Learning from the mistakes of last week, I start from the bottom of the comb and work up towards the top.  However, still petrified and mortified by the beenocide I perpetrated last week, I decide to NOT lift the combs out this week.  I shall merely move them and try to look at them while still in the hive.

Each time I insert the hive tool into the hive, girls attack it.  The girls are NOT happy.  It is somewhat difficult to really see what is happening with the comb without lifting it up.  Then I reach TB #5, where the comb collapsed last week.  What’s this?  There is new comb built here.  “But I thought I moved that bar and pushed the whole comb together last week after the collapse” I say to myself.  I suppose in my hastiness, I moved the TB to the front when the comb fell off and didn’t move it to be with the other empty bars.  This now sets off another whole train of thought.

If I didn’t move the bar, that means there was brood comb, empty bar, and brood comb.  What if the brood comb got to cold and all of that brood has died as well?  My nightmare just won’t seem to end!

I continue looking through the comb, forever being watchful for Queen Victoria.  I get all the way to the first TB.  The girls hum, more an extremely loud BUZZ, is saying… no yelling… at me, “WE ARE NOT HAPPY WITH YOU SIR JAMES!” ringing almost deafening in my ears.  A peculiar change has happened with the first TB.  Last week, TB#1 appeared to be fully capped brood and all of the boys where hanging out there.  This week, the entire comb was open, there were no boys there, and it seems to have been turned into the pollen pantry.

I begin placing the TBs back into position, working slowly and still searching for Queen Vicky.  There are five to seven stingers in my gloves.  Thank goodness for them!  “Should I start using smoke? I wonder to myself.  My original goal was to not use a smoker, but it may become necessary if they get this mad each time I try and visit.  I get all the TBs back in place, unfortunately, I never saw Her Majesty.  But I do notice that pollen is still coming in and take that as a sign she is still in control.

Fortunately, on Sunday I did get a visual on Queen Victoria through the window.  She was moving around the edge of some of the comb, maybe on TB#7.  I really do not see any Ladies in Waiting with her.  Maybe she still has some maturing to do or something, but I thought she was always going to be surrounded by a little group that saw to her every need.

They do seem to be expanding TB#5, the new comb where the collapsed comb was; however, they don’t seem to be building any more new comb.  This has been the case now for a few days and I am starting to get concerned.  I’m not sure what to do.  Hopefully when TB#5 gets out to the edge of the hive, they girls will start building on the end again.

I don’t think I will go in this weekend and see if that helps get them going again.  I will just watch through the window.  They were going gang busters with pollen on Monday though.

My new mantra… They know better than me… They know better than me… I just need to leave them alone.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, … …

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… … it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, … …

Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities — English novelist (1812 – 1870)

Saturday had finally come.  The weather was gorgeous, and I was excited to check up on the girls.  They had made such progress with their comb building and they appeared to be in good spirits, bringing in an exception amount of different colored pollen, bright orange, bright yellow and pale yellow.

I started at the false back and began working my way forward.  There are currently four Honey Top Bars (“HTB”) and twelve Top Bars (“TB”) in front of the false back.  There was no comb built on any of the HTBs.  I started to proceed through the TBs.  I carefully pried each bar apart and moved it towards the false back in the space created from removing two of the TBs.  I find comb on TB#8.

“Wow, that’s amazing”  I say to myself.  Here are the girls peaking up as I move bars.

TB#7, bigger comb… TB#6 comb with brood.  What an amazing sight!  TB#5 more brood.  The same thing on TBs #4, #3, #2 and #1!  TB#1 is basically completely sealed.  But for some curious reason all of the boys were hanging out on TB#1.  “Seems odd that they all hang out here” I think.

Everything is looking Great!  Now I need to find Queen Victoria.  I begin to inspect each side and put the TBs back in place.  I find Queen Vicky on TB#5.  I honestly cannot tell anything different about her.  I know her abdomen is supposedly longer, but it honestly does not look that way to me.  Thank goodness she is marked otherwise I would never find her.  She seems to be hanging out at the very top of the TB, which concerns me.  I snap a few Glamor Shots of Her Majesty.

I place the top bar down into the hive.  However, concerns enter my mind about moving TB#6 up against her so I decide to move TB#5 against TB#6 and then move both together as a single unit.  I slowly attempt to work the bars together and get the girls back in, which I hadn’t had any problems with so far.

And then it happened.  TRAGEDY BEYOND BELIEF.  The entire comb falls off the TB.  Thinking back now with almost a day to replay the horror over and over in my mind, I believe I may have tilted the TB towards me in an effort to persuade the girls in.  The entire comb broke off, with Queen Vicky on the edge falling into and onto the next comb.

I stand there in disbelief.  What have I done?  How do I fix this?  I try to remain calm.  The girls are NOT happy at this time.  I had better put on my gloves I tell myself.  Yes… I had actually been doing everything prior to this without gloves.  The day had been going so well.  Lot of future baby bees and no gloves.  And now this.

I put my gloves on and remove some more TBs to give myself additional working space.  I use my hive tool to try and gently move the broken comb.  There is nectar and/or syrup running all over the place now.  I have to reach into the hive and try to retrieve some of the comb.  It breaks in my hand.  I place the piece into my orange bucket.  I remove some more.  There are poor bees worm babies falling out.  I’m so upset.  Luckily I am able to remove a very large section of capped brood.  I get the broken comb out and look and the mess that I have created.

I quickly had to determine a course of action.  Do I completely take away the entire comb?  I feel absolutely horrible.  I come to a decision.  I will leave some of the parts that appear to have pollen and nectar so that the girls can move it to other areas of the hive.  There’s no reason all of their hard work should be a total waste.  I then decide to leave the big section of sealed brood against the false back in hopes that perhaps some of the babies might survive.

I will diligently watch this over the upcoming week.  If it appears it may be salvageable, I’ll leave it until I move the false back.  Otherwise I will remove it next Saturday.

I replace the remaining TBs and close up the hive.  I walk back to the house dejected with my head hanging… the Hindenburg quote, slightly modified, ringing in my ears…. “Ooooohhhhh the Beemanity.”  I say a prayer for all of the lost little bee babies.

As of today (Sunday), the girls appear to already have removed the nectar and the majority of the pollen from the two smaller pieces I left.  And they are doing something on the larger piece.  Are they attending to it ?  Or trying to remove the horrific aftermath?

I make a batch of 1:1 syrup for the girls and put it out for them, but they don’t take it.  Maybe that’s a good sign that they have found a true nectar flow.  I check the girls throughout the day.  I see busy bees everywhere.  I occasionally witness a girl removing a little white corpse.

I also watch a very bizarre occurrence.  I observe one of the girls literally drag around and then fly off with one of the boys.  He wasn’t dead and didn’t seem injured.  But she literally drug him off the edge and flew off with him.

Around 4pm, I was trying to remove a little bit of cactus from an area in front of the hive when I feel this incredible burning sensation on the front of my shin.  I look down and there’s a rogue girl hanging on my leg.

“Sh!t…. this hurts…. It’s burning like a hot poker being pushed into my leg!” I’m thinking to myself.  I quickly vacate the hive premises and look at my leg.  The poor girl is now gone, having sacrificed herself, but I see the stinger.  I scratch it out of my leg and head inside to put ice on my first battle wound.

So there it is, the good, the bad, and the ugly.  A weekend with such amazing highs unfortunately clouded with such loss.  I only hope that my decision to leave some of the sealed brood was the right decision.