Could we change our attitude, we should not only see life differently, but life itself would come to be different. ~ Katherine Mansfield

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Musical Bees

There was a brief moment yesterday when I thought I was going to die.

Let's back up. Go grab a cup of coffee, this is a long one.

It has been an odd bee season for us, to say the least. Of my two colonies - which we'll now just refer to as Green and White for ease - one made it through the winter and one died. So my brother Kris and I did a split and thought all was grand. Moving on.

Next on the docket, my bro and I installed a package of bees four doors down at the parents' place. It was an odd package that I am 90% certain had an extra rogue queen (it happens, apparently) and those ladies split themselves on day one...wouldn't take to the new hive...half wanted to live in the package box and the other half took up residence in a fence post...I was stung for the first time as a beekeeper and the 2 bees got stuck in my pant fabric, so it was a doozy...and just when we thought we had it all fixed, a mid-May snow storm swooped in and froze them all. Poor ladies didn't stand a chance.

What to do? Why, email Don the Bee Mentor of course! He pulled a Hail Mary late in the bee season and hooked us up with Prairie Wind Bee Supply out of Cheyenne, who happened to have some extra nucs on hand for a May 31 delivery. Winner winner.

Have you ever picked up a nuc, when lots of nucs are being picked up? It's not like your average package bee pickup, with a bunch of bees flying around but all the girls are a little confused and stoned. Nope. This was different. This was thousands of pissed, angry bees flying around defending their 5-frame homes and wondering what the hell just happened as they traveled from Wyoming to Colorado on the back of a flat bed trailer, through crazy rain and killer heat, for a few hours. Add to that a handful of novice beekeepers trying to prove their beekeeper-ness by standing in the middle of all this, not swatting (Just like they were taught! A+, idiots.), and doing their best to hold the panic on the inside.

What did Kris and I do? We got out of the damn way. And still got stung! This was a mad house. The poor guy running the deal was probably stung a dozen times while we were waiting for our bees. It was crazy times. I'm sure he went back to Cheyenne and contemplated a new career...perhaps breeding dogs? Yeah, puppies are a great idea.

FYI - this is what an average bee sting does to my hand. My hand is that thing that looks like a plump, smooth foot. My pinkie finger turned into a baby sausage. I didn't get stung once in the last 2 years, and now I'm two for two on the new hive. Bitches.


But we did it. We got our bees, my brother and I, jumped into my Outback, and started our hour plus drive home.

At first there was only one bee in the back window, where the nuc was.

And then there were four.

And then we hit a bump, and suddenly there were 20 or so. I sent Kris back with the camera phone while I calmly sped along the highway doing 80 mph. This is what he came back with.

Oh shit. Ohshitohshitohshitohshitohshit. Hey Prairie Wind, maybe next time, don't skimp on the duct tape? Hundreds of bees spilling into the back of the car, half an hour to go, repeating "Bees and dogs smell fear" over and over in my head. Nothing to do but turn up the radio - thank you, Bob Marley - and drive on.

And we did. And we made it. And the bees were housed.

Kris runs that hive, so we'll call all iterations from here on out KBees. They were transferred into their deep, surrounded by friendly scrub oak and pines. They have a running stream in the yard (fake, but it looks real), and plenty of blossoms to nosh on. All was well. We planned to check them in two weeks.

Meanwhile, back on the Pare Down farm...

Something was amiss with the green hive. It went from bustling to dwindling, while the white hive continued to act as the Grand Central Station of bees. A previous bee check a few weeks back looked fine: queen cups in the green hive, eggs and larva (and the old queen) in the white hive. But that new queen was either poorly mated or eaten by a bird, because when we popped the top yesterday all we saw were drones and a scatter shot of drone cells.


Ruh-roh. It was like LoDo on a Friday night. (A little Men-ver humor for you locals.)


Well poop. Suddenly we were back to 2 living colonies. Can we not catch a break, bees?

Then, miracle.

Kris and I went to check on KBees. They were fine that morning. We had an extra super in hand since we're down a deep and need to buy another, and were planning on a quick peek, add the super, call it a day. We were three days past our 2-week inspection deadline. So what did those girls do, only moments before we arrived? They swarmed! Nature called, and 40% of the bees stayed in the hive with the new queen, while roughly 60% of the bees were now bunched around the old queen on a very tall stand of scrub oak in my parents' yard.



Ha! We bounced those drones out of my green hive (sorry fellas) and decided to catch our first swarm. This looks like a promo for a Jackass movie.


Keep in mind throughout this process that my mom ("I never even wanted these bees!") is taking pictures on my iPhone, and my two kids are watching from the balcony of my parents' house. Our plan, since I am short and weak while Kris is big and brave, was to put the deep on the top of the ladder, Kris would climb up while I held everything steady from below, and he'd shake the bees into the box. What could go wrong?



Ready. Steady. Shake down! And bees went into the box according to plan, but the rest of them EXPLODED around us.



This was the death moment. As I felt the nuclear rain of bees upon my whole body I had the slow motion time to consider the following:

"This was a dumb idea. This was your worst fucking idea ever. You are about to be consumed by the sting of a thousand bees while your mom takes pictures and your children watch you die from a safe distance. Save the bees? Save yourself next time, you dumbass."

But we didn't die!

I wish there was video of Kris jumping off the ladder (like a little girl) and me catching it as the whole shebang almost toppled into the bushes before we both fled to safety. This picture does not do it justice. (Run, Forest!)


We (Kris, me, the bees, my mom who thought she would see 2 of her 3 kids die that day) all recovered quickly. The ladies were confused but just as docile as all the blogs of experienced beekeepers claim. And now that we knew what to expect, the process finished up pretty quickly. 2 more rounds of Operation Shakedown resulted in all bees being successfully caught!


And ten minutes later, the newest version of the Green Ladies were at home and happily exploring their new surroundings. This morning, all is well in the bee queendoms.


So what did we learn today, fellow and future beekeepers?


  1. Don't beekeep in yoga pants. Yoga pants are for in-home drinking and the occasional bout of actual yoga.
  2. Cardboard nuc boxes are lame. 
  3. Always have a roll of duct tape on hand. Always. Wear it on your belt if you have to.
  4. Don't procrastinate, as bee life waits for no man. But if you do, you may end up with a swarm miracle that fills an empty hive. So...do procrastinate. 
  5. Don't do potentially deadly things while your kids watch, even if they are not as deadly as they seem, because your screams of panic will scar your kids regardless of the outcome.
  6. Wine is great (duh), but after an exhilarating bee experience, I recommend a small batch gin and some good lemonade. 


Happy beekeeping.





7 comments:

Claudia said...

Glad you lived. My favorite blog yet. Keep 'em coming.

Kris Bryan! said...

'Twas quite the sausage fest in the Green Home. Hooray for Mother Earth Miracles and such...

Anonymous said...

This is Don.
Congratz on trying the split. It's okay to call for advice before you try something big.
Sounds like the Wyoming guy needs a chance to learn from experience. Those nucs should have been ventilated, but no bees escaping.
Way to go on the swarm.

Anonymous said...

This is the Wyoming guy from Prairie Wind Bee Supply.
Thanks everyone for your input via the comments and to you bloggers who gave me valuable feedback! ;-) Your write very well. Heh heh!
As far as those cardboard nuc boxes, that was the first year I used them and the last year I used them for that purpose. They were just as much a pain for me as they were for you. Glad to hear everything worked out fine. Happy Holidays

Danielle (PareDownLookUp) said...

Wyoming Guy! You lived! I have to say, the nuc boxes may have sucked, but your bees are wonderful. Best ever. The ladies that I re-hived made so much honey that they built up their own winter stock and had enough surplus to share with the original colony that they split from. Fingers crossed, I am in hopes of wonderful honey production next year.

Listen up Colorado beekeepers: Prairie Wind Bees are no joke. And now that the cardboard nucs are out you can acquire them with minimal brain damage! (I think your new slogan should be "Amazing bees! Now with 80% less bee leakage!")

healthylivingtipsforyou said...

Some of that can be avoided in the future by keeping the bees cooler, right?

Danielle (PareDownLookUp) said...

Hey Healthy Living -- which part are you referring to? I'm sure if the nucs were cooler they may not have been so pissed, as it's rough on a bee to travel a few hundred miles in the sun, but with the crazy summer weather here, I don't know how that's to be avoided!

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