A Bad Day

June, 2008

I should have turned around and gone home when I heard the lawnmower.  If I had, I wouldn’t have ended up shirtless in the driveway, stung, and screaming like a little girl.

Having a beehive in the garden is “where peace comes dropping slow.”  As long as we leave it alone, we can watch the bees coming and going from the entrance all day long.  That’s one of my favorite things to do.  The bees will drop down from inside the hive onto the bottom board, do a little spin, shake themselves off and whiz out and up.  Other bees zoom back home, some with nectar in their bellies, some with big saddlebags of pollen packed on their legs.  They land, bump heads with some bees who’ve stayed home, and go in to turn in the treasures they’ve collected.  I could watch for hours and the bees will barely pay me a moment’s attention.  Opening the cover is another matter – imagine some gigantic guy pulling the roof off of your home.  You’d freak.  You’d probably do what you could to make that guy go away and that’s what the bees do.  Most of what they do is bluff.  They fly toward your face and try to scare you off.  That’s why beekeepers wear a veil.  If you call their bluff, most of them will go back to the hive and leave you alone.  Sometimes they’ll sting but generally if the beekeeper stays calm the bees will too.

Bees don’t like lawnmowers.  I’d been told that inspecting a hive after the lawnmower has been going makes for grumpy bees.  It has something to do with the vibration and noise of it.  Maybe they think it’s some kind of huge bee buzzing out in the yard that means to do them harm.  But the problem at this point wasn’t the bees.  It was the neighbor mowing the lawn.

My beehive is in the garden of a friend, Brett, about a half mile from where I live.  Before we set up the hive Brett talked to his neighbors who all said they thought it was a fine idea – or so I thought.  It turned out Brett had only talked to the wife in the house next door and the husband had some issues he needed to talk about.

I waved hello and he turned off the mower, “Those bees gonna swarm?”  (I assume now that he was picturing the kid running toward the pond.)

“Well, I don’t expect them to.  I’ll do everything I can to prevent it but I you should know when bees are swarming they’re not defensive.”

“Still not my favorite idea to have a big bunch of bees hanging in my tree.”  And he launched into a litany of concerns.  I did my best to dispel each concern in a calm voice and reasoned manner.

“I really do believe that these bees are not going to interfere with you on your property.  But if they do, I want you to call me right away.”  I handed him my card, “This is my cell phone number.  I promise I’ll deal with it immediately if they are bothering you.”

The conversation went on for a while longer, with him rephrasing his worries and me trying to settle his fears.  In the end we shook hands and he went inside, still skeptical.

By this time the bees would have settled down from the lawnmower, but now I was on edge.  The hive had been in the garden for almost two months and I hadn’t realized any of the neighbors weren’t 100% okay with my little bee project.  I should have gone home at that point.

Brett came out with a friend who was visiting.  He introduced me and asked if they could look in while I opened up the hive.  She was quiet and kind and interested.  I said sure and blew a few puffs of smoke from the smoker into the hive.  I put on my veil and opened up the cover.

I pulled out a few frames as Brett and his friend stood a few feet away.  After a few minutes the bees got noticeably more active, and before we knew it one had zipped across and stung Brett’s kind friend on the forehead.  We pulled out the stinger and they headed to the house for some ice while I put the hive back together and closed it up.

I hoped the neighbor wasn’t watching.

I took off my veil and Brett’s friend came back out.  We chatted briefly, and I felt that the first sting from this hive couldn’t have happened to a nicer person.  She didn’t blame me, but I still felt like a heel.  She and Brett went back inside, probably because they grew tired of me apologizing over and over.  I could have gone home at that point but I wasn’t making good choices that day.

I hadn’t done the one thing I came to do:  add a honey super.  Earlier in the spring, I had been able to pull off the top with no veil on without the bees paying me much attention.  I figured I could just pop off the top, plunk down the super and call it a day.  And life is all about the learning, right?  Off comes the top, out come the guard bees – maybe half a dozen of them menacing around my face.  I didn’t get stung at first, just scared crazy.  I ran away (a mistake) and flailed at the bees around my head (another mistake.)  I made it to the end of the driveway and they still weren’t leaving me alone.  I whipped off my t-shirt and swatted the bees away, but not before being stung on the ear, and the neck, and my knee.

I really hoped the neighbor wasn’t watching my little striptease freak out dance in the driveway.

I put my veil back on and a pair of gloves and I finished up at the hive.  Then I drove home thinking maybe I’d gotten in over my head.

[Click here for your day’s PG-13 entertainment, courtesy of Eddie Izzard.]

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About inthebeeloudglade

An unlikely beekeeper who runs The Honey Exchange, a hive and honey store in Portland, Maine.
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