Sunday, December 17, 2006

What's All the Buzz About?

Well, after several false starts, we finally went and got our bees and brought them home! Our friend, John, lives in Pennsylvania and sold us 6 hives of honey bees, a few extra hives, supers, bee outfits, smokers, honey spinner, bottles, caps, and way more than I can list here.

We got up at 4AM and drove 4 hours hauling a trailer to just outside of Lancaster, PA. Wouldn't you know this was the warmest weekend in December we've had in very recent history? Warm weather means happy bees - and happy bees means they are very "active". I should tell you at this point that I am TERRIFIED of bees. Simply terrified. I have respect for snakes and bears, and several other things, but I wouldn't say I'm really afraid of them. Certainly not terrified. But bees are little and you can't shoot them when they attack you. And they're sneaky. Bears and snakes really aren't that sneaky. You typically know when they're around. But bees..... well, bees are different. You can be blissfully walking along and WHAM! You've been stung by a bee you didn't even know was in the area. And they hurt when they sting! I'm definitely terrified of bees.

But Bernie really wanted to get bees and I really wanted to get the honey and bees wax, plus I'm a pretty good wife, so I agreed to getting bees, with the understanding that caring for them is Bernie's job. What I really did NOT agree to but should have realized, is that I would have to help unload and set up these little guys. That's a-whole-nother story I'll tell you in a little bit.

So anywho, Bernie and I set out bright and early to pick up these bees. We got there around 9AM and immediately joined John in placing screen over the hive entrances and taping them. You can see pictures of this whole ordeal on our website. We loaded them all up, threw in all the extra stuff, and headed home. Along the way, probably 2 hours into the trip home, we decided to stop and get something to eat at a McDonald's that had a large enough parking lot to accomodate Bernie's big ol' truck and trailer. We went inside and quickly scarfed down a greasy sandwich and then headed back out to the truck. As we approached the truck and trailer from the side, Bernie said "Uh, oh." I really didn't like the sound of that so I screamed "WHAT?????" and he said "Looks like the hives might have busted open - I see bees in the window of the trailer." Well, crap. This is not good. Not good at all. I am in a near panic now. All I can think about the rest of the trip home is having to open that trailer to get those hives out and I have NO idea what shape they are in or what to expect - except I KNOW some of them are OUT and swarming about. That sandwich I just gulped down sat on my stomach like a brick all the way home.

When we got home, Bernie positioned the trailer very close by where he wanted to set up the hives. It was almost dark, so we left the trailer there, still unopened, and went to the house for the night. I drank several beers. All I could think of was the task at hand. We decided we would get out at first light (while it was still cold and before the bees got "active") to access the damage, put the hives back together, and relocate them to thier new homes.

We got down to the trailer about 7:30 this morning. I was very nervous, but thought I was prepared to face this task. I peeked in a window of the trailer, and all looked very calm. No swarming bees. Whew - maybe this won't be as bad as I anticipated. Well, I was WRONG.

Bernie opened the back of the trailer. The good news was that it looked like only one of the hives had "shifted" during transport and allowed bees to escape. Because it was early and cold, the bees were very calm and none were flying around. Well, that only lasted about a minute and a half because as soon as we opened the trailer, the sun came streaming into it and warmed those little buggers right up. I began hyperventilating, but assured myself I could do this. We quickly unloaded the back of the trailer and were left with the 6 hives to deal with - and one was open in the middle. I should mention that getting to this point had taken us about an hour. That entire hour I kept saying to myself "You can do this. Just remain calm. Don't make any sudden movements. The bees won't bother you if you are calm and steady and don't scream like a lunatic." I did just fine that first hour. And then.....

We slid the hive out in the open so we could reposition the "super" that had shifted. As I reached up with my gloved hand to shift the super, a bee flew at my hand and landed on it. And even as my mind was repeating "Be calm. No sudden movements." I began flailing my arms like a octopus and screaming at the top of my lungs. Bernie kept yelling "Calm down!!! Stop moving!!!!" I was finally able to gain control of my body and stop moving. But then I could HEAR the bee on my arm somewhere. He sounded stuck. That sound was really very scary to me. To me that sound meant "I am pinched in your clothing somewhere, but as soon as I locate your skin, I am going to sting you like you have never been stung before." See - this is why bees terrify me! At any rate, I was shaking like a leaf and I tried to calmly ask Bernie to help me locate the bee. But what actually came out was "THE FREAKING BEE IS STUCK ON ME SOMEWHERE!!! HELP ME! HELP ME! COME FIND OUT WHERE THE BEE IS!!!!!" The whole time my legs where jogging in place a hundred miles an hour. Bernie walked over and located the bee on my glove - and yes indeed, it was stinging with all it's might. Thank heavens I was wearing the glove - well I was up until the second he saw the bee on it, and at that precise moment I ripped it off and threw it a record breaking distance. When I retrieved it, it still had the bee stinging it's little heart out on the glove. I managed to gently bush it onto the side of the trailer.

I was shaking like a leaf - and we hadn't even gotten the first hive out of the trailer. And everything within my body was screaming "RUN - RUN LIKE THE WIND! YOU CAN NOT DO THIS. THERE IS NO WAY YOU CAN DO THIS." I looked at Bernie with tears in my eyes. He knew what I was thinking. He said "Penny, I really need you right now. I can not do this alone. Can you hang in there and help me?" I really didn't think I could. I finally managed to eek out a small "Yea."

We managed to get the hive lined up - but not before my glove was attacked by 5 bees when I was aligning the super with the rest of the hive. I screamed like a girl, but managed not to flail and although I wouldn't use the word "calm", I would say that I quickly brushed the bees onto the trailer side.

Every bone in my body was shaking and my teeth were chattering and I wanted to cry, but I stuck with it. One by one, we slid each hive into the open, lined up all the supers, and used a tie down strap to secure the hive and make sure it didn't shift open as we carried it to it's stand. The hives are full of bees and honey right now and they are very heavy. I was terrified I would drop my end of them as we moved them. But I didn't! In hindsight, we should have used the tie down straps to secure the hives BEFORE we even started the transportation out of PA - but we didn't know. We do now!

This whole process was nerve wracking for me, but we got all 6 hives situated on thier new stands. We put away all the extra stuff we had, and then Bernie suited up in the bee outfit and went to each hive and untaped the openings. Those bees were happy to be free! They immediately began flying all around the hives. I took pictures (from quite a distance with the zoom lens dialed in) and put them up on the website.

Now that the bees are there and calmly flying about, I am thrilled to pieces! They really are beautiful. They still scare me to death, but I'm really pleased they look so darn happy.

I have a tshirt that says "Fear is a reaction. Courage is a decision." I can honestly say I exhibited both fear and courage today. I can not describe the immense fear I had of dealing with those bees today. I also can not describe how couragious I feel that I I made the decision to do it! It was not easy. It was probably one of the scariest things I've ever done. Very little really scares me. But these bees......

So that's the buzz. We have bees and I'm couragious. All in all a successful weekend.

Bee free ;-),


Anonymous said...

Amazing story ! And all the more scarier to me because I am actually allergic to beestings. The last time I stepped on one in my bare feet, my right foot swelled up to at least twice its normal size (and that is big, believe me), and I had to be taken to the emergency room on July 4th. My whole family missed the fireworks because of me.

I can't wait to try a batch of your honey ! I'm curious, do the hives stay outside all winter? Do they have to be protected from the elements in any way, or are they pretty much self-contained as they are?

Penny said...

The week before TEA I got stung on the top of my foot by a wasp. It was horribly swollen. Spotman and Bernie spent several days laughing at it and calling my foot a "hoove" because you could not see my toes! It was awful. I didn't feel well for a few days, but I didn't feel the need to go to the hospital. Still, I was surprised by the reaction of the sting and am really nervous about getting stung again!

The bees stay outside in thier hives in the winter. John "winterized" them before we got them. My undertanding is that it involves mainly adding hive entrance reducers to keep weather out. It seems bees do most of the work and take care of themselves. Everything I've read and been told makes them sound very, very low maintenance - part of the attraction for us!