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December 9, 2010

My bees seem to be thriving. From the outside it looks like the numbers have expanded dramatically. There are always heaps of them rushing around being busy little bees. I thought the one box I had set up was going to be “it” for me. Turns out I was going to need another box, or two, and very soon indeed. I headed back to the bee shop and bought the materials for two more boxes. This time I also bought the ‘stuff’ to make the frames myself. I was encouraged to make my own by both my friend Russell who got me started with bees (“therapeutic” he said) and the bee shop guy (“easy to make your own and anyway we don’t have any made up at the moment to sell you” is what he said). And then ofcourse I left them sitting there for about two weeks instead of getting stuck into them straight away. I really didn’t think the bees would outgrow their box that quickly. Now I am about to go away for about 10 days, leaving on Saturday. This week I have been rushing through getting the boxes ready. Much easier making them the second time. I am getting much better at wielding the drill and hammer! This time I left the box green and put a clear varnish on them instead of painting them white. I love the green colour which comes from the highly toxic timber preserver thing that I had to soak them in. They will blend into the garden better being green as well. I was feeling rather proud of myself.

Then tonight I had to tackle the frame making. I very cleverly took a video of the bee shop guy on my new iphone. He was most impressed with the modern technology. Then an hour later I dropped said new phone in a puddle of water and it started glowing red and then all sorts of strange colours. I ended up getting a new phone but could not keep/recover the video. So rather nervously I tackled it. I rediscovered how crap I am at nailing things – always seem to go crooked, split the wood and worse. Yeah, had to get that drill out again and then all was well. Tara was a terrific little helper and we made up the frames together (you can see her little hand carefully bonding the wires and wax in the second photo). We were so thrilled with our efforts once we had made them. Here are some photos of the wiring board, the special tool to melt and bond the wires into the beeswax sheet, and the magnificent looking finished frames!

And I should have stopped there tonight while I was feeling so pleased with my efforts. But sadly with rain threatening all day and forecast for tomorrow, I felt I had to try and get into that hive and get the new box installed tonight. Despite the fact that it was already starting to get dark. My first solo visit into the hive. You would think I had more sense wouldn’t you? I was worried that the bees were outgrowing their box and would leave home while I am away next week. So I suited up and rushed out there. Second mistake. Don’t try to do it when you are feeling anxious or rushed…the bees can tell!

I opened up the hive. Wow. All the frames look totally full. The frame I got out looked like it was full of honey, most of it capped off with wax too. I thought I should move it to the new box. The vague plan I had in mind was that I would move the frames filled with honey into the top box, and put some new frames into the bottom box. The bottom box should be the brood box where the queen lays eggs and they grow new bees. The top box “souper” is supposed to be for honey only. But there were so many bees and they were getting rather protective of their honey. Once I got the first frame out I started to worry that I would either accidentally kill the queen (there were a few bees getting squashed by this stage), or that she would be on one of the frames that I move to the top. Then I would have the queen on top, a grate between the box that is meant to stop the queen from going up into the top box (except she would be in the top and not be able to get back down or out). I realised that I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. It was also really rather dark by this stage and I could see very little. The kids and Andrew were totally cool but I was starting to have a quiet little panic. I was also getting really hot in all that gear. (See – I have put a photo of myself up on this blog. And you thought I was just shy! 🙂 ). I decided to abandon my plan after I bumped the honey frame and a bit of honey leaked out. The bees were not impressed with that at all. They just would not move. So I just left that one honey frame in the new box, surrounded by new frames and put one new frame in the old box to replace it.

Have a look at the photos below – they are a bit dark (night time!) but they might give you an idea of what that frame looked like. Notice too how the rest of my family happily stood close by and observed/helped with not a scrap of protective gear on. Guess who got stung in the end? Me. I thought I had a bee inside my hood so took it off despite knowing that I had bees crawling all over me and buzzing around my head. As soon as the hood came off, one went down the back of my collar and stung me on my neck. Gosh it stung. But fifteen minutes later it was fine. Sam scratched out the sting from my neck – it looked so interesting. I put a cold pack on my neck and sat out on the back step to get over my adventure, the adrenaline rush combined with a rather emotional sort of reaction. I don’t mean that I was crying or emotional in that sense – just felt anxious and overwhelmed and sad about the bees I had killed….and terrified that I might have totally stuffed them up. I rang Russell to talk through what I had done but he is not back from his overseas work trip. Lucky for him as I might have made him come over and help me fix it up…or at the very least provide a long telephone counselling session! I got out my bee book and started anxiously reading it to try and figure out just how many mistakes I have made. It reminds me of when we first brought Sam home from the hospital. After about an hour I said to Andrew that we had to take him back to the hospital because there was just no way that we could be responsible enough to do all the many things that needed doing. We werent capable, we knew nothing, how could we be trusted with someone so delicate and precious? Then too I anxiously read through whatever books I could find. They also told me of all the disasters and things that could go wrong…and made the rest of it sound ridiculously and unrealistically easy. And tonight I am really feeling like I need to take these bees back to Russell.

So what could be wrong? If that frame had larvae in those cells then the bees won’t be able to regulate the temperature and those larvae will die. Putting that new frame in the middle of the box is apparently totally disrupt the way the colony works and it might take them many weeks to recover. I might have killed the queen. I didn’t inspect the other frames to check for all the things that could be wrong. I forgot to put the extra beetle trap on despite having it ready to go. I might have killed the queen and now all my bees might die. Aaaggghhh. I am a new mother all over again. My kids seem to be surviving my incompetence…so far. Will my bees do the same? Perhaps I should not be going away and leaving them for ten days. What if something goes wrong? Just when I think my kids are old enough for me to have a trip away by myself, I have new babies to be anxious about leaving. Sigh.\

7 Comments leave one →
  1. December 10, 2010 5:23 AM

    Oh my goodness. You had me at the toxic timber preserver. Sigh. I’m so sorry you got stung. Did you actually get any honey out of it? What a night…

    • spiceandmore permalink*
      December 10, 2010 9:37 PM

      Yes, what a night indeed! The toxic stuff is copper napthalate or something like that. Bought from the bee shop in a container without a label. Andrew makes me go right to a corner of the backyard when I am using it and he complains bitterly about having it in “his” garage. It stinks and to be quite honest I don’t like the idea of my bees having to live in this toxic sort of environment I have made for them. I must investigate more natural approaches.

      I wasn’t planning to get honey out yesterday. The plan was to put an extension on the bee house – give them more room to grow more bees as well as to store more honey. I think the adventure of extracting honey is one I am not quite up to as yet. At the rate the bees are going I think it might only be a few weeks away. Supposed to be a very messy task though so you tend to do it less often – allow it to really fill up before extracting it. I can imagine all that sticky washing up and sterilising would be rather a lot of work. Probably won’t be able to eat honey for a few days after being elbow deep in it I am sure!

  2. December 10, 2010 6:20 PM

    I want to say that I hope the bees understand that you did what you did out of the best possible motives, but that is a bit of an anthropomorphic thing to say. From a blog point of view, you had me completely gripped with this one, but that was probably not your intention either. I am sorry that this happened and I hope the outcome is not as bad as you suggest it might be. And the frame you built looks so beautiful too and the joy in yours and Tara’s work is lovely to read about. Take care and have a good trip.

    • spiceandmore permalink*
      December 10, 2010 9:32 PM

      Thanks Jo. It is really lovely to see how keen Tara is on all this bee stuff. She took her hood and gloves and some of the beekeeping equipment in to school for news earlier in the week. She put all the gear on and then shared her knowledge about bees and the equipment. Her teacher told me today that the whole class (her included) were absolutely fascinated with her little performance…and even the naughty boys sat still for the whole thing!
      It was really distressing to see all those bees getting squashed and to feel so incompetent at it all. I hope that I improve my skills rapidly. Don’t like to think that creatures have to die in the process of my learning. I did apologise to all the little squashed creatures I saw today. Yes, slightly mad but it made me feel better.

  3. December 10, 2010 6:46 PM

    Oh gosh. First time I’ve visited your blog & I felt like I was just so anxious for you wondering about the bees. You’ll have to give us an update in a few weeks to let us know how the bees coped with the reorganisation. Talk about a gripping story…, I’ll be back to see what next your up to 🙂
    I don’t know anything about Bees, just that they make honey and things are tough in the Bee world, so good for you getting into it all.

    • spiceandmore permalink*
      December 10, 2010 9:27 PM

      Thanks for sharing my anxiety Anna. I was very anxious when I wrote that post. Thankfully I am calmer now and feeling slightly more confident about my ability to do this! I know very little about bees too…but learning, learning…

  4. December 10, 2010 7:05 PM

    Don’t worry, those bees know they’re onto a good thing!

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