Getting stung when I should know better

image showing a bee sucking a drop of nectar
image showing a bee sucking a drop of nectar

Several stings on the front of my neck have given me a triple chin to be proud of and it was my own fault

This goes to show how, four years into beekeeping, I still have lessons to learn.

It might be time to get rid of the veil I sometimes use when I’m lifting hive roofs to check or top up feeders.  Also, I hadn’t bothered with the smoker. My bees are generally calm so although I always light up for inspections, I often forget to use it. It was lazy practice.

image showing a bee laden with pollen entering the hive
image showing a bee laden with pollen entering the hive

It’s been a cold year for beekeepers so first inspections are late.

They’d been over wintered with a super box of stores above the brood box and no queen excluder between them.

You have to check the colony has survived with a laying queen and although I’d seen bees taking in pollen (source of protein and often a sign brood is present) I needed a closer look. The earliest it felt warm enough (they say 15C and t-shirt weather) was last week.

image showing the different colours of pollen in cells
image showing the different colours of pollen in cells

All hives were thriving but the boxes were messy and covered with the sticky propolis bees use to seal gaps in cold weather. I wanted to move the frames into clean boxes so when the Bee Inspector rang to arrange a visit, and had a gap this week, we agreed it would be a good opportunity to inspect and change boxes at the same time. We also discussed making sure the queens were in the brood box and putting queen excluders back on.

Yesterday was cold and wet with a bitter wind. The Inspector rightly rearranged a later date. Because of the poor forecast for this week, I deecided to give the bees some syrup. This is often given in the spring if the bees have eaten most of their winter stores, whch mine had, and it looked like they might struggle to forage this week.

The plan was to lift the roofs to add a feeder. I wore jeans, ordinary jacket, and thought I’d be okay with a veil and gloves. I’ve done this many times with no problem – but never again!

There was a new comb bursting through the crown boards with lots of bees filling the roof space. It suggested they were healthy and busy, but also meant no flat surface to lay the feeders on. So I tried to remove it.

Again, I’ve done this without smoke and the bees have been fine.

Not this day.

A handful flew up and at me, got stuck in the flimsy netting of the veil and stung out of panic.

Stings can be a nuisance or they can be worrying. Anaphylactic shock is a risk for all beekeepers. There are reports of it occuring years after your first stings and you can’t get an epipen unless it’s already happened. The allergic response can be life-threatening, causing your mouth and throat to swell and airways to block.

I always have a first aid kit so took antihistamine, applied cream and removed three stings before getting properly suited, booted and lighting my smoker.

Lesson learned!

image showing a lit smoker
image showing a lit smoker

I thought I’d got away with being stupid. In one respect I did because there was no breathing restriction.

Today I look gross. My neck is swollen and uncomfortable. Plus I still need to do everything it was too cold for yesterday.

The sun is shining but it’s 10C with a chilly breeze. The hives are bursting and it doesn’t look like it’ll be warm enough to  radically disturb them either today or tomorrow. The bee inspector isn’t coming for another two weeks and they need sorting soon.

It’s hard to know the best way forward.

image showing a frame of capped brood
image showing a frame of capped brood

I could leave them in their overwintered boxes, it wouldn’t be the first time, and run them as brood-and-a-half this year but don’t really want to. The bending and lifting gets harder each season. Two boxes with brood takes twice as long to inspect. Also, I’ve learned it’s easier to know the queen is in the brood box below a queen excluder, rather than potentially anywhere.

It’s said with the brood-and-a-half method, bees will make new queen cells (a sign they’re running out of space and getting ready to swarm) in the gap between the upper and lower boxes. You can lift the edge of the smaller super, look underneath and see them, but I wouldn’t trust this. When bees are heading towards swarming they can build queen cells anywhere. The only way to be sure is lift and inspect every frame.

image showing queen cells on a frame
image showing queen cells on a frame

Another disadvantage is hive height. I have drawn comb ready to add, but capped honey is heavy. 25 lbs/12 kg per super. There’s a limit to how high I can lift a box weighing this much. Brood-and-a-half will make it a challenge to add the high ones.

Beekeeping is never black and white. Every colony has a different characteristics, even in the same apairy. Knowing what to do requires continual assessment of the weather, which isn’t constant these days, alongside individual assessment of the condition of each hive.

Mistakes are made.

Yesterday was a huge one and I’m feeling it today.

My resolution for this year is to remember how my neck is feeling. Suit, boots and smoke from now on – every time!

image showing a close up of bees on capped brood
image showing a close up of bees on capped brood

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