Never balk at forking out for good PPE. It does what it says.
My shiny new triple-layered bee suit paid for itself yesterday.
You know how you leave the best until last? Well…I had left the worst until last procrastinating removal of the supers from a hive that is in an awkward location as well as being my crankiest hive. The bees in this apiary never gave me much honey ever either so I figured that they could wait until I was feeling brave.
Oh, the lessons you learn, too late!
Earlier, I drove down west to view a hive. It has a later season than at my base so there was no honey to take off. The bees there are mellow even if they didn’t like me interfering with them. It’s one of the reasons I have kept this far-away hive. On the way home, the evening was warm and dry but the forecast wasn’t very good for the week ahead. In my mellow mood (a contagion from the calm bees and halcyon day) I thought that it was a good day to go for it. Go have a look at the monster.
It was about 6pm by the time I got back to that apiary. Unsuited, I took a look at the hive to remind myself of the setup, such as what boxes I had on the hive and if there was anything unusual around (like people or animals!). Also, were there many bees flying in and out of the hive? Where would I put the boxes as I took them off to examine the hive? Where was my exit route?
All was calm and beautiful, an odd bee flew serenely in or out of the hive. Walking back to my car to gather the paraphernalia, I did my final checks on my removal and exit strategy. Nothing for it now but to light the smoker and go for it.
I suited and booted to the nth degree and checked all potential zipper gaps, wellies and socks –[a sock-ing adventure is recounted in my short post called The rules don’t apply to me hint..yes, they do!].
Then, donning my leather gloves I went bravely forth pointing my well-lit puffing smoker like a sabre.
Puff, puff at the entrance, bees came out. Normal stuff.
Took off the lid, some more bees came out. Normal stuff.
Cracked up a corner of the crown board, puff, puff, puff with the smoker and off with the crown board.
The top supper, which was a brood box that I just wanted this hive, a swarm caught this year, to draw out comb, was full to the brim with honey. Wall-to-wall honey. Wow! Wow! Wow! Honey, honey, honey! That box was also full to the brim with bees.
Up they welled, bubbling over the top of the frames and took to the air on the attack. Despite the angry swarm, I quickly (and of course deftly) removed this very heavy box putting it on it’s side a bit away from the hive so that the bees would go out and find their own way home. Back at the hive to l looked at the second super.
The second super (medium size) was full too with honey but of course was also flooded with bees. I removed that one too as the swarm around me became larger and angrier.
I left the third and final supper to the bees, the queen had been laying in some of it and the large hive would need some stores for themselves.
Never before was I in the midst of such a large and angry swarm. The noise nearly drowned out the overhead jet plane that had taken-off nearby and which now flew low overhead. It is impossible to describe the bedlam of bees to do them justice. They swirled around, zapping me as much as possible, I looked down at my hands to see about 30 bees on each glove pushing their stingers into them. They tried every part of the suit to get in but only few landed stings through the triple layers onto my forearm. The suit protected me from the worst effects of these.
Using a leaf blower, I blew out the bees from the supers and lugged them to the car and removed as many bees as I could before loading the trailer. Many hundreds of bees had followed me back to the car. Keeping as calm and methodical as possible, I strapped up the hives securely like an astronaut with thick gloves fiddling with complex wiring on the outside of a space station.
I turned around. WHAT THE!!!
“How are you getting on?” My unsuited beekeeping mentor approached. He knew that I was taking off the honey that evening and had come along to get an update.
“GET BACK!” I yelled.
“THEY ARE BALLISTIC!”
“I can see that” he said as he quickly turned on his heels pulling a bee out of his hair. Thankfully he only received one sting.
Hopping back into my car a flood of bees followed me in, so I did not dare open my suit, instead I opened the windows and drove a few hundred yards down the road. The remaining bees in the car calmed down so I stopped the car, re-checked the load was secure and unzipped my hood. A kindly stranger stopped his car next to mine on the road to see if I was alright. “I’m fine.” I shouted out the window across at him. “Just bees”. I think I saw smoke come from his tires as this kind gentleman sped away.
Back at base, a fine mess greeted me. One of the frames of honey had broken and honey dripped out the end of the super. Within 60 seconds every wasp in the locality had come to hover around my trailer. Bees joined the wasps. As none were defending their hive, all was reasonably calm despite the zig-zag of bees and wasps. Fully suited again, I cleaned up and put the suppers away in a bee proof room, ready for extraction.
What I would do differently
NEW RULE 1 – Only remove supers between 12noon and 4pm on a warm, sunny day.
NEW RULE 2 – Use my fume board – as I did every other year. I had run out of the pungent liquid and thought I could manage without it. Foolish me. I thought a leaf blower would do fine like it works for the guys on the internet. It worked alright but it really aggravated the bees!
NEW RULE 3 – If the bees overreact, take one super only, go away and come back a few days later.
NEW RULE 4 – Wear a long-sleeved shirt under my suit.
What I did right
ACTION 1 – Had a good quality bee suit which protected me.
ACTION 2 – Checked suit and vail for holes, zipper gaps etc (see my blog post OUCH!)
ACTION 3 – Wore long leather gloves.
ACTION 4 – Had my smoker well-lit and puffing (see blog my post Smokin’ ).
ACTION 5 – Had my hive tool.
ACTION 6 – Had a plan.
ACTION 7 – Had my escape route mapped out.
ACTION 8 – Checked for animals and people in the vicinity before starting.
Cover photo from an article called Death by bee