40,000 Angry Bees

Ever wonder what it’s like to have 40,000 stinger equipped insects upset with you?

Visitors to the Farm have many questions about the honeybees. One of the first is usually “Do you have one of those suits?” The answer is “yes”. We both have a full suit that has an integrated hat and veil. Wrists and ankles are sealed with elastic, long gloves fit securely over the sleeves and also have elastic closures, so there are no entrances for the bees. It feels very secure which is important when 40,000 bees are determined to defend their happy home against the human intruders.

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Our interest in keeping honeybees is two-fold. The products from the hive, such as honey and wax are very important, but so is their pollination capacity. The fruit trees and berries, garden plants and flowers are producing better than ever this year. We give the bees credit. Unfortunately the honeybee population is declining due to a variety of environmental factors including increasing use of pesticides. That alone should cause a cloud of bees to be after the humans with stingers at the ready.

The apiary on Five Feline Farm started with two colonies in 2012. One of these colonies swarmed late in the year and did not have the numbers to maintain through the winter. The relatively mild winter was also hard on bees. They required more pollen and honey stores then broke their winter cluster early. Even feeding winter patties was not enough for the weaker hive so the spring found us down to one colony. We have heard of experienced beekeepers losing 50-75% of their colonies. Since we are new at beekeeping this was oddly encouraging news. It was not our fault.

The remaining hive is very strong with good numbers of bees. Even though we added a super for honey production, this hive showed signs of crowding and an imminent swarm. Clusters of bees were hanging on the outside of the hive in increasing numbers so we determined it was time for a split. Moving a selection of frames with brood, honey and pollen into another box gives the existing colony more space interrupting the swarm impulse. The bees on the removed frames start a new colony and raise up a new queen. This approach is called a “poor man’s split”.

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This is where the irritation for the bees started. Poor man or poor woman, the bees do not take kindly to the disruption of their habitat. Bees poured out of the hive targeting our heads slamming into our hats and veils. Hundreds of bees crawled over us and on the ground looking for an opening to exact their revenge. The secure suits protected us and no stingers found a mark this time.

40,000 angry bees settled back into their homes returning to their work making honey.

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Would you feel safe from the bees in a protective suit?

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