Saturday, May 4, 2013

Calm in a Crisis

   I experienced a little bee crisis Thursday as I was removing a few queen bees from our queen bank at work.  The queens are stored in the queen bank, a small 5 frame nucleus colony, in little cages with no worker bees within the cages. If the customers aren't absolutely certain they will be able to install their newly purchased queen into a hive within the next two hours we have to add worker bees to the queen cages. That involves catching three of the worker bees crawling on the outside of the queen cage and putting them into the cage, abdomen first. This is a job that some dexterity so it has to be done bare-handed. I always rub fresh spearmint or peppermint leaves on my hands prior to bare handed bee work as it masks my scent and makes the bees less inclined to sting my hands.

   My crisis consisted of feeling a worker bee crawling up my leg as I was busily engaged in adding worker bees to two queen cages I had just removed from the queen bank.  With the added distraction of  an audience of several customers, I focused on finishing the task of catching two more worker bees by the wings and adding them to the second queen cage. By this time the bee inside my pants had just passed my knee cap and was continuing her journey upwards. I then very gingerly walked to our rest room (thankfully it was unoccupied) and carefully lowered my pants to remove the intruder. The bee was released unharmed and all was well that ended well.

    In the first draft of this post I wrote that I didn't recall that I have been stung yet this year. Part of that I attributed to good luck and part to careful technique on my part in working a hive.  It was obviously not a good idea to make a statement like that as I was stung twice today. The first one occurred as I had to open the queen bank as soon as I got to work in order to pull out a queen for a customer.  I am never anxious to open a bee hive first thing in the morning before it is warm enough for the foragers to leave the hive. The older worker bees are the foragers and they are much more inclined to sting than the younger worker bees who function as "house bees".  One of the older workers decided my intrusion was appropriate justification for the ultimate sacrifice and stung me on the hand as I removed a queen cage from the queen bank. Later I received a second sting as I was removing hitch hikers from a package for a customer. I often ask the customers if they want the free bees on the exterior of the shipping cage.  Most of them decline and request that we remove the "free bees" before they leave with their package.

    One of the first questions usually asked of a beekeeper is how often do you get stung.  I honestly have a hard time giving an exact answer as I really don't keep track of it. I will say that I doubt that I average even one sting a week during the warmer months of the year when it is warm enough to work the hives.  An important factor in the small number of stings I receive is the fact that I am somewhat used to the bees and am usually pretty comfortable and calm when I work the bees.  It is essential to remain calm when working honeybees. They have a very sensitive sense of smell and they can literally smell fear. If you are nervous or scared while working a bee hive, the bees will be able to detect that and will respond in a negative manner.

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