I just got stung three times on the butt. How is that possible? How can you face your bees and get attacked from the rear?
Well, it has to do with my favorite pants. My brown and grungy cargo pants are perfect for working around the yard. I fill the pockets with screwdrivers, trowels, hive tools, and duct tape and I’m good to go for hours. Trouble is, they are wearing out. Several thin spots (aka holes) have developed at the knees and where I sit. I tend to forget about the ones in back simply because I can’t see them.
A nectar dearth is coming
Since October I’ve been working my bees without any protective clothing at all. Winter and spring bees, swarming bees, and bees high on early nectar are docile and forgiving—gentle as snuggly kittens.
But the times they are achanging. It’s hot and dry. The blackberry flowers are withering. The clover is crispy. The dandelions are turning gray. All of which means the honey bees are testy and restless.
All I wanted to do today was give my smallest colony—the third and final swarm to arrive from elsewhere—an upper entrance. It was a 30-second job, but at least I had the good sense to wear the top half of my bee suit.
What I thought was a struggling little cluster turned out to be a boiling cauldron of pent-up hormones. Once I removed the gabled roof, six-legged fighter pilots went airborne. The ground force oozed thickly over the side of the brood box. I watched transfixed, amazed at how fast this tiny swarm had multiplied.
It was right then that someone discovered the left side thin spot. Yowee! I grabbed my a . . . um . . . my seat with my left hand and squeezed the fabric, partly to relieve the pain and partly to cover the thin patch. I was saying unkind things to no one in particular when someone else found the right side. Jeese um! I grabbed the right side with my other hand.
I stood there, arms braced in a not-so-feminine posture and wondered, “How does this work? How can I finish the job without letting go?” Alarm pheromone wafted from each sting and I knew there would be hell to pay if I wasn’t careful. I backed up a few feet. And then some more.
By now the air was thick with bees and my dog was launching himself, biting and snapping. The neighbor’s horse clicked stones as it hurried away. The cats left. This was not good. I had to replace the lid.
When the pain began to recede, I let go of my nether regions, snatched up the roof, and dropped it in place. Just as I did, number three voted with her sister, also on the left.
I ran into the garage because bees dislike dark places, and wiggled around until dead bees dropped from the legs of my pants. I counted five, so maybe there were more stings, but I didn’t care enough to look. I kept thinking: all that pain and no upper entrance.
Well, there’s always next time . . . beekeeping is full of next times.
At one point last year, I decided never to write about stings again—a vow made because one reader has chided me about having so many bees in my clothes. But I do get lots of bees in my clothes, and I like to write about stings, partly because it makes me feel better—sort of like getting a purple bandage from the school nurse—and partly because so many beekeepers put on a pretense about stings. It seems that getting stung is so “uncool” that it’s better to lie than admit it happens or that it hurts like hell.
So next time you see a beekeeper all red and splotchy with one eye swollen shut and a pinky finger the size of a sausage, mark my words: it has nothing to do with bees.