“I wonder if, when surrounded by a thousand bees, you have ever become acutely aware of them. This year seems to be a bad year for me that way. At first, just a couple of swarms proved that they were not going to go gently into that dark box. Then, decorators next door attracted the attention of the backyard bees, who turned so aggressive that we had to redeploy them in a friend’s garden some miles away where they spent weeks chasing these good folk around.
A recent visit found the hive absolutely humming and I found it near impossible to concentrate on inspecting them because of the sheer numbers trying to get through my suit anywhere they could. In the end, I got just one sting, where my forehead contacted the headband. I fear I am developing a phobia as I feel a reluctance to visit the hives now. Could this be the end of beekeeping for me?”
Whenever I have to do something unpleasant, I obsess over it. If I have to visit the doctor or dentist, or if I have to deal with an obnoxious person, I can spend hours worrying, fretting, and painting horrific scenarios in my head.
Years ago, realizing how counterproductive this was, I developed a strategy. Whenever I start to fret, I say, “Don’t think, just do.” I repeat it like a mantra, sometimes out loud, sometimes in silence. I say it until I can steer my mind away and concentrate on something else.
It sounds lame, I know, but it works for me. Oddly enough, there are times when I apply this to beekeeping.
Just last week I had one of those beekeeping days. It was hot, overly humid, and dearth-y. I planned to assess my hives for brood and honey stores. Knowing the bees would be cranky, I suited up with gloves.
“Cranky” doesn’t begin to describe their mood. Being “assessed” is not what they had in mind. I can understand. Having someone poke into your private affairs like that must feel a little like an IRS audit.
In the sweaty confines of my suit, I pried stuck frames and maneuvered impossibly heavy boxes. I could barely see through the fog of bees, and a few got caught in the folds of my veil. The miasma of alarm pheromone was nauseating. Bees clung to my gloves, which were now sticky with honey, and I repeatedly shook them free to avoid bee death. For my efforts, I got stung in the stomach, right through all those layers.
Then I began to concentrate on the sound. The ones entrapped in the veil sounded like a jet plane in my ear—loud and steady and lethal. I spiked a fever of panic. I wanted to escape. I wanted to run away and never touch a hive tool again. “Don’t think, just do,” I cautioned myself. “Don’t think, just do.”
Forcing my mind from the sound, I counted brood frames, estimated honey stores, assessed my heart out. The panic drained away, and instead of doing half the hives as I had planned, I got through every last one.
So the answer to your question is yes. Sometimes I become overly aware of the bees. Not often, but when I least expect it. And, no, it’s not the end of beekeeping for you. The trepidation will evaporate. One day you will work your bees and their sweet docility and good nature will overwhelm you, and you will wonder how you could ever feel threatened by such peaceful creatures. Hang in there; this too shall pass.
This was helpful. There are days when I relish the sound of the bees buzzing around me sans veil, and there are days when I suit up to the point where I almost need a page to help me put everything on…like yesterday.
I have to get into the bees again today, and I am thankful for the mantra.
I’m not a beekeeper but I can attest to the anger of the over-heated pollinator. I spend some time with the buzzing bunches at our flowering plants usually in the mornings. The cool days greet me with content visitors even to the point of crawling on my hand to check me out. On the hot days nobody wants anything to do with me. The bumblebees will even chase me off! I don’t blame them. I get cranky in the heat too.
Today was a day that I wondered why I got into beekeeping. I just wanted one hive for the honey and the garden, so I got one. One turned to two, then five, twenty, then fifty. Where does it stop? Last year my goal was 100. That didn’t happen, plus I build all of the equipment also. As I lay on they ground looking for my queens hanging under the screened bottom board that could not find her way back in the entrance from matting, I asked myself why did I get into beekeeping. I didn’t, it got me!!
Having one or five hives was fun, not work much. Having 50-plus hives, raising queens, building all the equipment, selling honey, hives, bees, and doing cut-outs in homes has got to be a part-time job, plus about all my free time; there is always something to do. How did this happen? I think that I need some help. As this year is ending for bees just feeding, checking, and building more boxes, I hope that I can see the light at the end of the hive because I have fell in love with keeping good healthy bees.
As you advise, I have a specific goal for any inspection. As we start smoking, lifting lids & pulling a side frame, I am focused on that rather than the bees’ reaction.
Around the 4th or 5th frame, it hits: I am standing in the midst of a HUGE CLOUD of angry sharp-pointed flying critters, packing enough poison to KILL ME. Why do I not fling down the frame and run screaming? Am I insane?
It must be that jaws-of-the-tiger calm I’ve read about: there is absolutely nothing to do except “Hmm, good brood pattern… look, buckwheat pollen….fat drone…there she is!… ok, we have eggs…”
I like your mantra, and will share it with our club’s aspiring beekeepers. Our president says to think of hive inspection, rather than pulling honey, as “the heart of beekeeping.” Thanks once again for putting our experience in words!
Shady Grove Farm
As always, I appreciate your honesty in sharing your experiences, good and bad. We especially love your ideas when you have solved a problem. I have to add that last year in those months when it was soooo hot and humid I dreaded, not the bees, but that hot, sweaty beesuit you need when they are cranky. I found myself saying, “I’ll go tomorrow instead” until “tomorrow” was two weeks later! I bought a ventilated suit for this year…problem solved! Do they still get cranky in the heat? Yes, but I don’t when I am not so hot. Pricey, but worth it, in my opinion.
I understand completely. As a first year beekeeper I have been surprised at the shear volume of bees now that they have built up to full strength. They seem to be more aggressive this time of year with all their honey to protect and not a lot of nectar to forage. I find myself talking to the bees, mostly for my nerves. I often say the same things, be calm, just look, and get out.
Have you changed the Queen yet it sounds like a highly aggressive Queen is in residence and if you change her to a nice well behaved lady you will find the girls will take on the same trait.
If one or two hives out of many is aggressive, I would question the queen. When all hives are behaving the same, it is more likely the weather, time of year, or nectar dearth. My guess is they will soon calm down to normal.
I too find myself frozen with fear, often times while holding the top half the hive, bees swarming my head….you get the picture. The best course of action for me is to go temporarily insane, you close your eyes and begin to hum, sing to yourself, the bees, the world in general, and just ignore the concerned whispers of your helping beekeepers…
This in turns calms me down, which I believe fully that this calms the bees down. The song I fall back on most, when the angry swarm is keeping my brain empty of all pop culture, is I Am A Little Black Raincloud, from the classic childrens story Winne The Pooh, if your not familiar with the original movie you should watch it, there is a surprising amount of beekeeping information in it! (Plus it’s a great movie!) Hope this helps!
That post hit home. Not that I am afraid of the lil’ girls, but some days they seem overwhelming. Then you ‘buck-up’ and work your hive, whatever task is needed, and everything goes alright, no worries!
Then you observe a hive that seems to be a little less than what you want. You worry again, just differently this time. Yellowjackets, I hate to dignify them by even capitalizing their name, they have taken over your hive, demolishing the brood, even eating the honey. Then you find out earwigs have gotten into the hive, they too with a sweet tooth. Sometimes you wonder ‘why keep bees’. Save the hive, that is the instinct. Take it home, nurse it back to strength. Hope it works! (This really happened to me recently. Incidentally, I have found no post dealing with earwigs. Didn’t think they would be a problem, but with a weak hive, well…, that tells the story.)
Then the harvest. You nervously anticipate the many bees defending their honey. Lo and behold, 70 pounds from one hive and not a single sting. Remarkable, being that there were four of us plus a few kids scattered about the garage, the makeshift honey house. I really like the Lil’ Girls and I guess that sometimes you can be a little intimidated by so many, I do, but if you ‘just do it’, like they say for Nike, its really not as bad as you may imagine.
Willow Creek Honey
My bees like a little Led Zeppelin, particularly “Over the Hills and Far Away.” I also get overwhelmed when the hive seems cranky, but oftentimes it’s because I’m worrying more about next time. “How am I ever going to harvest honey from this hive?” “How am I going to check for mites when I can’t even get down to the bottom box without them getting the best of me?” I’ve actually only been stung twice in three summers (I suit up in a jacket and veil and often use gloves). The bee that got inside my veil didn’t even sting me, but the constant buzzing at ear level during an inspection can be very unnerving.
I too worry about next time, which doesn’t make a lot of sense. I think, “If I can barely lift this box this time, how will I lift it next time?” or “Since I was barely able to remove the reducer, how will I ever get it back in?” So, maybe that is just natural, but it doesn’t make life any easier!
Thanks Rusty. That was my comment you quoted at the top, prompted by a really bad experience with a ‘rogue’ hive, and you are so right. I’ve gone back to basics. I took a heavy super off one of the hives yesterday and just took it steadily. Smoke and wait. Work my way through the propolis (Buckfasts!!). And on. It took me a while but they were as good as gold and there are no signs of repercussions in the yard today.
Way to go!
I enjoy my bees but getting stung once in a while is never fun. You would think some inventor would come up with a bee suit that was sting proof and yet light and even cool in the summer. I know I’d buy it. Any smart entrepreneurs out there?
“If you say you can do it, you will. If you say you can’t, you’re right.” Henry Ford
I love your writing. It’s so accessible and relatable. One of the most powerful and famous speeches from our Australian football grand finals (the equivalent of your superbowl) is coach John Kennedy exhorting his players “don’t think, do.”
That’s so cool!
The sound of the bees can be rattling, as I’ve found out. This is my second season of beekeeping and I have to make a conscious effort to focus on the work and not my fear. Breathe easy, stay calm. Sometimes I walk out to my hives and just sit near them and watch the bees come and go. Spending calm, non-working time with them helps me practice staying calm, cool & collected so when I have to do an inspection, I can enjoy it.
I put rescue remedy in the water I leave out for bees especially if I’ve been doing work around the hive that might disturb them.