bee stories stings

The suspense of the sting

Bee stings are not so bad: a sharp jab, poker-hot pain, the urge to swear, throbbing pressure, gradual dissipation. Before you know it, it’s all gone but the itch. Why, then, is the anticipation so much worse?

Two weeks ago I met with a beekeeper who had been working all winter to design and build a comb honey super to my exacting specifications. I wanted square wooden section boxes that would tuck neatly into a standard shallow super fitted with standard shallow frames. Miraculously, Nick—the beekeeper/woodworker—had finished six supers in time for the blackberry flow.

Once I heard that all was ready, I made arrangements to drive north and collect three supers worth of the new fittings. Coming face-to-face with someone you’ve met on the internet is weird enough, but what if the work was god-awful and I still had to be—or act—grateful? Stress city.

But all my worry was for naught: my fears were replaced at the front door by a dog that could have swallowed me without chewing. Although I outweighed him by a pound or two, he romped toward me as if I were the best thing he had seen since breakfast.

Introductions out of the way, I was immediately lost in the woodenware. Awesome is the only word that comes to mind. The perfect fit, the silky smooth wood, the scent of basswood and beeswax—it was all more than I could hope for. There was no measuring the time that must have gone into this creation, let alone materials, equipment, and patience. It was impossible not to be impressed.

Nick explained how all the pieces fit together, where he had run into problems, and how some things could be done differently. He finished by testing my ability to assemble frames and bend section boxes without breaking them. It’s a good thing I passed because I got the feeling if I didn’t pass, I wouldn’t get to play.

Everything was fine until I asked to see his hives. We walked through a fenced area and into a small but colorful apiary that contained seven hives. We were peeking inside one to see if the new super was being accepted when Nick pointed to his head, “There’s a bee in my hair. Can you get her?”

I flicked the creature away just as another entered my shirt. Instantly, alarm pheromone arose from my collar. I tugged the opening away from my neck and walked briskly (fled) from the apiary.

I don’t know what it is about me, but bees always go for my bra; this one was no exception. By now I was prancing across the yard, pulling at my clothing, and squinting down my shirt in a most undignified manner. This was not a quid pro quo situation: I could not ask Nick to get her for me. Instead, I twisted a handful of shirt into a knot hoping to snuff her out, but it didn’t work.

What to do? I was in a suburban backyard surrounded by similar backyards, with a guy I just met, dancing from foot to foot, grappling with my shirt, and seriously thinking of stripping. The scent, the reverberating buzz, and six tickly feet were making me stupid. A sting is ephemeral, but the suspense can last forever. “Sting me!” I coaxed. “Just do it and be done!”

I was about to do the Lady Godiva thing (with hair too short for the purpose) when the bee suddenly moved to where I could see her. Pulling my shirt up from the bottom, I was able to send her away.

Once free, I wriggled in my clothes until they laid flat and smoothed the wrinkles with my hands. Pretending nothing was amiss, I sauntered back into the bee yard and picked up the conversation where we left off—just another brief moment of terror in the everyday life of a beekeeper.



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  • Rusty, here you come to Kent and do not stop by for a visit. You know how many exploring bees I have? 🙂

  • My hogg cassetes are 20-30% full. Hoping that the flow will last to fill them completely, but linden trees have not started blooming, so myabe bees will transition to them after blackberries. No exluder and they are working them beautifully, especially the hive with the fresh caught swarm.

  • I love this ….. I’ve been stung twice in the past two weeks… And these feral swarm girls are little sneak attackers! Both times I for no warning at all. No pinging my head or anything. Just BOOM…. Burning flames of pain !!

  • My experiment with getting the bees to build comb in jars was a failure. I left the jars on for two weeks and not much had happened except big black ants invaded and got into 2 jars. There is always next year.

  • Here I was thinking I was the only one who had bees go down her blouse – but your description was a lot funnier than mine. All I could think of was, “Nooooooo….please, not there, not *THERE*!!!”

  • I turn into a 12-year-old screaming girl when I get one stuck in my long hair. I run screaming and thrashing till it is gone. I then act like a normal beekeeper after that. I can’t explain the terror, but it is real and running away from a bee tangled in your hair seems logical at the time. Stupid, but at the time, necessary!

  • My last two sting resulted in swelling that lasted for a few days, one on the wrist and yesterday through a hole in glove thumb. Previous stings seemed like warnings compared to these. I still try not to run but the urge is very strong…

    Thanks for keeping it light.

  • Rusty,

    I am still wiping the tears of laughter away! My bees tend to like my thighs. Lol! They can make us go through all kinds of contortions.

  • Lately they go straight for my eyes when they do the dive bomb thing. But the pinging just drives me nuts!

    I love your posts!

  • After work I will get a glass of wine and go say hi to the gals, once one flew up my nostril. Talk about doing the bee dance, luckily I wasn’t stung!

  • I recently got my first bee (not counting wasps) sting in many years (at least 20 years) and my first since I started keeping bees. The sense of outraged betrayal I felt was ridiculous; don’t these bees know I was just opening the lid and adding a feeder to get them through a cold wet June? (Of course they don’t; they are bees.) But you absolutely nailed it, the anticipation of pain when she got tangled in my hair was far worse than the actual sting, there was even a moment of relief when I finally felt the sting because at least it was over with.

  • Four of my grandchildren have had a stay with us. They have been most curious about Grandpa’s new bees. I promised them all a trip out to look (suited up and we opened the hives to inspect). The 12-year-old and 9-year-old boys went first. We checked the bees at my son’s house. Found a queen! Checked them out. The girls want to go the next day so we suited them up and took them to my bee hives. I told all of them there are certain rules to follow and there would be a lesser chance of being stung. No hand waving and jumping around. If they got all over us they were to walk calmly away and we would rescue them. The granddaughters are 8 year old twins. The next day they had gone to a friend’s to check out a horse. Grandma said, “Emma, come on”. She had frozen in her tracks. Her sister said, “she has a bee on her arm”. Seems that a bumble bee had landed on the back of her upper arm. She stood still and allowed him to walk around freely. Grandma was able to squeeze the sleeve of her T-shirt closed before it could walk up into the shirt. It flew off and the trip continued. She followed instructions very well and all ended well.

  • I have been taking care of 2 hives since May. They are my first hives. I am reading everything I can to learn more every day so I can be a worthy friend of the bees. I know the fear that has been spoken of here, I have at times just surrendered the suspense and said have at it girls, I’m at your mercy. But really, and this may sound strange to some, I reduce my ego to the formative size of function that the bees have taught me. I become a bee, and it’s beyond words how safe and accepted I feel. I learned it in a dream many moons ago, when I found myself surrounded by sharks. I had no time to screw it up with thinking or wishing it away, so I did the only thing I could, I convinced the Sharks that I was a shark as well. It worked perfectly as long as I didn’t break the spell by disbelieving that I was a shark.

    It works the same with bees. I get so deeply in tune with every drop of sound that resonates from their wings. I’m smarter when I’m with the bees. They share secrets with me that I can never have to myself, I can never take them with me as I walk away, they belong to the hive. I know a fraction of a percent of what most beekeepers know, I’m a true novice at best, but in a very sincere, private relationship I have with the bees, it really feels like we’re old friends, we just have an ease and trust with each other. I do have a special appreciation and fondness, which in energy language seems to set the mood in a proper way. I have yet to be stung, and there are thousands upon thousands of bees. Once about 500 ft from the hives, I felt a warm little beginning of a sting but it quickly faded away. I saw the honeybee shortly before it happened. It was more like a honeybee kiss.

  • Mostly, I attribute not being stung when I’m at the hives to focusing my absolute awareness to the pure messages in the energy field that I’m sharing with the bees. Simply put, they tell me when it’s time to go. I’m an open receiver, it’s very clear how to “be” around the bees. I would suggest forgetting who you are, what you have planned, and anything that is a burden or distraction in your mind. Empty your memory when you step into the bees domain, you have to match the frequency of the scene, bees have more to teach than we could ever learn. But we have to be the bee, if only just for that time when we are near them.

    It’s deeper than meditation for me. It’s a moving meditation, and fear is necessary. Fear is an appropriate lion at the gate here, it keeps us from getting ahead of ourselves, and due to the process of overcoming the fear, we become synced with the melodic secrets of the hive. They want us to learn about them, they are training us, and fear keeps us focused. But if we let the fear overshadow the song, it’s a certainty, we will be stung.

    Bees in this way, are exacting machines, the sting comes quick like instant karma, as soon as the fear gets out of control, the sting will be there. Some think I am super silly, but I don’t think so, because when I am standing in front of thousands of bees, I swear this is true, I get scared for the bees. My challenge is not overcoming the fear of being stung, it’s overcoming the grief I feel when I remember that if I get stung, then a bee will die. I don’t want the bees to die. So I do everything in my power to eradicate the sting scenario. In doing so, by constantly adjusting my energy and being fearless and loving, I actually have come to feel accepted by the bees.

    All relationships I have with everything non-human are so pristine and enriching. There is no lying with nature, you get the true tale of the way, every time. So I guess the most important quality to have as a beekeeper, is the ability to suspend disbelief, and be the bee. A honeybee is not going to attack another honeybee of its hive. So be the bee that you see, and listen to the one you don’t. Honeybees are truly amazing. I have a bazillion questions about beekeeping, right now I am just doing my best to walk them through this fall and winter. My heart is involved completely, so their well-being is a very real consideration to me.

    Here’s my first question:

    I have a container feeder with little holes in it that I place upside down. I place it upon two blocks to make room for the bees to get under and drink. Bees love it. Problem is, when I go to get it to refill it, there are ants all inside it. Like a hundred of em. Is there anyway I can keep the ants out or is this to be expected?
    The holes are so tiny, I don’t see how they could fit in, but they’re getting in some how.
    Any response will be appreciated.


  • Jbee: no disrespect intended but…BALONEY! Sunday I went out to my hives to feed them. I was standing in back of the hives (two TBH’s). I hadn’t done *anything* yet: hadn’t lifted the cover, hadn’t moved anything, didn’t make any loud noises, NOTHING. I was just standing over my cart getting ready to put my jacket on. All of a sudden a bee comes over and starts looking for a place to kamikaze. I always try not to windmill (as Rusty says, once you start windmilling, you’re toast!) and I didn’t. But Kamikaze bee zeros in on my upper arm, finds a spot near the armpit and zzzzzing! Then more start coming over very close, around my head (I can hear the buzzing near my ear). Ok, time to get out of Dodge…at least until I get the jacket and gloves on. They *followed* me! I’ve met a few Bee Whisperers and maybe you *are* one Jbee, and clearly I am not. But I know I didn’t do anything to deserve that particular sting.