Stingy stingy

This weekend was supposed to be the weekend I harvested honey from my hives.  I started as I always do by donning my suit listening to Johnny Cash. So I open each hive and check how things look through the small hole in the inner cover.  If all is well, I usually remove each frame, one at a time,  and shake the bees from it before I walk it over to Emily who waits inside the door to receive the frames.  I finished the hives at my house and headed to the next location.  It seemed pretty normal.  We started the same way and got one hive done.  I opened the second hive and that’s when all hell broke loose.

Bees are never thrilled with honey harvest day, but it has always been manageable…until this weekend.  I opened the outer lid on the second hive and it erupted with bees.  I thought it was odd but decided to press onward.  I got a number of honey frames out before the bees really came out.  Most times when I get in a hive, I only smell honey and the normal smell of happy little bees.  There are two main scents that bees release when things are about to go badly for the beekeeper.  The first warning one gets is a strong banana smell.  I know it sounds weird but if you smell bananas when you get in a hive, the bees are upset.  Sometimes you can continue, sometimes it’s best not to try.  The second smell is more ominous.  I can only describe it as the smell of a junior high locker room – it’s a strong b.o. smell.  When one smells that in a beehive, it is time to get away and fast.  I never did smell the banana smell but I definitely got the locker room smell but by then, it was too late.

Anyhow, once the attack started, I knew I wasn’t going to get any more honey off so that wasn’t an issue.  In all seriousness, staying conscious was more my goal.  At various points, I couldn’t hear anything but buzzing.  I also couldn’t see out of my veil as it was black with bees.  I started smashing bees as best I could so I could see to get a hose.  My father-in-law (who had a suit on thankfully) was able to get a garden hose to where I could pick it up.  I sprayed water in the air such that it felt like rain.  The bees thinned some which helped.  I continued to spray which settled things down to a manageable level.  Emily mixed up a few 5-gallon buckets of soapy water for me to pour into the hives.  You see, soapy water is the safest way to kill bees and it works fast.  I dumped 15-20 gallons of soapy water over each of the two bad hives to kill them.

Once both hives were essentially dead (some bees were still in the field…I poured more soapy water on them after dark to ensure no bees were left), I headed into the house to see the damage.  This picture of my back was the worst but my shoulders and front weren’t much better.  I wish I had taken a picture of my suit.  It had thousands of stingers in it as well.  Emily started to count the stings on my back but stopped counting at 200.  I fully expected to need my epi-pen (which I had thankfully) or at least head to the hospital but my reaction never got much worse than what is in the picture.  I took 2 benadryl and slept the rest of the day Saturday and most of the day Sunday.

I know I am pretty lucky that this didn’t end with a sad story.  It’s a good warning to anyone working with bees (or anyone who happens upon bees).  Honey bees are typically defensive only when provoked and are somewhat predictable…but not always.  I have never seen a hive react like this one did. When bees are unpredictable, they can be dangerous or even deadly.  These hives are no longer a threat.  I just thank my lucky stars that nobody was hurt…

Ok, so all this stinging stuff made me think this stuff…

Well, Sting of course…singing his coolest song ever!

And Ali – I wish I had been able to dance a little more and sting a little less…

21 thoughts on “Stingy stingy

  1. Freaking. me. out.
    Someone was stung to death down the road from here… and seeing your back, imagining what you described… yow, I am feeling very uncomfortable. I never knew about the smells, or the soapy water. I wish I were learning these things under nicer circumstances. Please post again soon, about kitties, or archery, or Make, or anything!! Just want to hear you are still okay. So glad you had back-up.

  2. Oh my gosh! That hurts to even look at. I have been stung by 15 bees one time. That was scary but I just can’t imagine being stung over 200 times! Thank God you are alright! Just wondering why you had to kill the bees? Is it because they would attack again?

  3. Holy moly! how frightening for you! luckily you knew what to do and you did not have a strong reaction. I bet you are super itchy now though 🙁

  4. Ouch doesn’t even begin to cover it… glad to hear you are OK with OK being a fairly relative term here. I was curious about killing off the hives as well – would they continue to be very aggressive in the future after an attack like this?

    Sure glad you had back up…

  5. Natalie – I am surprisingly ok…even yesterday evening I felt pretty good. This is super uncommon so don’t worry too much. Just be aware!

    Angela & Howdy – I killed both hives because there was a fair chance that they would be aggressive again. With a response like they gave, I decided I could not take any chances whatsoever. I couldn’t live with myself if a kid (or heck, for that matter, an adult) was hurt or killed by these hives. When we see a less extreme but still aggressive response from bees, we typically just requeen and the new queen’s genetics/disposition come through pretty quickly. I didn’t feel like I could take a chance letting these bees exist for 6+ weeks until the new queen’s offspring were the majority.

    Lisa – you know, it doesn’t itch at all! I don’t know if that’s from nerve damage or a certain bit of tolerance I have developed over the years…

    Tim – no doubt on the rest!

  6. Seriously unbelievable. I’m glad you’re okay. I was at a party and happened to be on FB on my phone when I saw this picture, and it was passed around at the party with disbelief. Everyone at the McDaid’s hopes you’re okay, too!!!

  7. Oh my goodness! That is terrifying! Glad to hear you made it out OK, and thank goodness you had someone there to help you and think on his feet. I wonder what sparked them off?

  8. (also posted in my comments on my blog) Warren – Oh man you know I do that! I have been reading you guys for a while! I just never remember to introduce myself and then I just pop in and think that the person is supposed to know who I am lol!! SO yeah hi, I am Lisa and we are trying to be much more sustainable but sadly we have to keep working while we build our future in a different location!

  9. Good gosh! I guess you aren’t sleeping on your back for a while. That looks awful. Glad the reaction wasn’t a terribly allergic one. Can you ever tell what it is that gets causes good bees to go bad like that?

  10. Holy crap! That is certainly enough to put me off of the idea of keeping bees!
    I know you don’t drink, but Southern Comfort is an excellent pain killer!

  11. Dude… that looks really painful. I ponder bee-keeping, but just can’t get those sort of images out of my head.

    Our compost pile grew a weird squash too… looked like a huge crookneck, but tasted like spaghetti squash. I have had others, though, that pigs wouldn’t even eat.

  12. Holy cow! Warren that’s amazing, concerning and I’m so sorry about it all. I’m glad you’re okay… I get itchy and a little swelling with one sting, and I too have epi pens on hand. Maybe a silly question, but did you use your smoker enough before/during? There’s a trend around here about beekeeping without using the smoker, but I’m still carrying it. I’ve read of hive reactions similar to yours without a smoker. I have smelled the banana smell- slightly- but never the other. In fact- first time I’ve heard/read of it is with your words, and only having a few years experience I’m really curious.

    Most I’ve had is a few hundred bees banging around my helmet and suit- but your hive’s reaction must have been an all out survival response by the bees. Very strange… other thoughts- did you have any other scents/smells/chemicals on or near you that may have put them off?

    Hope you’re feeling better…

  13. It’s funny but I feel pretty excellent. We’ll probably try to get back into the remaining bees this coming weekend to get this year’s harvest done! I think the price of honey just went up though…

  14. Beau – I wondered a lot about other smells that I might have been carrying along. I tend not to wash my suit much during the season so I don’t introduce detergent smells (and somehow, it really doesn’t stink too bad!). It occurs to me, though, that I was swimming on Friday so I may have had some lingering chlorine smell on me. I showered of course, but it seems to ooze out of one’s pores for awhile afterwards…interesting thought…

  15. Ouch ouch ouch!!!!!!!!!! Thank god you are ok.
    If that happened to my hubby, he probably won’t survive because he is highly allergic.
    Well, I hope you feel better.

  16. Michelle – yes, a suit is supposed to protect (and it def did) but it’s not guaranteed to stop all stings. I have even been stung through leather gloves before. Anyhow, my suit had thousands of stings in it. It was completely covered so it did help!

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