Minding Our Bees and Qs

A quick update on the bees.

  • Despite carefully setting the power washer away from the hives, The Engineer was stung last week when he attempted to wash our deck. Maybe the vibration upset them. Whatever it was, my poor husband ended up cleaning the deck in the August heat clothed from head to toe, including a bee hat and veil. Since his reaction to the sting was nearly identical to mine, I’ve concluded mine was probably one of our girls after all.
  • Below is a short clip of FreeBees on the front of their hive. I learned their “dancing” is also called “washboarding,” and nobody really knows for sure why they do it. It may be they are orienting themselves as mentioned in my earlier post. Or maybe they do it for a completely different reason. It’s interesting that, despite being the same race, Buzzers’ Roost bees haven’t behaved in this manner, especially since both hives seem well-populated.
  • FreeBees also “beard” more than Buzzers’ Roost. Bees do this when it’s hot — kind of hang out on the front of the hive and porch to alleviate the heat. To help in this endeavor, beekeepers can ensure the hive has adequate ventilation (a screened bottom board, more than one entrance, and possibly offset the boxes to allow more air to circulate) and water nearby. We’d already taken off the robbing screens, and both hives have screened boards, and top and bottom entrances, so all that was left was offsetting the boxes, which we did yesterday. We also set out a dish of water with sides shallow enough to prevent drowning while drinking. I’d done this earlier in the summer, but the bees ignored it. We’re trying again anyway.
  • The goldenrod is blooming! And as you can see from the video, our girls are as busy as bees, making their home a veritable hive of activity. (Sorry, but as soon as I sit down to write about them, the clichés flow just like, well, honey.) Maybe this new bounty will improve their mood. If you look carefully below, you’ll see cells packed with yellow pollen, and the glisten of nectar in a few other cells.

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  • I had high hopes of seeing honey in the supers, but there was only a smidgen in Buzzers’ Roost and none at all in FreeBees. Still, I caught the faint whiff of butterscotch (some compare the scent of goldenrod honey curing to dirty socks, but it’s butterscotch-y to me), so maybe they’ve got some in the deep boxes.
  • We’ve avoided doing lengthy hive checks during the past month. No point in annoying them more than necessary! Yesterday’s check was just a quick peek at the supers.
  • Both hives have had issues with hive beetles. We’ve been using the traps, changing them out regularly, and are again trying the microfiber cloth. We tried this several times last year with Buzzers. Each time, they carried every strip of cloth all the way down through two deep boxes and out the front. Perhaps with a new queen, and all all new bees, they’ll leave it in place to catch beetles. Good news is: There were no flags of cloth out front this morning.
  • We still need to do an alcohol wash and mite count. Depending on the results, one or both hives may be due for another treatment before too long. I’m a little nervous about this, especially with FreeBees, because the process kills all the test bees, and their queen isn’t marked. If the weather cooperates, we’ll try for this weekend, maybe get an idea of their stores in the process. Please cross your fingers that all goes well.
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Zucchini relish 

In other news (and I use the term “news” loosely), I’ve been trying out new recipes like crazy in an effort to waste as little of our CSA share as possible. Earlier this month, I made and canned zucchini relish.

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Spicy-hot, But Not Atomic, Zucchini Tomato Salsa

This week, it was zucchini tomato salsa. It’s definitely zucchini time!

They look a lot alike, but taste completely different. Both delicious, of course!

Soon, it will be pepper season, which means hot pepper jelly. I always make as many jars as possible because I give it as gifts at the holiday.

Pears, apples, and cider will follow, and be transformed into jars of applesauce, jams and jellies.

I know it’s silly, but I find canning so satisfying, not only for the food, but because it’s like a connection to my ancestors. My parents grew and canned almost all the jellies, fruit and vegetables we ate. They also put up grape and tomato juice. And I know that’s how my grandma and grandpa, and their parents managed to raise families down in West Virginia. Somewhere in heaven, I know Grandma is laughing that I’m so proud of a few jars in my pantry.

That’s okay. She, Grandpa, and my dad would also be pleased. And I know my mom is because she tells me so every time I take her a jar of jelly.

The Sting

In a little over a year of beekeeping, I’ve been stung four times, three times last year and once two days ago.

The first sting made my hand look like someone had blown air into a rubber glove. It hurt like hell, and throbbed and itched for several days before subsiding. I never saw the bee.

A few weeks later, I decided to have a look at the bee hives at our airport. Accustomed as I was to the laidback temperament of our hives, I was astonished when the airport hive’s guard bees came at me before I got within three feet of their hive. I backed off, but they actually followed me back to our hangar, a distance of over 50 feet (maybe way over – I’m no good at estimating distance). Despite waving my hat and jacket to disrupt their plans, I got stung in the back of my head – a sharp hot zap that eventually became a small knot.

Toward the end of last summer – probably during the nectar dearth, when bees are particularly defensive about their hard earned stores, one of ours got me near the eyebrow. Being stung near the eye (or anywhere on the face) is cause for alarm, but other than that hot, sharp pain, I had no reaction. No swelling, and I don’t even remember itching.

This photo shows the swelling and redness of my latest experience with venom – another time I never saw the insect.

It’s a just like the first one – crazy pain the minute it happened, followed by swelling, throbbing, and itching as the poison works its way down my arm.

Each time I’ve been stung, I immediately scraped the area to get the stinger out, so the difference can’t be from an imbedded stinger.

I’m beginning to think that stings #1 and #4 weren’t bees at all, but wasps.

You see, I’ve learned bee venom is different from wasp venom. And it turns out you can be allergic to either, but rarely both. (Go here for more info: http://archive.boston.com/business/articles/2010/05/17/how_do_bee_and_wasp_stings_differ/)

Also some wasp stings are more painful than a bee’s. We know this because a guy named Justin Schmidt subjected himself to a variety of stings and bites to create the Schmidt Pain Index (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2148089/The-10-painful-stings-planet-self-sacrificing-man-tried-150-different-varieties-science.html). Crazy, right?

Paper wasps (which I’ve seen in our traps) are right up there, above both yellow jackets and honey bees.

So maybe #1 and #4 were paper wasp stings. That would account for the different pain levels, and if I’m more sensitive (not allergic, but sensitive) to wasp venom, this would also account for the ballooning.

If my theory is correct, I got off easy both times because unlike honeybee workers, whose barbed stinger can only sting once (causing them to die), wasps and hornets can sting multiple times.

On a side note: queen honey bees stingers are not barbed, so they also can sting multiple times. And a drone honey bee has no stinger.