Tuesday, September 14, 2010


The sun is shining, there is no wind. Flowers still bloom in my garden and we are still picking cucumbers, melons, and peppers. After the frost we will dig potatoes and harvest squash. Yesterday, we harvested our honey crop

In slightly more honest terms – yesterday, we stole the honey from our bees. And all we have to show for it is a few dozen frames of honey, three stings and a lot of really angry bees.

We always dress as comprehensively as possible to steal honey. We wear coveralls over our clothes. We wear bee hats and veils. We pull boots up over our coverall legs to keep the bees from crawling under the cuffs and we pull arm length gloves over our hands.

At first, the bee yard is an idyllic sort of place – plants, trees, two hives, bees. The air was full of bees in that lyrical sort of ‘the air was soft and warm and full of the buzzing of the bees as they flitted from flower to flower’ sort of full.

Then using his hive tool, Dave cracked the wax seal between the lid of the hive and the top super. He lifted off the lid. The entire surface of the super was covered with bees.
And suddenly, the air was full of bees in a real, meaningful, one bee every six inches all around us sort of full.

Relax, I told myself, relax. Breathe slowly. Some bee keepers used to do this without veils. Right! myself said back. They must of been crazy. I could hear bees running into my veil – soft little thuds. I enjoyed my feeling of invulnerability for almost five minutes until the first bee found its way inside my veil. A bee inside your veil is hundreds of times worse than hundreds of bees outside.

Now this was not the first time I’d had a bee inside my veil. The first time it happened, I was working one of my father’s hives. I ripped my veil off right then and there and instead of having a bee inside my veil I had an entire swarm tangled in my hair. That time I ran screaming to the lake and stuck my head in the water. My mother knelt beside me and picked bees out of my streaming hair, squishing each one as she found it. Amazingly, neither one of us was stung.

This time, I calmly announced that I had a bee under my veil and started walking rapidly up the path, beginning to untie my veil. “Wait!” Dave said from behind me. “You have bees all over your back.” He brushed at my back as we walked. When we reached the house, I ripped off my veil and Dave started looking for the bee. I could hear it, but he couldn’t see it. Finally I pulled the clasp out of my hair and shook my head. Mistake. I could still hear the bee, but now my hair was much messier. Finally, he found it when it settled to sting my head.

We put our veils back on and duct taped them to our coveralls. Then we pulled on our gloves and went back to the bee yard. Dave lifted a frame from the hive, brushed it off with his brush and handed it to me. I set it into a super on our cart and covered it to keep the bees out. Relax, I told myself. Think like a tree. It didn’t work. Soon I had another bee inside my veil. We repeated the bee clearing process without my being stung this time.

Back at the hives, the bees were really upset. I could feel their little bodies vibrating when they crawled around on my gloves. Bees clustered on the open boxes, on the honey comb exposed to the air, on the leaves and bushes beside the trail, and on our bodies.
Relax. I told myself. Relax.

Dave handed me the last frame and began restacking the supers. “I’ve got a bee in my pants,” he said, hurrying to the cart. “Let’s get out of here.” Dave had also had a bee in his pants before and had learned, like I did that panicking and removing your protective gear was not a good idea. Its really hard to run with your pants down around your ankles.

We wrapped each harvested super in a plastic bag, sucked all the air out with our vacuum and then filled the bags with carbon dioxide to kill any remaining bees. Next month, when friends come north with their honey, we’ll get out our extractor and finish stealing the honey from our bees.

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