By now all the new beekeepers have watched a bunch of YouTube videos showing people without any personal protective equipment handling swarms, doing hive inspections, and maybe even wearing bee beards. Even while visiting mentor and bee buddy bee yards they have seen gloveless inspections and shorts being worn by more experienced beekeepers while handling their bees. A walk through the bee yard or a quick trip out to deliver a jar of syrup is usually done without formal wear. These sorts of super-human feats of coolness are typically performed during nectar flows.
Introducing dearth, a seasonal period when the available nectar is less than colony day-to-day needs. Hungry, irritable bees. Foraging bees with nowhere to ply their trade, jobless and loafing in and around the hive. And I don’t know about you but, like the Snickers commercial, I too am just a bit grumpy when I’m hungry.
Act One, Scene One: Older bees with their fully developed venom sacs hanging out at home, irritable and ready to defend their precious stores of honey goodness.
For the beekeeper dearth means you too must make changes in the manner in which you conduct yourself around the bees.
1) Wear your protective equipment. Once the nectar flow ends I begin wearing my veil even if just walking though the bee yard or exchanging a jar feeder. You may have 1,000,000 honey bees out there but it only takes one bee having a bad day. A sting between the eyes can turn your pleasant evening stroll into a evening on the couch with an ice pack coupled with periodic and annoying questions from family members.
2) Work your bees during mid-day when the foragers are out of the hive. Depending on the size of the hive, the number of ill tempered foragers not in your way makes a big difference. A hive filled with mild mannered nurse bees is a pleasure compared to cranky guards and foragers. Also, avoid working on days that keep the bees from flying like rainy or windy days. I have noticed that if we get a mid-day rain shower the foragers will return and, during dearth, many will stay home even if the sun comes back out – learned that the hard way.
3) When going into the hive suit up, use smoke, move slowly, and get out when they tell you – when you hear them increasing their “roar.” Your time inside may be limited so work efficiently. Don’t feel you “must” look at everything regardless of them being annoyed. If you’re showing a friend your bees and yammering away then go briefly into a few hives rather than keep one open too long.
4) Start to look at how your body mechanics affect the bees while working them. Are you frequently moving your hands across the top of the frames as you break apart the frames. Instead, use your right hand to break the entire line of bars along the right side then do the left side (with your left hand preferably). Pull the frames closest to you first so you don’t reach across any more than needed. Don’t stand in front of the hive. If possible, try working from the side of the hive instead of the back and you won’t be reaching across them as much. If you have multiple boxes and you “must” inspect to the bottom take the tower of boxes off first and inspect from the bottom, adding one box back at a time rather that stirring them up in each box as you work downward. And finally, if you have to shake bees off the inner cover, out of a box, or elsewhere, save that until last – no need to stir them up while you still have work remaining.
5) When all else fails walk away. You may even have to walk away, wait a few minutes and return to close them up. And if you do get stung, after you take care of yourself, take a picture. We’d like to welcome you to the club!