So as a brand new beekeeper, with an open hive, 3000 bees and a smoker that was not producing any smoke; I felt compelled to continue. In retrospect, I realize that this was probably not the best choice.
The books that I accumulated stated that smooth gentle motions were extremely important to the hive inspection process. Continuing with slow movements, I attempted to lift the first bee covered frame out of the hive. This task was equally scary and amazing! Scary because the gloves I purchased with the bee keeping suit were much too large. Extra large leather gloves, where your fingers do not reach the end, make smooth and gentle movements difficult to achieve.
The protective beekeeping gloves
Since that time, I have talked with several beekeepers who conduct hive inspections in their bare hands. I understand this practice, as getting the large fingers of the leather gloves in between or underneath the edges of the frames is not easy. And the last thing you want to do is drop a full frame of bees. Once I realized how hard it was going to be, my “cool” started to fade, but I pushed ahead with large drops of sweat dripping down my forehead.
Try to imagine how hard it would be to wear gloves while working in the hive
When I finally felt confident to grip and remove the first frame out of the hive it was AMAZING! My muscles were tense, but I felt like I just reached the top of a mountain. Very exciting stuff! Now I just need to do it again. And again. And again. Until I had inspected both sides of every frame to locate the queen of the hive. (who again, to my untrained eye, looks very much like all of the other honey bees)
Every frame I lifted from the hive seemed like a huge accomplishment and I felt the same level of joy with all of my successful lifts. So I was shocked to find that replacing the frames was an even greater achievement. Upon replacing the frames you run an enormous risk of squashing a bee. Most importantly, you could kill the one and only queen. I felt such responsibility for the life of each and every single honeybee that I took tons of time sliding the frames back into the hive and waiting for the bees to see their way clear of the potential hazard. Purchasing wood frames, instead of plastic, can help reduce the risk of harming the bees. Wood frames do not have open spaces down the sides where bees can become trapped.
Notice how the wooden from (on the right) does not have the small spaces where honey bees can be trapped.
I thought I was doing the bees a great service by moving so slowly. But not having a smoker and the painstakingly slow removal and replacement of the frames meant that the ladies became very agitated. Soon the light humming of bees turned into what sounded like outrage. It only takes the death of one bee and the release of the corresponding pheromones to put the hive on guard. (I think I may have killed more than one)
I hate to admit it, but my use of the smoker is still feast or famine. Either I have no smoke or face full of it.
As if the thunderous buzzing didn’t turn me into a pile of sweaty nerves, I then heard a scream from inside the Nature Center. While holding a frame, I looked up to find a woman shrieking and pointing at me from the window. When I turned away from the window to look down at myself, I caught a quick glimpse of the woman putting her hands over her still open mouth (she continued to squeal, but I couldn’t make out the words).
Through the grid of the mesh vale, my eyes took in the scene of my legs and torso. I quickly realized that I didn’t need to hear what the woman was saying anymore. I was covered in a thick layer of bees!
Writing this makes me recall my experience fondly (I am actually smiling). All of this fun and it was only my first day!
Check in next month for the end of this Beekeeping trilogy.