An Anecdote from a beginners first winter – shear fear

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New Bee
Mar 17, 2011
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Hive Type
It’s the end of January, The bees arrived last May and I set them up on my allotment. My first ever colony. I’d already read Ted Hooper’s bee bible and had many talks with my mentor. A very helpful fellow and absolutely one with the bees. Prior to purchasing my colony I’d visited his apiary and we’d inspected one of his hives. His bees were very friendly, they all wanted to come out and say hello and even escorted us back to his car afterwards. Infact a couple even joined us for the car journey back home.

I digress, my apologies. It was quit a hard year for my little ladies last year mostly down to the fact that I wasn’t experienced. I missed and then caught a small swarm on the raspberry bush in the next door neighbours allotment. Once caught, I noticed how few were actually in the hive. It must have been a cast. I had no honey from them last season.

My Lack of experience meant I just couldn’t get the syrup consistency right and it took until towards the end of September before I managed to get some syrup to them that didn’t crystallise.

The weather dropped colder and although I knew they only had about 8 of the 11 frames with stores I didn’t think it worth risking the cold to continue feeding, and anyway, due to the swarming, it wasn’t the biggest colony in the world and so hessian sacked them for the winter.

Knowing they would probably need some feed, a week ago I bought fondant from a website and it arrived Friday. This weekend was wet and windy… but warmish. I thought it time to feed the ladies.

I pulled last years suit on, got my kit together and headed to the allotment. I must say although I have a bit of an irrational fear of bees the inner voice in my head that usually says don’t be a saft bugger and get on with it, this time was a bit hung-over from last night and sounded a bit nervous. I entered the netted apiary all suited up. The wind was picking up a bit and the clouds threatened rain. I didn’t yet put on the marigolds, I lit the smoker and puffed two or three clouds of smoke over the entrance of the hive.

I unstrapped the hessian sacks and then put the gloves on. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I took off the lid and blamed that for the shaky feeling in my stomach. I slowly lifted the lid and placed it to the side of the hive. I gently removed the insulating foam I had placed over the crown board and noticed the ladies had glued it down pretty well especially over the feeding holes of the crown board. As I slowly lifted the edge of the foam around the feed hole I carefully directed one puff of smoke into the gap.

My belly was turning a little and I felt shaky. I have no idea why! After viewing the first feed hole there were plenty of bees there but giving me a signal I had not seen them do before, four or five were sticking their tails straight up at me. A sign which quite clearly said. Leave us alone or we will go straight for your jugular! Although on the outside I was not shaking and appeared confident, inside my guts felt like a washing machine on spin. I felt beads of sweat tickling my brow.

The voice in my head had obviously brewed itself a coffee and become a bit more brave. It started its usual ‘don’t be saft and just get on with It’. I removed the foam and was met with more bee tails sticking up out of the second feed hole. I comforted my self knowing all I now had to do now was to remove the crown board, stick the ripped bag of fondant in there and shut the hive up. Anyway, only one or two bees were out of the hive and flying about.

I started at the corner of the crown board with my hive tool gently breaking the propolis seal. I was being gentle, REALLY gentle. I was taking my time. There was absolutely NO reason for the bees to be annoyed. There was certainly NO reason why they would decide to evacuate the hive. I was doing everything I had been taught, move slowly, work slowly, quietly and gently…

It didn’t matter. MY stomach didn’t churn any more… IT DROPPED. There must be an imaginary cavity just above your knees where your stomach goes when you are petrified because I swear mine was there. The bees started to flood out of the two holes in the crown board. The voice in my head cried out ‘F#%k this’ and hid amongst my churned stomach remains just above my knees. The bees came out in force, flying at me seriously dis-chuffed. I grabbed my smoker and pumped the bellows directing the smoke all over me. The bees just didn’t care. Infact I’m sure that even more came at me trying to get their fix from the smoke which they had missed so much over the winter. Instinct made me slowly move away to a bee tolerable distance from the hive and half the bees started to head back to the hive and walk around on the crown board.

I knew I had to go back and finish the job. Sadly this was not a job you could start and not finish. I used every internal muscle I had to pull my stomach back up under my rib cage, give my inner voice a damn good thrashing and headed back to the hive with determination. I was being battered by angry bees as I removed the crown board. Although the sweat had beaded only one bead had started to run down from under my ear. The crown board was off now and I lay the fondant over the top of the crown board. I gently lay the crown board on top of the fondant and placed the lid onto the hive. It started to spot with rain and the bees started to reduce in number. The bees clutching to my suit started to crunch themselves up as tight as they could. They looked cold and lazy. What a relief it was to get that lid on. There were still plenty of bees about but no more would be taking off and many were heading to the entrance of the hive.

The sweat on my brow started to dry up. The bead of sweat under my ear had tickled its way down my face and was at the top of my neck now. I hessian sacked the hive up and noticed how few bees were out and about now. I was going to start packing up the kit when I was made suddenly very aware of a horrifying fact. I froze terrified. The bead of sweat at the top of my neck started to move back up towards my ear. It started to vibrate! It buzzed, it disappeared and then I felt tickling in my hair. I kept my head as still as possible within the hood and sped to the entrance of the apiary. I flew threw the gap in the net and then used the tickling to locate the bee in my hair pretty much at the top of the hood. I knew that soon it would start to panic and feel trapped. It would then blame ME for it! I didn’t MAKE it climb inside my suit, infact I can categorically say that I REALLY didn’t want it to!! From the moment of realising what it was that was tickling me I was just waiting for that HOT painful injection of venom into my skull. IT was bound to sting me. I was now outside of the apiary netted area, I considered just slapping my head and hoping it’s tail was not located against my head. I thought better of it and gently unzipped my hood and removed it to the side and crazily flicked my fingers over my hair. Panic had turned me into a wreck. I ripped the suit off me and ran to the end of my allotment. I sat for a while brushing madly at my clothes. My brain created a fictional tickling sensation under my sleeves, around my neck, in my hair, on my legs. My eyes saw no bees on me, but my brain told me I was covered. After 5 minutes I realised what a fool I was. I again had to return to collect my kit and to collect my suit.

The panic subsided, I walked to my suit and brushed the few bees off it with a leaf. The apiary was clear of bees so I entered, ensured the hessian sacks were secure, and collected my kit. I left the netted area and fastened it up. I was entirely annoyed at my stupid self. Dismayed I truned to head towards the car. It is only then that my brain regained normality and I heard the laughing. I turned to see, for the first time, two rather old gents in an allotment not far from mine sitting side by side on a bench holding their sides and swaying backwards and forwards crying with laughter. I realised what a spectacle it must have been to see a beekeeper running up his allotment ripping his suit off as he goes and then sit madly and insanely brushing at his clothes.

I smiled at them and called over ‘good morning…Got one in the suit!’. They didn’t reply, they couldn’t. I Walked to my car and off I went.

I will be buying a new suit next month for sure! And I will have to sort out my damned irrational fear.
Lovely story - you are not alone, I think every beekeeper, if he/she were honest, has had a similar experience. As time passes confidence will grow and the irrational fear will decrease. Keep at it.:)
Errrrm Yes. Right.

Anyone want to buy a couple of hives?


And a few dozen made-up frames.


You poor thing! Loving-allsorts.

Of course, it won't happen to me.........

I'm not certain if there is a pill for cyberorrhea (verbal diahorrea on the internet) :)

Sounds like you need a new mentor or just buy Ambrosia syrup and get it bang on for those creatures you have in your charge and rely on you.

At least it didn't kill you!

Well done for coping and you'll know not to open a door without sliding something in its place immediately in future.

Go to an association or elsewhere and stand alongside a calm beekeeper, preferably a woman, as she goes through her hives.

Next time, have a chinese take-away plastic container ready, full of fondant and covered with cling film (with a slit across the centre to allow bees to enter). Lid removed, of course.

After removing roof and insulation (or as you remove the insulation) slide the upturned container across the feed hole, as soon as you see them just below. Put insulation and roof back on. Job done.

No bees flying, none lost to stinging or cold. Minimum disturbance, no drama.

Fairly typical story of someone who has not seen it done before or read the forum threads on the subject. You will look back and think 'why the **** did I make such a mess of it? Why did I open the crownboard at all?

I just wish that every one reads how to do if according to the KISS principle!

Checks on the container are easy and replacement, when almost empty, a breeze (slide the new container across the feed hole immediately behind the one you are sliding away.

Please see it done. Or ask 'how to' on the forum.

No hassle at all, if you go about it the right way!


Well done for coping and you'll know not to open a door without sliding something in its place immediately in future.
Placing fondant on top of feedhole and not smoking might have saved some hassle. Bee in hair... palm hard smack approach. Last year I witnessed an exRBI calmly pick a bee from his hair and release it. It flew six feet and stung my colleague below his eye...
.....and yes most of have been rattled by our bees at some point and a lot fewer would admit it publicly...
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A bee in your head hair is nothing. It's when you feel one crawling up your inside leg you should be worried. It'll reach some other hair, stop, panic, then :eek:.

If you manage to remove your trousers in time this'll provide quite a spectacle for the other allotment dwellers.

Thanks to this forum and replies like RAB's I learnt to convince SWMBO that we need to eat takeaway once a week for the bees sake!!!!
In truth what he says is spot on. Learnt from forum - did as direceted and feeding Fondant became "realatively" straight forward!
Must admit still nervous about getting bees through my first winter when behaving like spring!!!
I thought you weren't supposed to put fondant over feed hole as it can cause isolation starvation? Just wondering, read lots on both methods over feedhole/across frames.
I loved the story. I would of been one of those two guys laughing if I saw that. When I had my moment of :cuss: was due to the wrong clothing protection (all sorted now after my incident straight away) and luckily my moment was in my own garden, so no true :blush5:
Great story, thanks for sharing:smilielol5:

This is my second winter and must admit to being nervous of the bees at this time of year. Probably because I haven't had a good poke around the hives for a few months but will get back into the swing of things when the warmer weather returns:rolleyes:
Great story, thanks for sharing:smilielol5:

This is my second winter and must admit to being nervous of the bees at this time of year. Probably because I haven't had a good poke around the hives for a few months but will get back into the swing of things when the warmer weather returns:rolleyes:

Wait for a warmer day and go and watch them. I was there on Boxing Day morning and saw this.
Hessian sacks around the hive? I don't use wooden hives but is this really a good idea? When the hessian gets wet and then the wind blows the additional element of wind chill will effectively reduce the temperature around the hives - plus of course surrounding the hives with wet sacking can't be good for the wood or the bees.

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