I stood in front of a room full of people and hoped they didn’t notice the “Oh shit!” look that had just crossed my face.
It wasn’t that the presentation my friend and I were in the middle of giving on bees and beekeeping wasn’t going well (for two hobbyist beekeepers putting together our first talk, I felt like it was going quite well). It wasn’t even that my shirt was on inside out (I caught that problem early and already fixed it) or that my sandal broke (I was barefoot and fine with it). No, it was that my friend had just explain how in the fall there is a dearth of nectar for the bees and that this is the time of year they will often turn to robbing behaviors, descending on another hive and stealing all their honey stores. Then he mentioned how it’s best to tighten up your hive, reduce the main entrance and block off smaller entrances completely so a hive has a chance to defend itself against robbing bees.
Standing in front of a room of people who are under the impression that you might know what you are talking about is an unfortunate time to realize you forgot to do the very thing you are in the middle of telling them they should do. An “Oh shit” moment if I’ve ever had one.
Which might have been a totally acceptable as a “do as I say not as I do/ I’ve never run into this problem” sort of moment except that, for the first time, one of my two hives had been robbed.
A week ago I had been sitting at the table working on the very presentation we were giving when Jane looked out the window behind me and asked why there were so many bees. My pat answer of, “Oh, there are just lots of flowers,” died on my tongue when I looked out and saw that our house seemed to be surrounded by bees. Further investigation found that not only was our house surrounded by bees, but they seemed aimless, bumbling into the side of the house and totally docile. Which was good (because our house was surrounded by bees) but bad because something was definitely up with the bees. I went to the hives to see what they were doing and discovered one of the hives was also surrounded by bees.
I put on my bee suit to investigate up close and came to no definitive conclusions in the small amount of time I had before I had to walk Jane slowly and calmly through a bumbling mass of bees (Turns out Jane doesn’t naturally do slow and calm when faced with hundreds of bees) to leave for the rest of the day.
The next chance I got, I went back out to the hives and discovered the one that had been surrounded by bees weighed almost nothing. The 60 or so pounds of honey I had left for that hive to live on through the winter when I extracted earlier in the month was all gone. After ten plus years of beekeeping it seemed like a rude introduction to my first robbing experience but live and learn right?
Except here I was listening to the presentation, that I had helped write, that we had gone over more than once and here was my friend saying, again, how we should reduce our entrances in the fall and I still hadn’t done it and I had already lost a hive’s worth of honey, and therefore quite likely the entire hive because of it.
Do as I say, not as I do.
This all would have been a bit sad, slightly ironic, but essentially fine, until the very next morning when I went to let the dogs in the door and they came in with a retinue of honey bees. Again the house was being surrounded by bees. I headed out to the hives to find that my other hive, was surrounded by bees. Smarter now, in theory anyway, I found my entrance reducers and closed their big “front door” down to a small opening and to the annoyance of many, many bees stuffed grass in the upper hive entrances. Then I crossed my fingers told them to kick those rotten intruders to the curb and and ran off, now late, to the rest of my day.
That evening when I got home I checked, there were still more bees and activity than their should have been and the grass plugs had been ripped out. I haven’t had the heart or the chance to check the hive yet. I worry that my two strong hives have been reduced to food-less weaklings that won’t make it through the winter without huge amounts of supplemental feeding and even then it will be dicey.
Live and learn.
And so another season of beekeeping is coming to a close and, as always, I have learned something. This year I learned that when you have other hives in the neighborhood that advice about closing up the hive in the fall is not to be taken lightly. On the other hand I haven’t learned why my house was surrounded by so many aimless bees. Their odd behavior totally threw me off track and I missed that my hive was being robbed that first day. But I’m not hopeless, because I also learned that when they showed up around the house again I needed to head out to help protect my hives even if I still didn’t understand why they were congregating at the house in the first place.
Live and Learn.
As we put together our talk we discussed that we’ve probably learned more in our combined years of beekeeping by messing things up and doing things the wrong way than anything else. Which is why, during the Question and Answer session, when asked what advice we’d give to a new beekeeper that we wish we had known when we started I nodded my head vigorously to my friends suggestion of finding a mentor.
And now, another day wiser, I’d like to add, “And do as they say, not as they do!”