How hard can it, be, really, to steal honey from bees? Bravely we went to the hive, late but not too-too late. We put on the confuser board, and 24 hours later we retrieved "our" honey. They think it's theirs, which is a nice idea, but since I'm the one buying the hive parts and making the sugar syrup in cold weather, I have a different opinion. Share and share alike, I say. Some for me, and enough for them for winter. After a phone call or two we found a beekeeper very local to me who had an extractor he was more than happy to lend. I drove off to retrieve it, coming home with the extractor and a bonus - two whole fleeces from two sheep by the names of Emily and Olive. They're lovely black things. They'll never win a ribbon, but for a good serviceable worsted weight yarn, they're perfect. Eventually they'll be carded and spun in the grease I think, in keeping with my plans for their futures. I may blend them. But I digress. About the bees, and how I can be so painfully stupid it results in disaster.
Mr. Wonderful made sure the extractor was on a stable base of pallets, just as our new bee friend had advised. We set up the extractor in the garage. Alone yesterday and a bit bored, I excitedly began uncapping my whole 4 frames of honey. Good, the local beekeeper said, for a first year. Twelve pounds or so of fresh honey, he thought, would be the yield. I put the uncapped frames in the extractor and began to crank. This was when I saw the yellow jacket, but I thought nothing of it. The extractor came apart, and I stopped to fix it. A bumble bee wandered in. Still unfazed, and utterly too excited, I cranked on. When the extractor came apart a second time, I paused as I began to fix it, aware of a subtle but loud hum. Nay, a buzz. In fact, a buzz that seemed to be intensifying in both urgency and volume. Well, fool, I thought. The garage door is open. I closed the door and resumed my cranking, ignoring the 30 or so bees intent on getting "my" honey. The buzz got louder. Much louder. The extractor failed a third time, and as I raised my head I realized that I was in a large cloud of bees. We don't use the word swarm.
These images were taken about 3 hours after the initial arrival of the bees to reclaim their larder.
A swarm is a specific thing and has to do with bees leaving home for good, and is not a word that should be applied to any old gathering of hungry, active bees who've just hit pay-dirt in the form of a free meal. No conversion necessary, just grab the honey and take it home and store it for winter. What could be better, if you're a bee? These bees smelled honey, and they wanted it. But I'd shut the garage door. How could the numbers be increasing? I called Mr. Wonderful as I yanked the frames from the extractor, ducking and dodging as I went, grabbing the cappings and anything else with honey on it that I could reasonable and safely get my hands on, dumping it all into a covered bin. By now the air was thick with bees.
"Did you close the window?" he said. I turned and saw the window wide open, bees pouring in like rain. Opening the garage door to affect my escape, I discovered a waiting mob intent on entry.
I raced to the house with my covered bin of honey products. Some bees followed me, and spent over an hour at the front door of my house waiting for entry. Others discovered that the solar guys had left the basement door open, and gained entry that way. The extractor and it's contents were a total loss. There was simply nothing I could do to get them off of it, to get it away from them. Moving the glass bowl that had been placed beneath the extractor to catch the honey was impossible - then honey would just flow onto the floor and we'd never be able to clean it up. Closing the gate on the extractor was impossible. They covered any and every surface on which honey could be sniffed out. Watching from outside of the garage, I saw bees dying, hundreds, coated in honey to thick to allow flight. At one point the bowl was nearly full of bees.Some just got their toes wet, drank their fill and headed for the hive. Others stuck deep in it, drowning in the wealth of their own labors. The idea that they are "just bees" was impossible to seat in my mind. They were dying, thousands of them, and it was my fault. Stupidity and inexperience led to disaster. Eventually I was able to get the bowl full of dead and dying bees out from under the extractor and throw a towel over to to protect the remainder from their own eager industry. I covered the extractor as well. There was nothing I could do about the gate. They just were not going to give up.
Mr. Wonderful came home to a garage full of bees. Over the course of the evening as the temperature dropped he swept away the dead, and encouraged the live to move on. When I came home from work we moved most of the extractor into the basement bathroom, a very enclosed and generally bee-proof space. This morning I extracted the remaining honey from the uncapped frames.
It's beautiful. It smells like summertime and wild things. I adore it.
The two jars I ended up with are not nearly what I could have had if I'd thought a bit longer about bees, pollen flow, and the survival instinct of the natural world.But I am happy with it. Fewer bees died than I originally thought would. I am hopeful that in the next weeks they can hatch enough bees to bring the hive to a strong level. Pray for sunshine!
Lesson learned. Lessons learned, really. I promised the bees that if they live through the winter, I'll do better next year. I hope they trust me.