A Terrifying Wardrobe Malfunction - 27 East

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A Terrifying Wardrobe Malfunction

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After a bad start, the bees settled into their new home quite happily. LISA DAFFY

After a bad start, the bees settled into their new home quite happily. LISA DAFFY

After a bad start, the bees settled into their new home quite happily. LISA DAFFY

After a bad start, the bees settled into their new home quite happily. LISA DAFFY

The queen has been very busy. You can see a large oval of brood cells in the center of this frame, with cells holding pollen and nectar around the outside.
 LISA DAFFY

The queen has been very busy. You can see a large oval of brood cells in the center of this frame, with cells holding pollen and nectar around the outside. LISA DAFFY

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The Accidental Beekeeper

  • Publication: Residence
  • Published on: May 24, 2023
  • Columnist: Lisa Daffy

For the first time in several years, we went into this spring with no overwintered hives. The residents of all four had either died or left for better digs last fall. It was very depressing not to find tiny orange circles of poop on my car’s windshield as the weather warmed up to bee-friendly temperatures in March, and not to see honeybees enjoying our yard full of early-blooming daffodils, snowdrops and crocuses.

Late last year I ordered two boxes of bees, or nucs, to start over, but to be honest, my level of enthusiasm for jumping back into this whole beekeeping thing was fragile. It’s been a tough year so far. In January, some friends and I were walking our dogs at Scallop Pond, a beautiful marshy area near North Sea Beach. The dogs were loving life, racing through the marsh grass at full gallop. Two of them came flying up the road toward us, looking at each other instead of where they were going, and crashed full-on into my right knee, knocking me tail over teakettle. I managed to get up and hobble back to my car — in a lot of pain, but sure that I’d be back to normal in a few days.

Yet here we are four months later and I’m still not there. Rounds of PT, acupuncture and anti-inflammatory drugs help, but it’s still a slog. Complicating the knee thing is arthritis in my other hip, no doubt owing at least in part to teen years spent riding barely broke horses, and one unfortunate encounter with a freight train that left me with a fractured pelvis.

So I’m limping around, some days favoring the knee more, others the hip. Carrying my own weight is a challenge. The thought of schlepping heavy hive boxes around really didn’t sound that appealing. Essentially, I was wallowing in melancholy, annoyed that my body was taking its sweet time healing up.

Then I got the email telling me that my nucs would be ready for pickup on Saturday morning, April 29, and I felt the teensiest smidge of excitement. I remembered how much I love the sweet, waxy smell of a happy hive, and I thought, “Yeah, this is exactly what I need.”

Now, the pickup spot for the nucs was up in Wading River, a good 45-minute drive. And the weather was hideous. It was raining that morning and promised to continue through the weekend. When I got there, the bee pushers were very happy and helpful, despite the soggy conditions. But after putting my two nucs in the back of my car and covering them with a sheet I’d brought along for that purpose — just in case one or two bees were to find their way out of the boxes en route — one of the men came up to my window and said, “When you get home, make sure you put your bee suit on before you take them out of the car. The cover on one of the boxes isn’t on very good, and the bees are kinda crabby.”

This is not what you want to hear just before a 45-minute road trip, in the rain, closed in a car with 10,000 bees. A few minutes in, I noticed one bee crawling up the back window. “That’s not good,” I thought. Then, a few minutes later, I looked in the rearview mirror again, didn’t see the bee, and thought, “Well, that’s worse. Now I don’t know where she is.” By the time I got home, there were about 20 bees loose in the car, but they behaved with great restraint, mostly just hanging out on the back window watching the scenery. I put on my bee suit and set both boxes next to the hives they would be moved into once the weather cleared — one here, one in my friend Jane’s yard.

Monday the weather finally cleared, and I was anxious to get the girls into their permanent homes so they could start building their dynasty. I stopped at Jane’s on the way home from getting a cortisone shot in my hip, and figured I’d be on my way again in five minutes. Jane asked if I needed help, but I waved her off, “Nah, this’ll be quick.”

Done right, this is not a big deal. You pry open the staples on the lid of the nuc, move the five frames inside it over to the hive box along with three empty frames for growing room, and you’re done. In an ideal world.

So I suited up — zipped up the jacket, pulled the zippers closed on both sides of the veil, put on my gloves and got to work. The bees were a little crabby when I removed their roof, but I can understand that. They had been through a rough week or two of being shaken and stirred, moved from their last home to the farm for pickup, then another trip here, and just as they were starting to feel at home, this annoying woman comes along and disrupts everything again.

But it was all fine, until I realized that one of the bees I thought was on the outside of my veil was actually on the inside. About an inch from my face. And not in a good mood. I barely had time for that to register before a whole passel of angry bees joined her on the wrong side of the veil. And the stinging commenced.

I tried really hard not to panic, which is not easy when you’re pretty sure you’re going to die. I managed to get the veil off while stumbling across the yard, so I could at least try and get the damn bees out of my face and hair, but that also gave the angry ones who hadn’t found their way inside of it easier access.

Fortunately, Jane saw what was going on and went for the hose. She sprayed it up into the air over my head in a ploy to make the bees think it was raining and time for them to go home. And it pretty much worked, except for a couple of overenthusiastic warriors who wanted to make sure I never came back again.

Of courses, I still had several really angry bees caught in my hair, one buzzing so loud I thought for a minute she was actually in my ear. Once I freed and/or squished those, I tried to figure out what happened, and realized that when I zipped up the jacket, I only zipped it to the line where the hood zippers meets the main zipper, leaving a gap big enough for revenge-driven bees to get in.

In my defense for this brain-dead move, I’ve been mainlining Motrin and Tylenol for my knee and hip, plus Zyrtec for allergies, which have been especially insane this spring, so my brain was NOT functioning at its best. And then there was the cortisone shot (which probably kept me from having a worse reaction to the stings). But still, it was pretty stupid.

Later that evening, when Patrick was pulling stingers out of my neck with a pair of tweezers and shaking his head at the situation I’d gotten myself into, I said, “Well, at least it will make for an amusing column.” He stopped tweezing to give me a hard look. “I really don’t think I’d tell anyone about this!”

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