Hive Inspection Gone Awry

Saturday’s hive inspection started innocently, as most of them do. The bees seemed busy, so I decided to open up the hives and make sure everyone’s ready for winter. The day was a little cool and gray, but not rainy or cold: good enough for a hive check in October.

The lady bees were busy bringing in bright pollen and many of them seemed to be bringing in heavy nectar loads, too. They fly a little bit drunk when they’re weighed down.

My guess is that this is goldenrod pollen.

I jiggered a 10-frame box to “fit” my 8-frame hive, which meant my bees built all kinds of burr comb that I had the displeasure of removing when I took off the box. (burr comb is comb that is inconvenient for the beekeeper – and it is usually the beekeeper’s fault).

I left the mashed up comb in an empty box nearby for the bees to lick clean. It would be more ideal to avoid burr comb entirely but, well, this is all a work in progress.

And then things took a turn for the worse. I cracked a box open and a cloud of bees flew out, directly into the unfortunate face of the resident photographer / my beloved wife, Krista. One bee stung her, and the isoamyl acetate started flowing. This chemical smells strangely like banana candy, and it calls all of the bees in the vicinity to join the attack. I’ve been in a cloud of isoamyl acetate myself, and it is a fairly horrifying experience to be the target of a lot of angry bees. It was Krista’s first experience with the banana smell, though. Her total number of stings since we installed the hives went from zero to seven in a matter of 60 seconds. I actually killed bees on purpose in my gallant efforts to rescue her. It was a first for both of us – Krista’s multiple stings, and my deliberate murder of bees.

I closed up the hive quickly, probably killing more bees in my haste, and went inside to check on Krista. It turns out that she inadvertently made a video of the bee attack. The video is a lot like a horror movie with all of the “Get them off of me!”s and slapping noises as I smacked the bees. As tempting as it is to upload it, we deemed it just too horrible. Fortunately, we discovered that Krista is barely allergic to bee stings. She said afterwards that the frightening cloud of bees trying to burrow to get into tender flesh was worse than the pain of the stings. I am very sympathetic to that sentiment; I feel exactly the same way.

This isn’t exactly normal behavior for a hive, so I guess we’re going to go back to using a smoker and consider upgrading our armor bee suits. Now, when someone asks if we get stung keeping bees, the answer is finally, Yes, every single one of us. The honey is sweeter for all the stings.



Filed under bees

12 responses to “Hive Inspection Gone Awry

  1. this is my worst nightmare. i need to grow a pair and get over it, but i am suck a chicken about beestings! (though I’m honestly not that allergic either)
    way to go krista for being brave. i’m so glad you guys are doing this.

    • “suck” a chicken. ha! best typo ever.

    • The pain of the sting is really not as bad as a cloud of angry bees around you, and that you can manage if you can keep a calm head and not panic. I think you could do it… maybe you should volunteer with the community apiary so you can build some confidence! I wish I had the opportunity to do that first.

  2. francesca

    dude, i jinxed youse guys!!! i’m so sorry!!

  3. Can you explain more where the smell came from? One bee stung Krista and then released the smell? Or did it come from opening the hive without smoke? So glad she didn’t get hurt worse.


    • That’s a good question, thanks for asking. Basically, when one bee stings you, they release the chemical (banana smell) and that sets off the reaction of everyone else trying to sting. It’s an alarm pheromone that tells them to put up their guard and defend the fort. It’s fascinating how bees communicate through smell (most of which we don’t pick up on), but a little bit terrifying. Don’t eat banana-flavored things and go near a beehive.

  4. “I guess we’re going to go back to using a smoker…”

    Have you not been using a smoker now? Is there any advantage to not using one (in other words, what are the disadvantages to smoker use that drove you to go without)? I had no idea people did this stuff without the smoke!

    • I have not been using a smoker for the last year or more. I just… well, I’m not certain that it’s the best way for me to work bees. Except for now, I’m willing to compromise and at least try it when I have someone in the yard with me. This is a good subject for a post, though. I will write about it soon.

  5. That is some beautiful red looking honey you’re holding there. Gorgeous.

    It’s scary when the ladies start dive bombing you. I don’t use a smoker much either as my bees are pretty gentle, but I like to have it next to me as a reassuring presence, just in case.

  6. I’ve opened up a hive before to be greeted by a huge whiff of banana which got them going big time. Even with a full suit on, it can be unnerving.

    • Yes, it’s a little unnerving. If they get really angry, it seems there’s nothing they can’t sting through! The banana smells is so unsettling, too. Now I’m trained to bristle when I smell banana oil…. which ruins a lot of candy and smoothies for me!

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