Bee Stings Are No Joke

31 July 2019

About a month ago I installed my first hive of bees; it was an exciting day, and since then the bees have taken up a big chunk of my emotional real estate… I just love them! They are simultaneously serious and adorable, and I could watch them for hours. But I’m a busy person with a full-time job and brand new small business; what am I thinking adding beekeeping to my schedule?

For several years, I had heard about the decline of pollinators in Canada and around the world. I had talked with friends & family about wanting to help support bees by giving them a great home at our family farm property, which is basically 60 acres of wildflower meadows and woods. Years ago I received a beekeeping book as a birthday gift (thanks, mom!) and started reading up on what would be involved in keeping bees. I read that book, annotated it, consulted online resources, and contemplated beekeeping for quite some time. As I often say about my projects, it was percolating in my brain. Then, on my most recent birthday, I arrived home to find a BEE-autiful set of hive boxes waiting for me in the garage (thanks, husband!). That day marked the end of percolating and the beginning of doing!

I found out that the wonderful Jodi Roth of Nith Valley Apiaries was just starting out in queen rearing, so I promptly ordered my starter pack of 3000 honeybees from her small business, Huckleberry Hives (#supportlocal)! I told everyone I knew that I was getting bees. I talked to farmer’s market honey vendors about starting beekeeping, and they were always happy to share tips and advice. An amazing local beekeeper (okay, it was Jodi!) invited me to her beeyard to get some hands-on hive experience. And I took an introductory beekeeping workshop through the Ontario Beekeepers Association, of which I am now a member. I learned a ton about honeybees and everything they do (they really are amazing creatures!), and I still have at least a ton more to learn. But last weekend, my bees taught me an important lesson that led to the title of this post…

There's a reason they're called busy bees...

On Saturday afternoon I was in the hive, checking to see if they were finding enough pollen and nectar, supporting their brood, fending off pests, and generally getting along well in their new home. It was breezy and slightly overcast, and I probably should have postponed my hive inspection because the bees were feisty! As I removed the top box, where most of the honey is stored, a felt a sharp burning in the middle finger on my right hand – somebody had stung me! I stayed calm, slowly set the box down so as not to crush any bees, and looked at the spot; yep, there was a stinger pumping venom into my finger. I quickly brushed it away, but wow! The pain kept coming! I made some mud and smeared it over the site – a trick I learned from my husband Rob waaaay back when we were teenagers. It immediately stopped burning, but it still throbbed, and I still had to finish the inspection and close up the hive. So in I went again, this time with more care and caution. I slowly and carefully removed the frames, inspecting each one to see how their work was going and to find the queen. After few more frames, I felt another sting, this time on my left ring finger, but I was holding a frame halfway out of the box, so I had to continue slowly removing the frame (I would hate to squish any bees) and then slowly and gently set it down, making sure to give the bees plenty of time to get out of the way… COME ON ALREADY! THIS IS KILLING ME! Of course, the stinger was pumping venom the whole time (this is one of the more disturbing facts of bee biology; when a bee stings, her stinger and venom sac are ripped from her body and she dies, but the venom sac keeps pumping out venom). By the time I removed the stinger and smeared on the mud pack, it was largely ineffective, so I had to muddle through the remaining frames and put the whole thing back together with a throbbing muddy hand.

When I finished with the hive, I wished my bees well and went inside to check out my stings. The swelling was not nice; both fingers looked like sausages the next day, and four days later I still couldn’t get my ring past my swollen knuckle. I was definitely ill prepared for the stinging part of keeping bees; I had no antihistamine, no calamine lotion – nothing on hand to help ease the pain. Both of my hands were itchy and sore. I ended up researching natural treatments for bee stings and came across one that I’m excited to make, but I’m not looking forward to testing!

I hope that I’m up for the challenge of keeping these bees healthy and happy so they can multiply and pollinate. Every day I have a tiny little corner of worry in my brain for the hive; did any creatures come and bother them? Do they have enough water? Is it too hot for them? Is there enough nectar flow? Has rain washed away all the pollen? Has a neighbour applied pesticides to their fields? And – my biggest fear – have they swarmed & left the hive? This last fear could be overcome by clipping the queen’s wings, but as a wise beekeeper suggested (again, Jodi!), maybe the queen should be able to leave if the home I’ve created for the isn’t meeting the needs of the hive.

If I do a good job, and these bees make it through the winter, I will be super proud of myself. If I’m able to harvest some honey & beeswax for use in our handmade products, I will be over the moon! If you’re interested in keeping bees, I would be happy to share what I’ve learned so far and connect you with the amazing resources I’ve discovered. Drop me an email at purplemartinnaturals@gmail.com and we can talk :) In the meantime, here are some photos of my beekeeping escapades. Thanks for stopping by!