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Angry bees chased me down the garden

small hive under the vine

Small white nucleus hive with protective vine

We want to harvest our honey. Honey is stored by the bees in the part of the hive called a super. There is at least one super on every hive and often two or three more. In the photo of our smaller hive alongside, the super is the top white box. It sits above the deeper brood box.

The usual hive set up is floor, brood box, queen excluder, super(s), crown board and roof. The simplest method of clearing bees from the honey supers is to fit tiny metal sprung one way doorways that will allow bees to leave the supers and not return. These doors are called Porter Bee Escapes, named after their inventor Mr Porter.Our crown board has two holes in it and we inserted these nifty little devices into each one. We then moved the crown board under the supers, to remove the bees. Apparently this clearing method takes about 24 hours.

We waited 48 hours just to be sure. The plan was to bring the two supers back to the kitchen so we could examine them in a bee proof environment and see whether the frames were capped and ready for extraction. When it was dark, we covered the kitchen in newspaper, as the frames of honey can be drippy, donned our bee suits and crept out to the hive. Danny held the torch and I lifted off the roof. There was a menacing buzzing from within. The super was still full of bees and they weren’t too happy. Something had gone wrong.

We put the roof back on and whizzed back to the house. This was the first time that the dogs had seen us in our bee suits because we usually take them off in the garden while the dogs are locked in the house. They goggled and yapped at the intruders from the garden.

We pored over our beekeeping book. Our method was correct. Perhaps the porter bee escapes were not doing their job. I resolved to go back into the hive today, There definitely is a Mission Impossible aspect to beekeeping in the days prior to harvesting. I planned to move the crown board up so as to clear only one super at a time. As this would be a quick operation, Danny was relieved of duties and went shopping instead.

I lifted the roof and a cloud of furious bees erupted. I quickly covered the top of the super with a heavy cloth. I flew down the garden to fetch the smoker as they batted against my veil. It was quite alarming. I considered hiding in a shed but they were all over me and wouldn’t be shaken off. The one rule to follow with bee keeping is to keep calm. The bees are canny, they pick up on sweat and fear. It’s much better to walk away and calm down than to battle on. My mistake was to run away.

For a few seconds I considered waiting for Danny to get back but, not wanting to be branded a wimp, I found and lit the smoker. And as the wonderful August Boatwright advises in The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd, I tried to approach the hive again with love. Puffs of smoke, and perhaps the love, calmed the bees down. I was able to lift off the supers, check that the Porter Bee Escapes were working properly, and rearrange everything within seconds.

We’ll try taking the honey off again on Saturday night and hopefully will be sampling our own cut comb honey for breakfast on Sunday.

Tips and tricks:

  • This is a useful tip from my Bee Mentor, Mike Hastings. Bees work in the dark, so we use a heavy cloth when we are examining the hive. We put the cloth over the brood chamber and fold it back to examine each frame. This way only a small section is flooded with light and the bees seem much calmer than when the entire box is open to the elements. It’s important to use a smooth cloth so that bee legs can’t get trapped in the fibres.

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