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Collateral Damage

The honey harvest has begun here -- which is terrific, as far as my plans for honey sales goes. In years past, I have struggled with different approaches toward rendering the honey boxes bee-free enough to handle. I tried little bee escapes that fit in the hive covers, smelly almond extract on a fume board, and this year I'd seriously considered using the exit port on the shop vac as a bee blower.

Then I went to visit my friends' new (and utterly jaw-droppingly cool) urban farm store, Pollinate Farm & Garden. It's great fun, and I got to play Mad Gardening Scientist and mix up my own fertilizer, buy plastic refrigerator lids to replace the two-part ones on open jars of jam, and then I found it. A new bee escape board! I'd never seen any like this, and for $16, it seemed like worth a try. I put it on my first hive on Sunday.

In 24 hours, the first three honey boxes were almost completely clear of bees. A $4 butterfly net from the hardware store took care of any stragglers as they flew toward the light in the basement on Monday. By afternoon, I was uncapping and extracting and everything was going well. Two very honey-covered bees were wandering around on the frames, and I tried to keep them moving toward already-extracted frames, so they could be returned to a hive and maybe licked clean.

Unfortunately, I must have missed keeping track of one, because I thought, "That couldn't be a bee inside my pant leg, right? I'm getting paranoid." About five minutes later, though, it not only was a bee, but an unhappy one pinched against my calf, with predictable results. Honey-covered though she might be, she was perfectly capable of crawling.

Twenty hours later, I have 26 pounds of jarred honey and a very swollen leg.

I've decided that when I next talk to my doctor, I'm going to ask for an epi-pen prescription just as a precaution. Generally, I just figure that I'm a vigorous sweller and that's the way it goes, but as I get older being careful just seems reasonable, and this is very unpleasant, as far as swelling calves and ankles go.

So that for the first damage.

Secondly, I'd placed the same escape from the first hive on Monday under another hives' two honey boxes, first putting an empty super on so they wouldn't be crowded as they moved down. I figured I'd do one hive a day, giving me empty supers to replace as I harvested the others.

When I went out today to pull the honey boxes, they were nice and bee-free, but there was a layer of 40-50 dead bees on top of the escape board, and some bees dead in the mesh of the board itself. I felt terrible. I don't know if it was crowded, I left it on too long (less than 24 hours), or if something else went wrong.

And I don't know if I kill more bees with any other method, either. There are always some deaths; it's just inevitable. Even if I didn't do anything, some bees are going to protect the hive by stinging, and kill themselves that way. The escape cuts down on the aggression of the harvest by many degrees.

I don't know what to do. I didn't replace it on another hive because I can't be certain I'll get to it early in the morning. Taz has something wrong with an eye and has a vet appointment, and there's day camps to get ready for, etc. So I'll do well to extract and get another super ready for harvest. Plus, I'm running out of jars and lids. . . always the same story.


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