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Mites, fall feeding, and my first beekeeping sting

We met unofficially once more at the bee yard before our class yesterday. The topic for the evening would eventually be bee health and diseases. (Predators, pests, foul brood, etc.) So the pre-class demonstration and hands-on would be giving the bees a little outside food and doing some mite control.

In IL we're currently not in a honey flow since there are few flowers out. So this is one of the (several) times a year when the bees could use a little help with feeding. Especially with winter coming up, you want nice, healthy, fat bees for the colder weather. The better they make it through winter...and the more you feed them early spring...the more ready they will be to go find early blossoms and start making you that precious honey.

Feeding bees can be done several ways. The queenless hive from last week finally has a queen and is thriving. But it has nowhere near the honey supply built up to last through winter. Which means the beekeeper will be doing a lot of feeding. There are sugar syrups you can rig up for on top of the hive (under the lid). Or you can remove a couple of frames and insert a box that holds sugar water. Bees drown easily so it has convenient little net "ladders" for the bees to climb down to get a drink. Our instructor also made some crazy-sounding "cakes" out of Crisco, artificial pollen, and powdered sugar. These help with both feeding and mites. He's a big fan of powdered sugar baths...which the bees pretty much throw handfuls of confection sugar into the hive and directly onto the bees. They lick it off and clean themselves and, thus, also clean off any little bugs who may be trying to live on them. We also inserted some mite control strips between a few frames. Another level of protection. Almost all hives will get Varroa mites. Far less crazy awful as some of the bee diseases lurking out there. But mites can weaken your bees and allow some of the other ailments to creep in. Basically, the stronger and healthier your hive, the more it will produce and less likely it will be to get sick.

Next week is our last class where we'll cover the yearly cycle of beekeeping and honey extraction. Ending this week's class we tried two more meads...hops and hot pepper. I'm a big fan of the former and not of the latter.

I didn't put on a bee suit yesterday. Nor did I have a hat, which I would regret. I should have known better. Strangely, it wasn't even when I was up close examining the queen, frames, or generally near the hive itself that I ended up getting stung. But the more we fiddled, the more agitated the bees got. One flew onto my neck...which I was fine with because that's not a horrible place to get stung. When it flew away, another bee landed on my eyebrow. That one I had to pick up and brush off because the eyelid was not someplace I was eager to have him venture. Finally, the one that got me flew in angry. Rather than the calm hum of happy bees, it came in with that stereotypical buzz of aggression, landed in my hair getting stuck for a second, then stuck its little stinger in my scalp.

First sting of beekeeping over!

I pulled the stinger out, guts dangling off the back (that's what kills it), and felt a little sad for the bee more than upset about the sting on me. It had been so long since I'd been stung, I secretly had a worry that I'd developed an allergy over time since childhood. It's weird to feel that adrenaline and your heart rate rise. It's hot and somewhat painful then gradually eases. Today it's just a mildly irritated bump on my head. Lesson learned. Next time, grab the veil or beesuit when offered. By the time you realize you need it it's probably too late.