Friday, December 4, 2009

A Little Nasty Business

For the first time all year, I've seen some nastiness from my bees. Yes, genuine aggression.

Hive #1 was as quiet as ever. No bees in sight at first. After my hammering a nail into their hive I saw one bee sitting in the entrance, keeping an eye out. No aggression at all.

Not so with Hive #2. Hive #2 sent out its guard bees and I could tell from the way they were flying that they meant business. I didn't get stung but almost.

The bees were provoked very quickly to anger. Both hives have been extremely slow to anger all year long. In fact, although I always lit my smoker every time, I didn't seem to need it much. They were always so calm and relaxed.

This is what brings me to comment on a couple things I can fault myself for: I lit the smoker before this task but I did not put greenery on top to hold back sparks or flame. Quite frankly I got lazy. Because the bees had been so gentle and smoke wasn't needed I skipped that step, thinking I wouldn't even need the smoker--but I did need it.
It turned out the bees weren't happy with my hammering and they came out aggressively. Then when I went to smoke them I accidentally killed one bee because the heat coming out of the smoker was too intense. I think this angered the second guard who then came at me more fiercely. I did not get stung that time - I backed off a few paces (actually I hid like a coward behind the hive).
The task I was doing was putting in my horizontal nail which prevents the winter wrap from slipping down and covering the bottom entrance of the hive. So my hammer was doing a bit of pounding and that really got their attention.

I had been to the hives every couple of days that week, more than normal so I think I had been irritating the bees with the too frequent changes--messing with their stuff--adding winter wraps, adjusting the wraps, hammering nails.

Oh and let's not forget the 100 or so of their experienced field bees that perished out on the front stoop when I installed the wraps on a too warm day when they'd been out flying and I didn't realize it... they came back and unable to find their way into the hive they perished. Maybe they were still mad about that. I know I'm still feeling bad about it.

The aggression was so unusual for them that I did start to wonder if the hive was queenless. When I opened the hive to remove the last of the sugar cake a couple weeks ago and put on the inner cover/winterizing I didn't get any stings, but I did see get some bumping which was very unusual for them. I put it down to my moving too quickly. Because it was a cool day I wanted to get the hive closed up again as fast as possible so I was moving fast.

I also found a young bee on the front stoop, near dead, with deformed wings. Obviously it was Varroa Mite damage (the Varroa mite babies feed on the bees blood in the wing muscle area which then damages the proper development of their wings). So it appears there is still some Varroa activity on this hive. I hope it's at a manageable level for the bees (and it's got me wondering if the Formic Acid treatment was thorough enough, given our ambient temperatures at the time. And I wonder if I should consider an Oxyalic Acid treatment mid winter just to be sure.....)

I can't cite the bees for being mad but as for Varroa or queenlessness, only time will tell. Let's hope time favours Hive #2. They could really use a break.
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