Friday, July 2, 2010

Beehive Tipping on the Fourth

Since it is close to the 4th of July, I thought I'd entertain you with a story from one of my most memorable July 4ths. Enjoy!

July 4, 2006 dawned bright and hot, with the promise of everything Independence Day should be: playing in the park, eating ice cold watermelon and grilled hot dogs, water fights, and fireworks. But first, there was work to be done.

My husband had risen early to help the scouts put flags in front of every house in our neighborhood. He came in where I was lazily sleeping in and reminded me that we were going to work the bees that day,

After a hasty breakfast Paul and I loaded our pickup truck with empty hive boxes and frames and the “bee box,” where we kept our beekeeping suits and equipment. We backed out of our driveway and made our way to Gary’s place in Grantsville.

Honeybees need two things to be good producers. They need a constant water source and a good supply of nectar. Gary had the perfect setup for bees. His land was next to an alfalfa field and included several natural springs. When he bought the property it was nothing but a swampy weed patch. Gary had turned it into a paradise. I was thrilled when he asked if we could put bees on his land.

Early in the spring we came with packages of Minnesota Hybrid bees, bred for their ability to produce large quantities of honey. Gary mentioned then that there were skunks in the area. Skunks like to eat bees. They will sit at the entrance to a hive and tease the bees out, then grab and eat them. They can destroy a whole hive of bees that way.

To prevent the skunks eating the bees, we asked Gary if he had some kind of bench or platform that was raised up about 18 inches that we could put the hives on. At home we used cinder blocks and small thrift store tables. Gary disappeared into his workshop, telling us he’d come up with something. We could hear him in there, sawing and hammering. He came out with two makeshift benches fashioned out of scrap lumber. I wondered if they would be strong enough to support the hives and voiced my concerns. Gary said he could brace and stake them as needed, and Paul said maybe we could switch them out for something better before the hives got too heavy. We put three hives on the first bench and four close behind them on the second bench.

Now, several months later, we parked down the drive from where our bees were located. We got out of the truck and put on our bee suits. I asked Paul if he wanted me to light the smoker. He said that we wouldn’t need it. We would just quickly switch the boxes and be on our way. The bees would hardly know we were there.

We approached the first hive from the back so we wouldn’t disturb the bees’ flight path. My husband pried off the lid and lifted a frame out of the box. To our surprise, the frame was full of capped honey. The bees had been busy and were taking full advantage of their ideal location. We smiled.

Our goal that day was to switch the order of the brood boxes, to keep the queen bee from laying eggs in the honey boxes. To do this, we would be switching positions of the bottom and second box, and then add a honey box, or super, to the top of the stack.

I busied myself getting the empty box ready with frames while Paul did the heavy lifting. A full honey box can weigh 50-60 pounds.

I looked up when I heard Paul say, “uh oh.” I saw the entire row of four beehives shift dangerously, my husband trying to steady them. I stood dumbfounded, with my mouth open as my husband wisely got out of the way and the bench collapsed in slow motion. The entire row of boxes, full of thousands of bees, tipped backward and fell against the second row of hives. Like dominoes, the second row of hives gave way and the boxes tumbled over to the ground and down into a ditch. Clouds of angry bees were flying everywhere, their homes completely upended and broken apart.

My husband and I looked at one another, eyes wide with shock. I decided it was a good time to leave the area, and I ran as fast as I could down the drive. My husband chose to stay and put the boxes back together as best he could. I watched him from inside the cab of the pickup. I gained a lot of respect for him and, shamed at my cowardice, eventually went back out to help him. Remarkably, we both came away from that experience without a single sting.

We managed to save most of the hives, and we came back with better platforms to put them on. We got a lot of honey that year, but those bees became the most aggressive hives we ever had. They never forgot us, and they taught their children to hate us.


  1. Wow! What a story, Karen! I enjoyed reading it. : )
    I'm looking forward to meeting you in 2011 at StoryMakers!

  2. I would have been hiding from the bees. You are very brave. I didn't know that skunks eat bees. That's interesting. I'm so sorry I have missed your posts. I don't know how that happened. Sorry. I'll try to pay better attention. :)

  3. Entertaining story! Between bees & the skull, you sure do lead an interesting life!

  4. Now I know who to ask for bee questions. We have 1 hive (the other died out in the winter) and mostly we ignore it. we add more boxes when they swarm and make sure they have extra sugar water when the flowers die off, but other than that...

    I would have been running down the lane too. For that matter, I'd never have tried anything without the suit. *shivers from heebeejeebees*

  5. I don't think I could have gained the courage to go back!! My little boy got a bee sting in his head a couple months ago. The bee hadn't been provoked at all, so now he's terrified, too.