Friday, September 16, 2005

One with Menthol, One Without

sting fixerSometimes working the bees is like playing god, and sometimes it's more like playing the heavy in the Divine Comedy. Today was such a day.

Luckily, a couple of days ago, my husband ordered some stuff from that came with a sample packet of "The Mitigator," a salve for bug bites and stings. Talk about intervention from on high: the stuff works, and thank goodness!

Today was menthol placement day, and yesterday I mixed up 4+ gallons of sugar water in hopes of making the medicine go down sweet. Nice try, but..

I started by taking Twain apart, down to the bottom board, for the first time since mid-July. During the intervening weeks I have been either on vacation or dodging stings as I pour sweet stuff into the feeders. So I needed to figure out:
  1. whether or not their honey stores had been depleted through the past few weeks of drought and dearth;
  2. whether any brood was still being produced;
  3. whether bad things like "becoming pollen bound" or similar meant some frames should be manipulated; and
  4. whether there was any evidence of disease like American Foul Brood, since I knew some people who had it.

It was just brutal, kids. At the club meeting on Wednesday night, I felt a bit reassured because Barry, a really experienced beekeeper, shared with me how his girls were like to "eat him alive," these days, and that there was no way to find a good time to do anything right now. You just have to.

After a relatively calm start, trying the light smoking and calm movement advice again, I still ended up with a boiling mass of furious bees when I reached the bottom. There is very little brood, meaning that not only the field bees but the nurse bees are at loose ends. I need to ask if the absence of any capped brood is a bad thing for this time. I removed the BeeCool unit from the top, closed the screen bottom board, and left a screen packet of menthol on the bottom, then closed her up, at speed. Yes, lots of squashing, but I was sweating terribly, and in the places where I soaked through the veil I got stung: back of neck, tip of right ear, inside of elbow. 6 in all.

So after finishing one colony, I retreated and sighed. I gave Twain a full two gallons for their pains, though it raises more questions: they already have a deep hive body and two mediums full of honey, plus a few frames in the brood area. I think this means they already have 100 pounds stored against the winter, before the 8 pounds of sugar they received today.

I slapped the Mitigator on my wounds, filled the tub, and soaked my sore spots. MaryEllen and I are going to another Bee club's meeting next week, so I can ask all those new victims all my questions about "how much honey is too much?" "should I worry about brood?" and all the other wonderings we have as we face the upcoming winter.

And I get to look forward to Menthol Monday for the Wilde colony!

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