On Thursday night I drove home from the mill, Battenkill Fibers, in nearby Greenwich, NY. I’d driven there in order to pick up our Cormo sheep’s yarn which they’d turned around in record speed, so I’d have it available for upcoming vending commitments. I stopped at Betterbee, a honeybee supplier, as they are along the way and I always like checking out their latest extractors, and the bargain bin. Their storefront/catalog operation are well done and they really help a beekeeper along.
A few spring nucs were on sale, there were 5 and 3 were already spoken for. I thought about buying one since I’d lost two hives this past winter. I have 2 at home, but I was hoping to have 4 again. Earlier this spring I’d inquired with my neighbors a couple houses down, However Wild Honey, when I’d lost the two hives to a cold snap in March. They were sold out for the year so I wouldn’t be able to purchase any from them.
I decided against making the purchase because I was not going to be able to go pick up the nuc on Thursday or Friday when they’re ready. So I drove home with some emollient tins for Char’s concoctions and some Shelburne Farms Cheddar. Yes, they sell it and I love it.
At home, I changed and Char & I ran out to do the chores. I was mucking and puttering after feeding everyone and Char asked “What’s that?”, pointing toward a tree in the park. The park is what we call our back paddock.
I peered into the edge of the woods and saw the dark drape from a distance, said “I’ll go get my beesuit, it’s in a perfect location!” and dashed to the garage to find a nuc box and pruning clippers just in case.
The swarm-capture went well. The bees were busy minding their queen while I gently brushed them into a nuc box. They only became touchy, a few of them that is, toward the end when I was trying to sweep them into their box from the sides of it. That’s ok. Good guard bees will do their job as they know it.
But not ok was the one Kamakaze that got me on the chin, through my bee veil. Precision work whereby she stung me exactly through the fine hole in the mesh that was resting against my face in that one spot. I knew exactly what would happen as soon as I felt the miniature harpoon stab me.
I was almost done with the job, about to put the cover on. Only a few bees remained on the ground in the area, on the sides of the box, but the majority of the swarm was captured. Upon my stinging, the mood of some of the swarm had changed a bit and Char was documenting the occasion on the phone-camera from a safe distance, without a bee suit, but we decided to quit while we were ahead.
That decision was a couple of minutes after the sting whereby I already felt my extremities tingling and itching. I paid attention to my breathing and stayed calm. I covered the box semi-well, in that I was sad to have to crush some bees when I put the top on because I couldn’t get them all in and I knew I might not be able to get back to finish. I had some concerns that the swarm might creep out again and fly away, after all that, and I didn’t want to take a risk. But I also worried a bit that they would have enough airflow, even though I’d opened all of the vents. It was mid-70s, humid, and their combined heat in the box might get too high.
I attempted to search myself in the suit when I got to the back porch to make sure I wasn’t still transporting any honeybees and peeled it off as fast as I could. I cursed the delay while I struggled out of my tucked in pants’ legs into the crew socks, tripped over my boots as I flopped out of them. By then my whole body felt like it was on fire.
Mind-over-matter was what I kept telling myself.
I knew because of the proximity of the sting that I would have to pay attention to my airways, but I had it in my mind that I couldn’t go to the hospital without a shower and change first. I was sweating and chilling and jumped into the warm water, wishing it would make everything ok again. But I was kidding myself.
Downstairs, Char gave me my epi-pen because by then I couldn’t see to do it. Jim was home late, but not too late, and rushed me to the ER upon my Doctor’s advice.
At the ER, they saw me, heard me and treated me in less than 5 minutes. In the middle of the hallways on a gurney, I was aware of the crowded, busy staff and patients and felt all of their eyes. My lips were so swollen I struggled to talk and my throat was so constricted that swallowing became more and more difficult. I could only squint to see. But I was still breathing through my nose alright.
I had 4 different cocktails in the IVs they affixed to my arm, blood pressure cuff, and several blankets where I dozed off and on until they released me. The swelling started to dissipate around my lips, the demarcation was bright and clear where the sting had immediately affected my chin and throat, so we noted the progress of the meds and I went home with a boatload of prescriptions by midnight.
Char had sent Jim with a sandwich for me for my ride home, I was hungry as my last meal had been in the morning. I felt woozy from all of the medicine in me and thought I’d try a bite or two, a savory fried eggs with ramp pesto and grilled cheese. I was encouraged that I had such a great appetite after all that.
But it was too soon to try to swallow food so I saved it in the fridge.
That’s the drama, but here’s the fun stuff:
At some point I was able to text my neighbor Adam at However Wild Honey and ask him if he could go to the back-woods and grab the nuc box, do something with it as I didn’t know if I could finish the job soon enough. Adam arrived at my house, apparently, in speedy fashion and dumped the captured swarm into a hive I had set up in the bee-yard out back, waved to Char and went home. Done.
The attending nurse somehow knew I was a farmer. I hadn’t told her. I’d only told her that I’d gotten stung by my honeybees while I was trying to capture the swarm. I did notice that she launched rapidly into a chicken discussion, maybe to take my mind off things, maybe she knew me? I didn’t know for sure but, of course, any day I am happy to talk chickens. She’d just gotten some chicks, they were new chicken owners. Later on when I could see better, she showed me the pictures and I tried to help her i.d. them as she didn’t know their breeds. It was a great distraction.
I had asked Char if she could throw together a sweet-dough recipe so I could put together the buns I’d committed to the following morning for an order. When I got home in the middle of the night, Char showed me her dough and I approved. She’d never made it before, but she can make anything. That young lady is uber-capable, I may cry thinking about how blessed the world is to have such a star, how blessed I am to call her my daughter. “Thanks for saving my life!” I’d thrown out the window before I went to the ER earlier. But I knew the situation wasn’t glib, and I knew she’d remained calm through the storm on my account. Heading out to finish chores, making dinner, sweet dough, phoning her siblings.
I realized that we’d need a lot more dough, and, hopped up on Prednisone, I made two more batches with her. She and I covered it to rise and I went to bed to finish the buns in the morning.
Last fun thing to add – we used the raisins and oranges from Char’s Dandelion Wine recipe as filling for the buns, and our own honey to make them sticky.
After sending the buns on their way that morning, I donned my suit, started my smoker and checked the bee-yard. The great news is that that ALL of the hives are doing well. I did some clean up of the boxes and frames and added a few frames to the hive, put a jar of sugar water on the newly captured colony to make life easier while they set up house.
I’d saved Adam a few sticky buns for his help the night before and delivered them on the way to pick up more prescriptions to help my swelling and itchiness from the pharmacy.
Today my swelling is reduced, still I am pretty puffy, but the itching is milder. Keeping bees make me happy, but better, though, honeybees are an extremely important part of our earth’s health. I have tools to help me manage my allergies, but I can’t do the little pollinators’ work for them. Let’s all help the honeybees do their job. Plant gardens for the bees. Keep our trees and fields pesticide-free. Let’s not kill our very small and important friends by making their forage toxic. Support local honey, support honeybees.
And, if after all this you want a killer recipe, check out Bee Sting Sticky Buns.