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Mea culpa!

Lead Summary

By Christine Tailer
HCP columnist

It could not have been a more perfect day to get the honey off of the hives. The morning was cool and there was only a slight chance of rain. I smiled to think that the occasional cloud would help to keep the afternoon relatively cool as well.

I did not expect that it would take so long, but I spent the whole morning just getting ready. The electric golf cart was fully charged from the past week of sun. I rode it up the hill and parked it in front of the sugar shed. I usually put bee excluders between the deep hive boxes, where the queen lays her brood and where the bees store their winter honey.

But this summer I seemed to be too busy with this, and that, and the other, and I did not get the excluders on. After only three days with the excluders placed between the deeps and the supers, all the bees that are working the honey in the upper super, have made their way down through the funnel like excluder, and are unable to get back up. It is then an easy matter to simply lift off the entire, bee free, forty to fifty pound honey filled super, and rob the hive.

But I had an excluderless plan. I loaded a hive outer cover onto the front passenger seat of the golf cart. I placed an empty super on the cover and then I placed a second cover on top of the box. I packed the back of the cart with three more empty supers.

I lit my smoker, a gift from an older, now retired beekeeper and donned the one-piece suit that he had given me several years ago. I wrapped my ankles with several rounds of duct tape, to keep any angry bees from traveling up my pants legs, and pulled on my veiled hat. Lastly, I put on my leather bee gloves, and pulled up the above the elbow elastic sleeves. I was ready.

I quietly parked the golf cart just off to the side of the first hive. I dismounted and puffed a few wafts of smoke at the entrance, and a few more under the upper cover. I could see the front porch bees retreat inside. I lifted off the outer cover and then scraped the inner cover free of any built up wax and propolis.

Propolis is a sticky substance, with antibiotic properties, that the bees gather from plants and use to seal up unwanted gaps inside their hive. I am always careful to only scrape off as little as possible, enough to allow me easy access to get into the hive and remove the honey filled frames, but making sure that I leave enough to help the bees stay healthy.

Then I put my hive tool to work. It is a special sort of small pry bar, with a sharp scraper at one end, that I use to gently lift out one honey filled frame at a time. Quite a few bees clung to the frames.

I then carefully used another beekeeper's tool, a soft brush, to sweep the hangers-on back into the hive. I was then able to carry each bee free frame, easily weighing five pounds, over to the waiting golf cart. I quickly lifted the lid and set each frame down inside the bee proof box.

I was proud. My system worked like clockwork. It was time consuming to lift and brush the bees from each frame in all eight of our hives; but after three hours, I had worked my way down to the last hive. Not all the frames had been filled with cured, capped, honey. The uncapped frames I left propped up beside the hives for the bees to clean off.

I looked up and realized that the mid afternoon sun had chased away the day's earlier cloud cover. Sweat ran off of my forehead and stung my eyes. My bee suit clung to my damp arms and legs. My smoker had stopped puffing billows of white smoke and barely puffed at all, but I was ready to be done.

The bees in this last hive were not at all calm. They rose out of the depths and pinged against my suit. I worked quickly and in my haste I squished a few bees. They detected the scent of their sisters in demise, and became even more agitated. I picked up my pace even more.

Just as I lifted out the last frame from the last hive, and turned to place it in my golf cart bee-proof box, I felt a white lightening sting pass through the bee suit's wet cloth that lay clinging to my damp arm.

I knew that I had been wrong to hastily push through that last hive without smoke, in a wet clingy bee suit. And in all honesty, I had also known that I had been wrong just the day before. I had dashed up the road to try to catch a friend who had left her eggs at the farm. Blue lights caught up with me, just as did the bee.

So now I sit still on the side deck, scratching my sting and knowing that I will head slowly, ever so slowly, up to town tomorrow, to pay off that ticket. Slow is often the only way to go. Mea culpa!

Christine Tailer is an attorney and former city dweller who moved several years ago, with her husband, Greg, to an off-grid farm in south-central Ohio. Visit them on the web at

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