Last night I was stung by a bee.
I can still remember the first time I was stung by a bee, it was while playing in the garden of our house in Viersen so that must have been 47 years ago. I don't recall the pain, only the fact I hobbled across the lawn shrieking like a girl until Dad caught hold of me and, hoiking my foot in front of my face so I could see my toe better, pointed out how the bee sting was still pulsating, pumping poison into my system. I was fascinated and horrified at the same time. I cannot recall ever being bitten by a bee since but always accorded the little blighters plenty of nervous respect.
I think all of us have heard about African Bees, killer bees that swarm around stinging everyone and everything to death. In documentaries I learned that unlike European bees, African bees will chase a perceived threat for hundreds of yards. I leant that carbon dioxide in exhaled breath stimulates the sting response. The film makers ably demonstrated this by tossing a child's fluffy toy at a swarm who just ignored it. The next fluffy toy to be tossed in had been fitted with a tube through which CO2 passed. The bees went berserk and within seconds the toy was buried in a mass if writhing, stinging bees. Quite clearly the message was, if attacked by killer bees, stop breathing, something I suppose one would, under the circumstances, do quite quickly anyway. I did witness a mass attack by African bees while clearing mines in Mozambique. Grown men in absolute panic ran across an uncleared minefield, so frantic were they to escape and so persistent the attack. That no one was killed, either by bees given their terrible reputation, or by landmines was quite remarkable.
My next close encounter with bees was in Cabinda Province in Angola. I wanted to buy some wild forest honey and was told where to go and find the Honey Boy. I found him sitting in his yard surrounded by pots of honey, chunks of beeswax and millions of bees. Containers of any sort are at a premium in Angola so I had brought with me half a dozen empty 1.5 litre water bottles which he proceeded to fill, honey spilling down the sides of the bottles making them all sticky. The bees swarmed all over the bottles, him, his hands especially and me. Any second, I thought, I am going to inhale one of these buggers. He dropped the bottles into my carrier bag for me and I left with 9 litres of dark honey and half a colony of bees in tow. Back at camp, I submerged the bottles in a drum of water and tossed the carrier bag before cleaning myself up. Eventually the bees thinned out and I was allowed back into the communal area.
If what they say about African bees is true, how was it possible that a boy clad only in flip flops and shorts could make a living robbing natural beehives of their honey?
The honey in Angola is the best I have ever tasted. It is dark, the colour of well brewed tea and, apart from a few bits which float to the top (usually dead bees) is very clear, not at all cloudy. I make no claims to its properties as a natural anti-biotic but from experience can confirm its efficacy as a salve on tropical ulcers, sceptic insect bites, infected cuts, even snake bites. Mixed with lemon juice and a bit of hot water, it provides relief for tickly coughs and is, of course, great on pancakes.
With the well I dug, I have access to fresh water and plenty of it gets spilt, notably by the locals collecting their supplies of drinking water and by me when I am watering the beds. I have placed a plastic bowl under the drain of one of the air-conditioning units so the dogs have a constant supply of clean water with no effort on my part and all this has attracted bees Sir, thousands of 'em. They come in the evenings, just as the sun is setting and cluster around dripping taps, pools of water, and, if the ice cream machine is in use, its nozzles. I have to keep the kitchen window closed lest they cluster around the kitchen tap or drown in the sink. I used to drink soft drinks straight out of the can, now I use a glass and insist Alex does the same; in their determination to access fluids, especially sugary fluids, at least one will end up in the drink.
And yet I have never been stung. When the bees first started coming, I was nervous. OK, I'll admit it, I was afraid of being stung. If the bee buzzing me was too insistent, I would move away. I wouldn't even try to swat or squish it lest I annoyed it and its mates. Over time, though, I have learnt to ignore them and yesterday was a case in point. I had left a can of Sumol, a fizzy fruit juice, on my desk and sure enough, the bees located it. I sat down at my desk to type out some emails and noticed them buzzing around the can and also, confused perhaps by the brightness, crawling over the laptop screen. I ignored them. Engrossed in my task, I did not give the tickle on my neck a thought as I absent-mindedly gave it a scratch. I felt a hot pin prick, no more than that, and my hand came away with a bee between my fingers. I asked Marcia to take a look at my neck and sure enough, sticking in the flesh was a sting which she pulled out. And that was it, A momentary irritation, a slight swelling and then nothing to write home about.
So why am I blogging about it? Well, if that was the sting of the terrifying African Killer Bee, it explains how kids in shorts and flip flops can shin up trees and steal honey. If kids can get honey, why can't I? Until I moved here and dug the well, I hardly ever saw a bee let alone loads of them so just assumed the area was far too arid and flowerless for them. Instead I have found there must be millions of them and if there are lots of bees, there must be lots of honey. And I like honey.
I am getting bored see, this is the problem. Time passes very slowly when you are sober and I am running out of things to do and everything that I do do ends up with me having to wait. I cleaned up the whole garden, have bought a bag of grass seed but must now wait for the rains so the seed takes and grows strong enough and quickly enough to survive the arid season being fed only with water from a hose. Same thing with my raised beds. They are all done but again I must wait for the good soaking the rains will bring before planting out all the herb and vegetable seeds I have waiting, unlike me, patiently in my drawer. I have finished Stalag Luft III but must now wait for the chickens and Quail to be available. I rarely go down to the other site as there is little I can do there, I just have to be patient and let the Filipino carpenter, who is doing an excellent job, finish the huts but he, in turn, is having to wait for the electrician who thrice has failed to show so I am now looking for another electrician willing to travel this far out of town. I paid a Chinese contractor to bulldoze the rest of the land flat at the restaurant/lodge site but two things happened: firstly the bulldozer broke down and secondly, the Chinese foreman fell off some scaffolding and fell three floors breaking an awful lot of his little oriental bones and scuffing his yellow skin to hell. I have to wait until his replacement arrives.
Last night I was stung by a bee and this morning I stumbled across this blog: Brixton's Bounty. It is entertainingly written by some bloke called Oliver Riley who lives in Grantham, not Brixton, and is a nice mix of gardening, cooking and bees. Unlike most UK apiaristas, he's gone for a top bar hive, more commonly seen in Africa than Lincolnshire. Clearly this was a sign from God (or the Devil wishing to find work for idle hands) so I read loads of his posts and then refined it (after learning a sure fire way to make sauerkraut) to all his beekeeping posts. A very useful guide to Apiary for Dummies.
I have absolutely no idea how to trap a swarm of bees but while I wait for inspiration, I am going to build a top bar hive and put a welcome sign in bee language over the entry hole. I will make sure the top bars have some beeswax foundation and sprinkle lemon grass oil in there (apparently they like that) and maybe even a bowl of sugar water.
All that will attract bees, no doubt about that but worker bees on their own aren't much good. What I really need to learn is how to attract a queen.
wear red lipstick. a queen will appear. i am deathly allergic to bee stings. we had a nasty bee problem at our old house. i called a bee killer in and he wanted 500.00 to get rid of the buggers and that was 30 years ago. i told him, no way. after he left i went to the bathroom to pee, sat on the loo and a bee bit me on the arse. i rang the bee killer back and signed on.ReplyDelete
See, this is where I have been going wrong. I wear a discreet pearl lipstick.Delete
Recently there was an ad in some magazine about "bee sting creme" for maintaining one's youthful face. Dabs on lines would release the toxin and cause the area to swell. $$$ReplyDelete
Swelling without pain? Hmmn, I could use some of that but not for my face....Delete
I'm fairly sure a queen should be easy to come by. I think there is one living down my road and I reckon he needs a job. Apart from that, I like a bit of honey on my porridge in the mornings.ReplyDelete
Honey on porridge is great. I really like it on pancakes and buttered fresh toast too.Delete
Drat! Those other dudes got in first with their "how to attract a queen" humour. Once when our kids were little - playing on the lawn before teatime - the sky was suddenly darkened by a massive swarm of bees and inexplicably they came to rest inside our privet hedge - thousands of them - all clustered together. Fortunately we knew a bee keeper in our neighbourhood and he came over, carefully cut the privet branch and took the whole swarm away in a cardboard box. He said he knew how to use them to create a new colony for honey production. You don't forget an event like that.ReplyDelete
I am sure that would be memorable! They are fascinating creatures and evidently more than just important for honey production.Delete
The stings of African 'killer' bees are no more potent than those of other bees, it's just that they're aggressive and you're likely to get stung many hundreds of times rather than two or three. An individual bee shouldn't be a problem. If you get a swarm of bees in your hive, they will have a queen in their midst so no need to worry on that score. Good luck! You may want to invest in some protective clothing and a smoker if they do settle in.ReplyDelete
How do you know? According to your blog you haven't been stung by an English bee yet!Delete
I have been on the MOD surplus sites to see about full NBC kit and respirator. I am a heavy smoker so that should help.
my dad keeps bees, has done since i was a little girl. i was taught to be unafraid but not to make any sudden movements around bees and it worked well for a bit. one day i wanted to show my cousin what the hive looked like inside so i was sliding the lid off the hive and my cousin got impatient and pushed it to the ground. the bees rose in an angry cloud and we ran into the house. mum screamed at us to get out so we ran down the street until the bees dissipated. i got about 20 stings that day and had quite an allergic reaction. i was never quite so fearless ever again :)ReplyDelete
you would be miraculously lucky to just attract a colony but if you can get hold of a new swarm, recently broken away from a larger one, that is your starting point, there will be a new queen in the middle.
i look forward to apiary updates
This is my fear, Alex's curiosity or, the local kids throwing rocks at the hive to get a reaction. Then, if the kids were stung, it would all be my fault. Actually, if it becomes known that I have a hive, ANY insect sting for miles around will be blamed on me.Delete
I am making enquiries about obtaining a swarm but first I have to build the hive.
I keep a few bees. I use Langstroth hives, but here is a good top bar plan. (pdf) http://www.biobees.com/build-a-beehive-free-plans.phpReplyDelete
Some "Beeks" in the SW here prefer Africanized honey bees. They are hardier & good producers. While protective clothing should be used, their danger is somewhat overplayed by the media. Granted, they aren't as docile as the European bees. Read up the alarm pheromone produced by the bees.
Long sleeved shirt and trousers, wear hat. Check.Delete
Local honey producers annually bring their hives into the Chestnut woods when they are in flower, but fail to provide them with water. Our pool seems to be the first supply they encounter, and occasionally they turn up in droves. I even had to dismantle a fountain because it was attracting them.ReplyDelete
I have no fear of bees, but we have bloody great big hornets that arrive in late summer. The are like huge wasps, and a couple of stings will have you in hospital pretty quick (or else). Strangely I have no fear of these hornets either.
Don't you have to buy a swarm, or be given one, or find one???
We get something that looks like a dark wasp and is the size of a hornet here but I have never been bothered by them. I did see a programme about hornets in France, quite the regular little monsters, aren't they?Delete
I am going to have to make enquiries about obtaining a swarm. I am sure there must be someone here with hives. It is only a question of how far away they are. It'll be something else I end up waiting for!
My heart is running out of blood to bleed for you. What's your middle name? Accident Prawn? Don't correct me on the 'prawn'. It's an in-joke.ReplyDelete
"Shrieking like a girl"? Well, Tom, you certainly can't be accused of not being sexist. Wish you had granted Marcia her wish for a daughter. You'd soon sing to another hymn sheet. I have been stung by bees many a time. They didn't make me shriek. They stunned me into silence. Neither do I run around and flap my arms in presence of anything buzzing as, no doubt, you expect from my gender.
Fathers. My father was good that way. He always knew how to take care of a bee sting. Even if it was on the instep of my foot. Dear dog in heaven. That was something else. Stand on a bee/wasp at your peril. Try vinegar. Then, of course, as Cro Mag mentions, there are hornets. When I was about five I was told that (can't remember now) five hornets kill a horse, three a human. Fascinating. What was I supposed to do stepping, accidentally, into a hornets' nest? Keep count?
There actually exists something other than a strong sedative that can stun you into silence?Delete
God, those guys running through the minefield - eek!!ReplyDelete
I know. It takes ages to train them, I'd have hated to have to start all over again.Delete
My first encounter with a bee was as a small lad at an outdoor swimming pool, treading on it...I suspect I too cried like a girl. The Boy was stung on Brighton Beach, and immediately just fell asleep...we thought he was unconscious...no he was just sleeping....ReplyDelete
The colour of honey is dictated by what they consume...I read recently of luminous green honey created by bees drinking anti-freeze...it's also possible to find red and blue honey....generally best to stick to the stuff that looks the right colour...
I'll make a note of that.Delete
Get the comments in while you still can. When's the bobsleigh run?
Since time in sobriety is passing slowly, plant some fruit trees or fence some livestock. Livestock requires constant care. A few of them will stir those idle hands. Fruit trees for the quail to sit in, the bees to pollinate, and you to pick fresh fruit. Livestock for fresh milk for the ice cream and fruit from your trees. Just sayin. Enjoyed the post.ReplyDelete
I am growing fruit trees; mango, avocado, sweet fig. Ten minutes to plant them, five minutes to water them every day. The aviary is finished and just waiting the arrival of the birds. Not sure a milk cow is such a good idea!Delete
Yeah, trees, definately not spectator sport and agree a milk cow has it's faults. Forget the milk stock, but maybe some beef cattle and a couple cutting horses.Delete
You'd be ridin' the range, out looking for them in the middle of the night when they break loose - taking tourists on cattle drives up that nice driveway of yours (remembering the picture of the German biker making his exit) - an ol' cow hand from Kwanza land.
I learnt to ride at Sandhurst and at a place called Heather Hall in Leicestershire (I had to be 'cleared' to ride with the local hunt) so it was very different when I rode a 'cutting' horse in Belize. They are more pony than horse and you ride a lot longer in the leg and neck rein. Man it was fun. The horses loved it, you could feel them tremble underneath you when there were cattle around and when you let 'em go, Boy were they fast! Like polo ponies! I quickly learnt why cowboys wear chaps; these buggers would dive straight through brush. I would love to have a couple of horses here but without any decent grazing, it would be so unfair to them.Delete
Those hay burners are how you eat up some of that spare time - hauling hay in and hauling carp over to the beds, repeat.Delete
There is nothing to compare with the North American ego and your odd habits, you use a horse to haul a no doubt bigger than European carp to bed...Delete
That is likely true, but carp was a typo. Meant crap, as in horse crap.Delete
Your productivity is boundless Hippo. Hippo Honey ~ designing label as we speak. Unfortunately honey cannot be imported into AUS.ReplyDelete
Rules? An Ozzie worried about rules? Well I never!Delete
Why on earth is honey prohibited? Or is Australian honey so lousy no one would eat it if alternatives were available?
Apparently, Australia is the only country in the world that does not have the varroa mite. I think you can import it with a permit and inspection.Delete
So with a permit and inspection you can import a varroa mite but not honey? You guys have been in the sun too long...Delete