(If you just want to read about me getting stung repeatedly, skip to that part of the story at the bottom of the entry, under follow-up:)
I was determined today to remove the eave bracket and get at the honeybees inside. Suited up, grabbed the crowbar, and started crowbarring.
The first part of the removal I attacked was the molding over the top. It came out pretty easily, even with the 150-year-old cut nails holding it in place. This action did not expose any bees to the elements, though. Above the eave bracket was just a wood block, and above the block, open space. And a lot of cobwebbing.
Next I worked on prying the bracket loose from the wall. The more I pried, though, the more that it seemed that everything was giving way, while the eave bracket was holding firm.
One other thing occurred to me as I was tugging at it. As I twisted and pried, the force of my effort was vectored away from me. Simple physics (PhuFy!). Problem is, there is nothing that could prevent it from breaking loose and falling over the edge, making it into a heavy metal block filled with lots of unhappy bees, unprepared to meet the ground with intense deceleration trauma. In the process, the eave bracket, a lovely piece of 150-year-old cast iron, would meet an unhappy demise, as well.
So I tied off some string to the bracket, and tied it to another bracket, 15 feet away. That seemed crazy flimsy, so I looked around for something else. Finally went down to the truck (my fifth trip down 4 flights of stairs) and got a tie-down strap, and tied it off to the same adjacent bracket.
Tightened it down.
By this time, the bees are getting a little curious. It is a cool day – temperatures in the high 40s – and they are reluctant to venture too far from the warm hive.
But as I started to pry… they got more excited.
I alternated prying and ratcheting, until I started to see it give. Just a little to start off with, and then increasingly as I pried more. Finally, it gave way, and dropped. 75 pounds of bees and cast iron and sand (Wait… sand??) and comb all fell and landed at my feet. Removal with a bang.
It did not go over the edge. Win.
The bees, however, did not consider this a win. In fact, they considered it a very upsetting loss, and began to let me know about it in no uncertain terms.
I took the comb out, piece by piece, salvaging whatever I could so I could place it in the box that I had prepared for it. By this point the bees had calmed down, as it was pretty chilly. Their focus was on getting as much of the honey out as they can, and balling up around the queen.
Who was elusive as she could be. Queen of hide-and-seek.
The sand inside was a bit of a mystery at first. But when I looked at the inside of the eave bracket, there was a series of clay molded pieces inside – the work of dirt daubers. Apparently, when the bees took over, they ousted the dirt daubers, and just built on top of the old mud… some of which dissolved and collected inside as a sand bath.
After cutting all the comb out, I took the eave bracket and placed it on top of the empty box, that had new comb interspersed in it. With both cold and wet weather coming, I am skeptical of whether it will be good for the girls. But I hold out some hope.
There was a little bit of honey remaining, and the girls had just started to put together some new stores after a long winter. Since I removed those pieces, I will need to feed them to keep them going until they can do it on their own.
There is another hive at Duff Green Mansion. In a couple of weeks, I will be able to get it, using a lift. But from this hive, I was able to find out the piece of information that I needed to make that next one go smoothly.
There is a metal brace underneath the eave bracket that supports it. This was the piece of information that I needed. The bracket beneath holds the bracket in place, and once it is removed, the bracket comes loose.
My frustration in last week’s attempt at this was that I had removed the bolts, but had not seen the brace. So prying did me no good. This time, brute force and ignorance won, but it also gave me the information I needed. By removing the bolts, and removing the screws that hold the brace in place, I can easily remove it.
Maybe not easily hold it. But definitely remove it.
The night after removing the eave bracket and encouraging the bees to enter the box, we got rain. Cold rain. It was bad, and I was pretty sure that any bees that survived were going to be in bad shape.
So I decided to rob my healthy hive of one frame of nectar very quickly, so as not to disturb them too much. Quick in, quick out, nobody will be too upset.
Wrong. Very wrong.
Usually, when I am doing things with minimal impact, I’ll put on a veil and maybe a long sleeve shirt. And sometimes I’ll work without smoke. This time, I took time to suit up and got my smoke going first. Every precaution.
Those girls boiled out of the hive and started working on my suit, sacrificing themselves by injecting venom into the cloth with reckless abandon.
Eventually, one or two of them found a crease, and injected a little venom into a leg. And an arm. Then a shoulder. Still they came boiling out. Smoke did not deter them.
Then I felt a sting on my neck. I glanced down to see if I had managed to leave a gap in the zipper-velcro seal at my throat. Nope. But there she was, inside with me. Still trying with every bit of energy she had to hurt, rip, damage the intruder to HER hive.
Then another appeared. Walking across my throat, with similar intent.
Bees by the hundreds, covering mask. Covering my jacket. Covering every surface. I cut my work very short, and left with the first piece of hardware I could pry free, closed up the box as quickly as I could, and fled.
They followed, grabbing on and stinging with evil glee. More arm stings, leg stings, and five more bees in my bonnet. (That expression was never more apt.) I dropped the frame with a slight amount of nectar into the back of the truck, and went back to rescue my smoker and tools. When I did, the girls came back after me with renewed vengeance.
I had heard of hot hives, but this was the hottest I had ever experienced. They were MAD. Clearly, these girls had spent WAY too much time playing first person shooter games. They didn’t even care that it was just one bullet that they carried.
I shook off as many as I could, and got into my truck, still suited up, with bees all over me. I cracked the window (weird fun fact: bees will leave if the window is cracked, but not if it is wide open), and a few bees made it out.
And then, one block down the road, the bees inside my suit all decided to get me at once.
I pulled over, jumped out, and stripped my suit, shaking off as many bees as I could. Still they came after me. One on my scalp. Another at my throat. And my eyebrow. Now that my arms were bare, they were looking lasciviously at long expanses of exposed flesh. Looking to do violence. It was then that I noticed a hole in the mesh in front of my face.
Note to self: check mesh BEFORE getting into an altercation with defensive bees. Not during, nor after.
I got back in the truck.
The whole trip back to Duff Green, bees flew at me while I was driving. I checked twice before going through the house, because I really didn’t need additional angry bees introduced into the Bed and Breakfast. Not good for business (either theirs or mine).
When I got up to the top, it looked like the bees had not made it. I turned the eave bracket over, and there were no bees in the box. Over at the wall, there were a pile of dead bees still attached to one another where the bracket had come down.
And so I turned the bracket over, and out tumbled a slightly damp mass of sad, unhappy bees. But they were alive. And the first girl to show up, right on the top, was Mary Lake, queen bee of Duff Mansion herself. I grabbed a queen clip, trapped her quickly, and dumped her in the box.
A few minutes later, I had swept as many live bees into the box as I could, and placed the stolen – and dearly paid for – frame of nectar into the box, and closed the lid.
Cleanup will come another day.
On the way home, more bees warmed up. And they, too, stung me.
So I am writing up my results with one eye half swollen shut, and a silly grin on my face. Those girls are going to do OK. Lady Xoc is laying like crazy, and making some crazy bees to defend her turf.