All you north american readers probably won’t believe this, but the night sounds of crickets, frogs and neekerbreekers, night birds and other buzzy insects isn’t one you hear at night in England. It just way too damp and besides, the countryside and its creatures have long since learnt to hush up or risk being shot by a nobleman or built on.
Consequently, the deafening noise of Canada at night constantly takes me by surprise. At best as a kid I used to listen to the sound of a timid snowy owl who perched unobtrusively every now and then in the small copse of trees beside our house and the occasional drunk staggering home from the pub along the back path and singing the trombone part of “Papa’s Got A Brand New Pigbag” to anyone unfortunate enough to encounter him. In comparison, Canada’s night-time chorus is much more relaxing.
Of course, not all flying, buzzing, chirping creatures are to be embraced and I’m not just referring to mosquitos. Sure, they will plunge a hypodermic needle into your flesh at the slightest opportunity and happily drink your blood, but at best they’re annoying. I’m not even talking about Deer Flies who never give up until they manage to tear off a chunk of said flesh and take it home for a snack. No, what I’m referring to are Rogue Bees and Wasps.
Back in May I was deeply in love with my bees. It was a honeymoon period, pun fully intended. I’d never been stung, thought I could handle everything easy. I had the knack, I was The Hive Master. But having fed them sugar water for a month, then lovingly tended their needs for another couple of months, I am forced to conclude that not all bees are made equal. My first hive, let’s call it Alpha Hive, is thriving. The bees are multiplying and off doing bee things like making me lots of honey. Great.
However, the second hive, Beta Colony, has a weakness at its core. If bees had a nationality, I’d suspect they were Belgian: lazy, slow to reproduce (which rules out the French) and unexpectedly belligerent. Beta Colony bees just don’t seem to be in the programme of making me honey. So, in desperation I called The Bee Guy and was advised to give Beta a little kick. Not literally, since that would be rather stupid. Instead, he suggested I take a frame of strong brood from Alpha and swap it out for a weak frame from Beta. That sounded like good, logical advice and so that evening, I resolved to implement it.
Unfortunately for me, that evening temperatures were touching 36 degrees C, with the humidex taking it well over 40. The bees weren’t in a co-operative mood and were spreading out on the outside of their hives to cool down, but being The Hive Master, I decided to press on. So, I cracked open Alpha Hive and worked on the supers for 10 mins which stirred them up into a frenzy quite nicely. Then I stole a heavy rack of brood and using my Bee Brush, proceeded to sweep the bees from it. Now, with hindsight that wasn’t very clever. The bees, understandably, were hot, disturbed and didn’t take too kindly to a gigantic brush smacking them on the head. However, having gotten that far, I really had to continue.
Most of the bees from Alpha were now airborne and making a noise not unlike a B52 bomber. Bravely I opened the Belgian Beta Hive who, up to this point, had also been cooling themselves outside their hive, drinking little cappuccinos and exclaiming smugly that they would never put up with such disgraceful, rough treatment from an Englishman.
At that point many an experienced beekeeper would no doubt have sealed up the hives and gone home for a cup of ice tea. Not me, oh no. From the depths of my childhood the phrase “don’t start what you can’t finish, Thompson” rang through my mind, bolstering my resolve. So, despite there being now two competing and angry hives (many of whom were airborne) to contend with, I took my Bee Brush and swept the Beta Hive brood frame clean of bees. That’s where it all went wrong.
See the Belgians, it would appear, really don’t take kindly to being smacked with a brush. Dropping their cappuccinos, they rose in fury and three of them, let’s call them Pierre, Jacques and Alein, found their way into my T-Shirt sleeve. In defiance of the established Belgian rules of self-preservation and cowardice, each proceeded to sting me near my armpit.
Three things went through my mind almost instantaneously.
- “Fuck…fuck…fuck, that hurts! Ow, ow, ow, you Belgian bastards, ow, fuck.”
- I can’t drop the frame! Must smite these bastards. Aargh! Indecision.
- You’re now going to go into anaphylactic shock and die, stupid
Fortunately, I was able to place the frame carefully on the ground, smite the unfortunate bees who’d probably just realised that in stinging me their arse had just been ripped out and then run in circles like a demented stork flapping at the many hundreds of Belgian bees who, inspired by the selfless bravery of Pierre, Jacques and Alein were trying to penetrate my shroud and finish the job.
It wasn’t my finest hour.
However, I did return and swap the frames. Then moving with haste, I closed up the hives and shuffled home clutching my arm and muttering furiously about the Belgians. Emma administered some medicine and reassured me that I wasn’t about to keel over in a systemic shock and suffer a full neural shutdown. Relieved, I allowed her to pamper me for the rest of the evening and comment on how brave I’d been which wasn’t a bad result.
I managed to put all thoughts of stings from my mind for a few days. Then Nelson, The (New) Man, came and mowed our fields for hay and baled it into shining round bales. In working one of the last fields, he claimed to have run over a bees nest and wanted to show me it. Obviously I wondered if he’d stumbled into the reason Beta Hive wasn’t as strong as it should have been. If Beta had swarmed in the spring, that would explain why they were weak and not making much honey.
Again, my eagerness got me into trouble. Peering over the nest to identify if they were my missing bees, first with confusion, then with horror, I realised it was a wasp’s nest. And they were starting to fly out. Obviously tipped off by the filthy Belgians, I recoiled but it was too late. Like Luke Skywalker attacking the Death Star, one or two had made it into my T-Shirt and let rip against my nipple.
Of course Nelson thought that my stork impression was hilarious and after admonishing me not to set fire to all our fields in a frenzy of blazing retribution, recommended gasoline poured onto the nest to kill them all.
So in the course of one week, I’ve gone from no stings whatsoever to three on the arm and two on the nipple. It’s been a bad week and while I have to give the Belgians another chance, the wasps weren’t so lucky. If only I’d been able to drop a match after pouring the equivalent of Kuwait’s weekly petroleum output onto the filthy nest…still, at the end of the week I have over 100 bales of hay, at least one functional bee hive and a new nipple. It could have been a lot worse.