Yes, I'll admit it. I need to admit it. I need to share the story, so hopefully others can learn, and not repeat my mistakes.
This all started with an offer for a "Free" Flow Hive. Now not to get off topic, but I don't much care for the flow hive. A novel idea for sure, but from my perspective as a sideliner, it's not cost effective to have one for the sake of larger volume honey production. But here was an offer for one for free. An opportunity to actually put my hands on one and play with it, so I can speak from experience. The catch? Well, it's on a hive that is deemed "dangerously aggressive". The exchange was to be, for my service of relocating this aggressive hive, I got to keep all the hive components, including the flow frames, which were full of honey.
Sounds great right? I've dealt with mean bees. No big deal. I figured the client was overreacting a bit about their aggression, so I figured it would be no big deal. I'd take them home, requeen, and go on with it.
Now the logistical challenge. A hive full of honey can't just be tossed in the truck by one man. So I asked my apprentice to help me out. The day came, and we headed over to get the hive. A little backstory on my apprentice. Zaykeese (Z) is a high school kid, who is an aspiring beekeeper. He actually tried to start a beekeeping club through his FFA, but unfortunately the school board shut it down. Anyway, his heart is in the right place. But it seems maybe his head isn't entirely in it. Let me explain.
I've been working with Zaykeese for a little over a year now. And in that time, I've seen him get pretty worked up about one little bee buzzing around his head. Despite my stance of "just relax", he can't help but run around and want to swat at it. Now if he puts his suit on, he seems to think he's invincible. Anyway, in the past when he would act up like this, I just thought he was playing and trying to be funny.
So now back the aggressive hive. Before even approaching the hive, Z taped up his gloves, and his pants cuffs at his shoe. This is an important note. He did not have a full body suit, just a jacket/veil combo. As we approached the hive, the bees were very still on the box. But just as soon as we blew a little smoke on them, they took flight and began swarming around us aggressively. Ok, game on! Unfortunately, Z didn't handle this well. He started getting nervous and standing back. I began working to run the bees in the box, and taping up all their entry points.
As we continued working a bit more, I acknowledged their higher than normal aggressive behavior, and began taking appropriate measures. I got out some soapy water, and began spraying down all the bees on the outside of the box. Now I don't condone killing bees, and I'd never brag about such thing, but I will knock them down when I feel they are a threat, and these were. With them mostly contained, just a few still flying around our heads, I got Z to help me lift the back of the hive so we could get a strap around it and ratchet tie it together. The plan then was to just team lift the entire hive, set in the truck and go.
Somewhere in this prepping phase, Z took his first sting, to the ankle. He bailed out across the yard, screaming and running as if he'd been shot. Now we all know, getting stung sucks. It hurts like fire. But it's short lived. And I've found that the more you nurse it (this may just be me) the worse it seems to hurt. I managed to get him to come back over, but then bees would start flying around him and he'd panic again. This continued, and got worse.
Now at first I thought he was just kidding, and I was even getting a bit irritated that he was wasting so much time. Then I got really irritated, as he carried his performance out into the FRONT yard in this neighborhood, now becoming a spectacle, and probably a concern for any neighbors that saw it. I got him roped back into the yard, and was working on calming him down. At this point it dawned on me that it was more than theatrics. He was having a true panic attack. Those of you that watch my videos probably have noticed, I don't get too excited about much. I don't understand people that panic, I just don't.
I got him calmed down, and he said he was ready to bow up and do it. First, we picked the hive up and moved it about 15' to a temporary stand. This was to just get it away from the defensive location, and remove returning foragers from the equation. The final leg of the journey would be the real challenge, a 100' dash to the back of the truck. We even did a test run, acting like we were carrying the hive, and planning our steps, who goes backwards, where are the hazards, etc.
Ok refresh. At this point, the bees have been sealed in the hive. The majority of those flying outside have been knocked down and killed. We've taken every measure to contain them, except simply killing them. At last we picked up the hive and made a run for it. I was going backwards, trying to look behind me, which doesn't work well in a veil. Z couldn't see either, because the hive was in way. Along the way, he actually backed me right into a tree, but we maintained our hold. When we got to the back of the truck, we did the classic 1-2-3 LIFT! As we did, Z's face pressed against his veil, and he got popped on the lip. And he lost it! He dropped his side of the hive and bailed out!
OK, now it's a problem, now it's chaos! The hive fell over sideways but remained strapped together. I stood it back up and tried to shift the boxes back together, but 1000's of bees had already poured out and were PISSED! Now's no time to panic! In my best stern dad voice, I barked at Z to get over there and help. And to his credit he did, but sloppily. I took what I could get. We picked the hive up, and basically dumped it over in the truck. Z dove in the truck for safety but there were bees on his suit that stayed with him. As I went to collect the camera, he dove back out, then back in, all the while screaming like he was being tortured. I jumped in the truck and we bailed out.
Now as we are driving away, Z is writhing in his seat, while also giving me his last will. He thought he was dying. A bit extreme if you ask me, but again, full blown panic attack, so I guess anything goes. At this point I was fully committed to euthanizing this hive, and working a plan in my mind on how to do so without potentially impacting anyone else. We stopped off at a retail store for some supplies and Benadryl, parking far away from everything, then headed on out to the farm to finish the task.
Now by this point, Z is acting pretty normal. Talking, joking, etc, but still sore and a little worked up. Maybe he was playing tough. On the way home, he got very quiet. I took this to be the Benadryl kicking in. Rather than let him drive from where we had left his truck, I took him home. Here I faced the full wrath of his mother, which I totally understand. She ran me off, and took him to the ER. At this point we are working on 3-4 hrs from when he started getting stung. I'm thinking we're past any risk of serious shock.
As it turns out, the doctors did what they love to do. They knocked him out, doped him up, and prescribed an epi pen.
Going forward, I may have lost my apprentice. But my hope is that he'll get a more thorough allergy test done which will confirm he's not dangerously allergic, nor does he need the pen. Heck, I'm highly tolerant of bee stings, but taking as many as he did, I imagine it would sit me down, at least for a little while.
Long story short here, I made several poor judgement calls. I didn't do it in the interest of profit, or greed, or pride. At that moment, when I did what I did, I thought it made sense, and thought it would work. However, this is reality, and you can't plan for everything. Never in my mind did I think "what if we drop the box". And as Z's panic attack escalated on the scene, I should have reevaluated, but I didn't. I continued with the plan forward. And the fact is, I've done it before, and was successful. Perhaps because I'd never had such a train wreck before, I didn't anticipate it could happen. I can tell you now, never again will I attempt such a risky job. I've got to get better at quickly judging the personality of bees. If I'm presented with this situation again, I promise you, I'll kill them site and not think twice. Not because I get some sick pleasure, or because I don't want to try to save them, but because I can't take that risk. This is the second time in my 5 years of beekeeping that someone close to me has gotten seriously attacked. I take it very personal. I wished both times that it was me in the hospital, dealing with the pain I was partially responsible for causing someone else.
Be careful folks! What we do is serious. Don't get blinded by complacency!