My feet look like sausages tonight--the left one so much so that I don't think it could swell any more without bursting the skin. On the scale of my less stellar decision-making days, today is right up there on the top. The morning dawned cloudy--not actively raining for the first time in days, cool, and only a little windy. I know you're not supposed to open your beehives when it's windy or raining, but I didn't get a chance to feed them before Harvey hit and I was worried that between the dearth of August (it's a tough time for bees in Texas because it's so hot and dry that there aren't a lot of nectar flowers for them so we have to supplement the nectar with sugar water) and the storm they would need some extra vittles.
I knew enough not to attempt a full hive inspection today. All I planned to do was open the hives and pour in a quart or two of sugar syrup in each. I suited up in a full suit and my Keene sandals as I don't have any work boots and I didn't figure sneakers would protect me either because the bees would sting me right through my socks if they felt like stinging. Choice of footgear was my first mistake.
Zaga suited up too and filled the smoker for me, but as damp as everything was (even using dry paper and leaves), I could not get it to stay lit. I tried and tried and finally decided to forgo the smoker as a) I was just doing a quick feeding, and 2) I only had 45 minutes to feed everyone before I had to get to a doctor's appointment and drop Jessie at school on the way. Forgoing the smoker was my second, and arguably biggest mistake.
As it was the first nice weather for them too, the dogs were out frolicking in the botanical garden as I went into the apiary to do the bees. Having the dogs out was the error that made the whole event a perfect swarm, er, storm.
The first hive I fed was my golden girls and they were their usual sweet selves as I filled up their feeder. The next couple of hives the bees got a bit more agitated, but nothing worrying. Then I went to the Topbar hive. As soon as I pried the bars off the box (four--not just one as I needed to get to the feeder in the bottom of the box) the bees got really testy. They buzzed angrily around me, and when Gallifrey came to see what was up with them, for the first time they went after him. He got stung twice in quick succession and Zaga and I picked bees out of his fur as we headed him towards the house. The bees instantly burrowed into his fur to get to his skin when they landed on him and with his coat they immediately disappeared. Zaga took him in the house while I finished up the Topbar hive, and she pulled another 6-8 bees off of him.
Meanwhile I got the Topbar hive fed and put back together and headed for the Lang/Topbar hybrid. As soon as I took the cover off, the buzz ratcheted up. Those bees were riled up already--probably because of the alarm pheromones in the air from the Topbar bees stinging Gallifrey. By the time I got the inner cover off (another 30 seconds tops) they were out and swarming me in my suit. Even though I was covered it was still very scary--and then they discovered my sandaled feet. As soon as the first one stung my foot and released the alarm pheromone down there I was a goner.
There were bees all over my sandals, legs and exposed feet. I was shrieking like the girl I am, Zaga was trying to figure out how to help me, I said "Water!" and ran towards the hose but quickly realized I wasn't going to be able to wait as long as it took her to get the sprayer and to turn it on, so I turned and ran for the pond instead. When I got there I swung my legs over the edge and plunged my feet into the water. Then I sat for a few minutes with my feet in the water up to my knees gasping and shaking from shock. The bees were everywhere and in their frenzy kept falling into the pond, whereupon I reached down with my gloved hands and helped them out of the water. I like to think that most of the ones I saved were shocked back to their senses and flew off back to the hive leaving me in peace.
As I sat there, I felt two bees inside my suit climbing up each of my legs. They must have been near my pant cuffs and got swept up the inside of the legs when I entered the water. I couldn't bring myself to squish them, but I was terrified they were going to sting me. They climbed higher. I got up and waded to the middle of the pond, still swarmed by bees. They were on my gloves stinging them, attacking my veil around my face, and landing all over my arms and torso. I could feel the one on the right side of my body inside my suit on my hipbone moving in towards other more tender areas. I pressed my suit flat against my body so it couldn't go that way and I started to hyperventilate. I couldn't see Zaga, I didn't know what had happened to her, I called out and she didn't answer and I started to whimper and cry in panic thinking I was all alone stuck in the pond and I didn't know what to do. Then I pulled myself together. If there's no one there to save you, you have to save yourself.
I tried tipping my head back to let the carbon dioxide and fear smell out through my veil, and slowed my breathing. It didn't help. I even tried holding my breath thinking they were attracted to the CO2 so I'd just not breathe and release any, and they'd begin to go away. Zip, zilch, nada. None of it worked and I was still being swarmed. I decided my only hope was to get out of the pond and run for the house. I sat on the edge of the pond again, this time with my legs on the inside to start, and then I swung them over and out and leapt up and ran for the house. I heard Zaga call from somewhere behind me as I ran, but I couldn't stop.
As I approached the house I heard a new tenor of buzzing--the sound of a bee inside the veil. A bee had managed to get inside my suit somehow and was angrily zipping around my head. I should have mentioned earlier that I made another sloppy mistake as I was suiting up and did not tie my hair back. By the time I made my mad dash to the house my hair was all over inside the veil and I could barely see a thing through it.
When I got to the house I had a little bit of luck: I couldn't hear any bees buzzing around me (outside my suit) and I didn't see any obvious ones on me. So I ran inside and frantically started taking off the suit before someone inside it stung me. It was soaking wet from the knees down and hard to get off. But I managed, and as I pulled my bare legs out of the suit, I saw five bees crawling around on the inside. Two of them had obviously stung me (poor bees have their stingers ripped right out of their abdomens when they sting which is why they die--their insides trail outside...), but I didn't take time to check the others. I opened the door and shooed them out while not letting any more in.
I could go on about getting Jessie to school, missing my doctor's appointment, soaking my feet in ice water as I watched them swell, and eventually suiting up again (this time with knee-high leather boots un the suit) to put the lid back on the beehive... But you get the point. It was a crazy day.
At the end of it all, my feet are--as I mentioned before--like sausages, but I still love my bees.