Second Boxes, First Sting

“Though she be but little, she is fierce!” –William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream


As the term ‘busy bees’ implies, bees are not idle critters.  They truly are the creature that best embodies hard work and a bustling activity.  Every time I go out to the bee yard, I am in awe of their productivity and progress, especially since a honeybee is not much bigger than my thumbnail.  How does a person expect to see results from such a tiny thing?

To assume that these girls aren’t putting in some long hours and awesome team work would be an awful mistake.  This was my thought this week as I realized it was time to add another brood box to the hive.  At the time of adding the second brood box, I had the bees no more than 24 days.  In less than a month these tiny creatures had put in so much work that they were at risk of outgrowing their current space.  Jaw drop!


Moving on up!

Beautiful looking larvae!

Both Beatrice’s and Maude’s hives were flourishing with around 80% of the foundation in their brood boxes drawn out with comb.  A full hive inspection ensued to make sure the hives were producing brood, storing honey and pollen, and were disease free.  Even a shy Queen Maude made an appearance to let me know she was ready for more space in her queendom!

The process was a pretty simple one, but none the less I still felt a sense of pride.  The hives now with TWO brood boxes certainly cut a more impressive silhouette in the bee yard than before.  Looking good, girls!  Now let’s expand some more!


Walking away from my hives at the end of a successful inspection and box addition session, I was awash in a huge sense of pride.  Not only are my bees alive, they are thriving.  My ego (even though it was the bees who were doing most of the work) was huge.  That was mistake number one.  Mistake number two was thinking that just because I was out of the bee yard and headed to my vehicle, the ladies would not still be in defense mode.

The veil came off, and I didn’t think twice as I put away my tools.  Of course I heard the telltale buzz but did not think it was a threat.  Silly me!  Though usually gentle creatures, it probably felt like I had just ransacked my bees’ homes.  On top of that, we’ve had a weekend of 80+ degree temperatures.  Who wouldn’t be a bit surly with no air conditioner in this heat? 

Some loud buzzing below my left ear and then a surprising, fiery pinch on my neck was all it took to make me involuntarily yelp.  A hand brought to my neck revealed the fierce little warrior who took on a giant to defend her hive.  Lesson learned: Always respect the bees.  They are normally gentle, but that does not mean they are complete pushovers.  When provoked, they will do what is necessary.

Despite the sting, I’m still impressed. Now, I’m off to get some lawn work in the bee yard taken care of.



12 thoughts on “Second Boxes, First Sting

Leave a Reply to Merle Miller Cancel reply

  1. steve fazekas

    Yes,they , i am a nu-bee ,first year they are protective. I put on 2nd deep last weekend thought i had my suit completely right. It was cold ,i did not get stung ,but a little lady snuck into my suit,flew around inside ,got a fair distance from the hives then let her loose, thank goodness just one lady

    1. Krista

      Oh no! Bees in the suit is honestly one of my nightmares. AT least you made it out sting free and the lady made it back to her hive! Thanks for posting and best of luck in all your beekeeping endeavors!

  2. Merle Miller

    Just love reading these posts! I, too, am a new-bee to beekeeping and have felt the satisfaction and pride of having a productive and healthy hive so far. I put on a second deep brood box around week 5 or 6. After disciplining myself to not peek for one whole week, I did an inspection and was disappointed to see only a few bees in the new digs, and totally empty frames! Did some online You-Tube research and about 5 days later checked again and found still no comb. So, per a suggestion from a couple of the videos I had seen, I took a partially drawn out frame from the original box and exchanged it with an empty frame from the new upper box. Three days later (I admit, I couldn’t wait any longer) I opened the cover and was delighted to see my bees industriously drawing out comb in the new box! Encouraged, I removed the new box and checked the lower one and at last! An audience with my queen! I had only seen evidence of her by way of eggs, larvae, and capped brood, but never her royal highness! I was so excited I called my sister with the news and I am sure she thinks I’ve gone over the falls with this activity! I have been stung twice so far but, oddly enough, it didn’t hurt as bad as the stings I remembered getting as a child when I took an ill advised barefoot stroll through the clover in the yard. I have also been brave enough to use my bare hands to manipulate the frames, but only during the cool of the early morning — I have found my bees to be much calmer at this time of the day. Hope I never get a bee in my bonnet, though!

    1. Krista

      Hi Merle!
      Thanks for your comment and reading the blog! I love hearing what everyone’s hives are up to and I want to give you a big congrats on your awesome problem solving! I would have been flustered with it so good on you for keeping a cool head and figuring it out! All that plus you got to see your queen! I can definitely say that spotting her makes my day, and truly feels like you are privileged to be in her presence.
      I would agree with you on the stings, somehow my childhood memories make it way worse. Don’t get me wrong, I certainly am not a fan of being stung but I thought it would put more of a damper on my enthusiasm for beekeeping. Instead it actually made me respect my bees even more. To non-beekeepers this probably sounds like crazy talk, but I’m too hooked to care 🙂
      Stay bee-in-your-bonnet free and best of luck in all your beekeeping endeavors!

  3. Ren Holmes

    Hi all,
    As a young teenager back in the 1970’s, I was thrilled to join my father taking beekeeping classes at Utah State University, and in taking up this incredible hobby. I started out as brave as a teen could be, and accompanied my father to a friends bee yard to observe him working some hives prior to obtaining our own. There were a lot of bees in the air, and long story short, I sat very still while a bee buzzed around my face and proceeded to land on, and sting my bottom lip! I remember that sting hurting just about as much as anything I could remember up to that time. Needless to say, from that day I dawned full suit and gloves for the next 5 years before leaving home! The subsequent sunburned lip is a memory I will probably never forget!
    Fast forward to around 2011, and I chose to pick up this fine hobby again. I started out with face-net and gloves, but quickly found the bees to be as docile as any I’d seen. My journey in overcoming childhood fears, mixed with a far greater fascination and admiration for bees began. I remember watching a youtube video of a keeper un-boxing a package, and even fishing out the fallen queen cage from inside the box with his bare hands, and being in absolute awe of his bravery!
    Fast forward 4 more years, and I threw away my gloves, net and remaining fears of bees. Everyone must deal with these fears in their own way. I will tell you that now for the last 4 or 5 years now, with 5 or more hives, I frequently go through my hives, even down to the last frame, without any protection of any kind, nor use of any smoke, and rarely get stung! Going slowly, and not banging things around will get you farther toward a smooth sting-less operation than anything else. You will get to read them well and know when they are feisty. Open when it is warm or hot, and they are the least-likely to sting. Don’t open when getting dark, or cool, and you should be fine. I average maybe a sting or two in an entire season, and because of my research, I am in my hives far more often than most beekeepers. Obviously there are nicer and meaner genetics. I’ve experienced both extremes. But the queen stocks that I’ve purchased these last 6 or 8 years have been very docile (both pure carney’s, and pure italians). I’m not suggesting that it is somehow better, or that you’re a better beekeeper by throwing away the protection. For me, it is hot enough without the garb to visit the ladies, and the garb is extra hassle that may not be necessary. I am now “that guy” that I saw in the video years ago, (in fact I’ve duplicated that very video many times since myself) that is comfortable scooping up bees from a swarm, or in a package, with bare hands and no fear. Just know that beekeeping doesn’t have to be scary and cause fear. And bonus, if you come to learn of the benefits of apitherapy, and that some stings can take your arthritis away for a year at a time, you might find that your stings on-purpose, far outnumber the ones that just happen. As I did. Keep on bloggin with your passion. Hopefully it will be catchy! Would-be beekeepers need to know that it is possible to keep bees and become a part of something noble, in the fight to help these essential critters out, and obtain many benefits from doing so in return, and do so peacefully without fear. Find a good mentor and see how its done, and enjoy the ride! There aren’t many more rewarding hobby’s out there. Ren

    1. Harold Sealman

      I had hives for roughly 20 years while living in Washington . I retired and moved back to Iowa , my home state . Last year I decided to get back into bees . I bought two packages . Last winter was a rough one and I lost one colony even though I fed them well and insulated . I too work my hives without protective gear . I’m gentle with them and they in turn with me . I’m careful while handling frames I haven’t been stung so far this year . I have noticed that no one has mentioned using ammonia applied to stings to neutralize the venom . I brush off the stinger and apply ammonia right away . It works like a charm . Happy beekeeping to all .

  4. Robert Tate

    I can relate to Ren. I first learned to work with bees in Pucallpa , Peru which is in the Amazon in the early 1970s. I had only a smoker and enjoyed working in shorts and t-shirt as we had Italian bees. I built the bee yard to have 30 active and productive hives. Fast forward a few years and in the early 1980s the Brazilian African ie Killer bees started to be a problem. I required total protection to work with my hives at all times. They robbed a lot and filled the smoker with their bodies. It was terrible. In time we lost all the hives. Eight years ago I started again in Yakima, Wa to raise bees and enjoy it very much. I say that if I have to wear a suit or mask I will get rid of the bees. Bob

  5. Kyle

    We too have put on a second brood box. Did a brief inspection and found two frames of comb starting to be pulled in he upper box. Had to open our reducer all the way as it has been 90+ degrees here in the Deep South and the girls were bearding. They continue to fascinate us.

  6. Ren Holmes

    Now I can no longer say I’ve experienced both extremes! The meanest hive that I’ve ever worked, would result in 50 to 100 bees coming right for you if you lifted the lid. Your experience with killer bees puts mine to shame… I’ve heard that many Southern beekeepers actually keep killer bees, on purpose, because they are so productive with honey. I’m not sure if that’s really true, but to this hobbyist, it wouldn’t be worth it. I agree with you. If I get a mean hive, that queen buys a farm, and a fresh new one takes her place. Six weeks later, and all is well again. We had a challenging year once, where we lost half our queens mid summer, and it was next to impossible to make, or get some in, by winter. Since then, I always keep a couple NUC’s going, to have spare queens to combine with strong queen-less colonies at a moments notice. Ren

  7. Naomi Clark-Turner

    This is my second year as a beekeeper. I loved the idea originally of handling my bees without gloves as suggested in the beekeeping classes I attended. Alas it seems I am destined to wear full cover up since after the first couple of stings my hands swelled up like balloons. Not so much fun donning a jacket in the middle of summer but now I can work sting free. My doctor also prescribed me an epi-pen since people who react to bee venom can become allergic.

  8. Ren Holmes

    Just so you are aware, your reaction is quite typical and normal for most people. honeybee venom is a foreign substance to the body, and the degree to which your body reacts, is a factor of your present immune system tolerance to the venom. Virtually everyone will react, is just to what degree. However, your reaction will change over time with exposure. I’ve also noticed that my reactions can vary depending on where I get stung. I used to have roughly the same reaction as your experience. After 10 or 20 stings, my reaction level began to reduce to where I’m at now. Now when I get stung, it will be a welt for about 20 minutes, and then gradually reduce. Depending on the location, it may swell a tiny bit, but not excessively, but I rarely have any itching.
    I made a little fun of my son a couple of years ago for having his eye swell shut after being stung on the eyebrow. I was certain I would not have the same degree of swelling were that to happen to me. That fun ribbing almost didn’t leave my mouth before I also took one on the eyebrow. We went on an overnight camping trip that night, and my eye nearly swelled shut, but was pretty much normal the next day. Needless to say, I haven’t lived that one down yet. It is always appropriate to respect bee stings from a medical perspective, and to keep an eye on anyone that gets stung. For most beekeepers, the immune system will adjust in similar fashion to the way I did. However, in rare cases it can go the other way. It is also possible to have different responses to different species. My brother is an example of this case. He, like myself, took up beekeeping again, partially for the bee-venom therapy value, in reducing or eliminating Rheumatoid Arthritis. We both had mostly Italians, but eventually brought in some Carneolans. My brother reacted similar to myself, and largely became nothing more than a mosquito bite for many years. Then one day he came to my house and we went out back to do some therapy, and he picked bees from the Carny hive. Twelve stings later, and we were on the run to the drug store for some Benadryl.
    Long stories, but letting you know that for a beginner beekeeper, having your hand swell up is quite normal. Unless you are one of the rare ones, you will probably experience less and less swelling as you experience more stings over time. Many of us keep some liquid Benedryl handy at the house in case any bystanders catch some wrath. Be sure and immediately remove any rings if you get stung on the hand. I’ve stung knuckles because of Arthritis pain, and the hand swelled up. However the extra circulation is part of the benefit when it comes to the therapy side. I’ve not had any Arthritis pain in those knuckles now for over 3 years. Chin-up, and chive-on. Ren

    1. Naomi

      Thanks Ren – I hope you are right about the reaction getting less over time. I took my first few frames of honey 2 days ago and the ladies were mad as hell. I got stung through my trousers and after a day I had a raised red swelling about 3 inches across. Good tip about Benadryl.
      It was not helped by the fact that my bees had built a whole load of comb above the frames, some with brood in, that got ripped apart as I opened the top. Having said that I have 8 full frames of honey from the super and looking forward to my first go at extraction.
      Have you used poly hives at all? This is my first year using them and they have been really successful. I got my bees in mid-May and they filled both deeps and 2 supers already. The problem is that the hive cover has a large space inside it so they quickly filled that with comb and Queen Catherine the Great (Russian bees ) has been wandering up and down the entire hive and laying eggs all over. I had to leave 2 frames in the super with brood in. Any thoughts on using a queen excluder or might restricting her movements prompt a swarm?