Friday, March 22, 2013

I love bees

I got stung by a bee on Sunday.  I can't remember the last time I got stung by a bee. My childhood bee memories are hazy.  I remember my sister getting stung by a wasp - my parents called it a 'yellow jacket'. And I remember my sister getting bitten by fire ants. My dad tried blasting the ants off her legs with a garden hose; when that didn't work, he brushed the ants off with his hands.

I remember bumblebees buzzing lazily around a flowering Texas mountain laurel bush on the corner where the neighborhood kids congregated to wait for the snow cone truck every Saturday afternoon.  I probably was stung, as a child, although the event isn't suspended in the amber of my mind, encapsulated, crystallized, like it is in Jack's.

Sunday's bee sting episode was really random. Our garden attracts lots of bees - yay! - and we've had the doors wide open while working on remodeling our kitchen, because the weather's been so nice.  Bees outside, open doors - what could possibly go wrong? Well, early Sunday afternoon,  I found a bee crawling on the kitchen floor, and I stepped on it.  It was instinctive.  Spot a bug near shoe - stomp. I regretted it as soon as I did it.  I wiped the bee off the sole of my shoe with a paper towel, and put it in the trash. I didn't tell Jack about the bee.  He doesn't like bees.

At some point in the day, a second bee flew in the house and into our kitchen sink, and crawled under a wet dishtowel.  When I went to rinse out the dishtowel at the end of our 10-hour marathon DIY session, the bee gave her life, in valor, as she sank her sword into my palm.  My hand hurt super bad, all of a sudden, and I didn't know what had happened. When I spotted the microscopically-tiny venom sack in my hand, I instinctively scraped it off, while wondering "Wow!  - and OW! - Is that the world's smallest venomous spider or what?"

Then I saw the bee, crawling slowly in the sink, its life force fading away, and I knew what had happened.  Jack didn't even have to see the bee; he knew I'd been stung, just from my reaction.  He seemed amused by this course of events, teasing me by saying, "I thought you were the 'bee whisperer.'"  I wiped the bee's lifeless body out of the sink with a paper towel and put it in the trash. My hand hurt a lot for a few minutes - ok, a few hours - got slightly red and swollen, then returned to normal in a day or so.  I felt worse for the bee, though.

This evening, Jack spotted a third bee, buzzing against the window over the kitchen sink, behind the open mini-blinds,  like a housefly.  The thought of the bee sting on Sunday crossed my mind, briefly.   Then I grabbed a small cup - a bright orange-colored plastic juice cup - and some take-out menus.  I went back to the windowsill and watched the bee for a few seconds, placing the menus on the countertop next to the sink.  The bee seemed really scared, fluttering above the lower sash, buzzing loudly.  I raised the mini-blinds, slowly.  Jack watched, reminding me that I got stung on Sunday - remember?  - in a concerned tone of voice.

I trapped the bee by pressing the cup against the window, over her.  I still had the mini-blind drawcord in my left hand, because I couldn't raise the cord over my head far enough to the right to lock the blinds in place.  Oh, but she was mad, so mad, buzzing mad.  I held the cup against the glass, patiently, until she stopped buzzing.  Jack asked if I wanted a step stool to stand on, watching me as I leaned over the counter, cup in right hand placed high against the window, drawcord in the left hand.  I nodded as I said,  "Yes, and could you grab this cord and lock the blinds?"

Blinds locked in place and bee quiet, I grabbed a couple of menus and slid them under the cup, while pressing the cup firmly against the windowpane. The bee started buzzing again, although not as aggressively.  I could see two of the bee's feet wriggling outside the cup's rim.  I let up the pressure on the cup, ever so slightly, until the bee's feet disappeared, then pressed down again.  I hoped I hadn't squished any of the bee's toes. (Do bees have toes?)

Slowly, gingerly, I slid my hand between the menus and the window, pressing the folded paper ever more firmly against the cup. The paper seemed awfully thin and flimsy.  I stepped off the step stool, held the cup up to my face and peered at the cup's rim. I saw a small gap between cup and paper, and took a breath.  I knew if the bee got out of the cup, she would sting me.  I pressed the menus down harder against the cup with the palm of my left hand - the same hand that was stung on Sunday - and asked Jack if he could please open the back door for me.

Arms outstretched, I stepped outside and headed for the bolted fall garden as briskly as I could.  I dropped the cup on the ground under the flowering arugula and stepped back.  The menus fell aside and the bee flew out of the cup, quickly, hovering above the cup until --

I don't know what happened next with the bee.  I didn't hang around to see.  I ran back in the house and slammed the door - slammed all the doors.  Then I went up to the window and looked out on the front garden.  The garden was buzzing with bees, sweet little bees, bumbles and honeys, drinking nectar from all the flowers.

No photos, as I'm sure you'll understand.


I think this excerpt from the Utah Education Network's bee page would make a great illustrated children's book.  As I read it, I imagined every sentence on a separate page with an illustration by Maurice Sendak or Antoine de Saint-Exup√©ry.

Each hive can have only one queen bee. When a hive gets too large with too many bees in it, the queen bee instinctively lays some special eggs in long cells. These will hatch into new queen bees. The queen then sends out scouts to find a new place for a hive. When a suitable site is found, she leaves the old hive. When she leaves, she is followed by many of the worker bees. This big mass of flying bees is called a swarm. Meanwhile, the new queen bees are hatching out in the old hive. Since each hive can only have one queen, the strongest new queen bee kills the other queens. She then flies out of the hive and is followed by all of the drones whose job it is to mate with her. This is the only time that she will mate, and this one important flight lays the foundation for all the eggs that she will ever lay in her lifetime.

Words and photos © 2009-2013 Caroline Homer for "The Shovel-Ready Garden". Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.


  1. I really enjoyed your story Caroline. Bees terrify me because of my allergies but I enjoy watching them in the garden too—not in my house. Oftentimes I like to think that I've given them a nice enough garden that we have an unspoken arrangement about them agreeing not to sting me. I'm sure I'm not the only gardener to dream that dream.

  2. Great tale of all your recent bee escapades. I'm afraid of bees and wasps, but I don't know why. I'm not allergic. I've been stung a few times and it's never been that bad. It aches, it hurts for a while, but not any worse than being badly scratched by one of my cats, and I love them dearly. I really don't like them in the house. My instinct would have been to step on one too.

  3. Great story telling about your bee adventure ... riveting and I think you are right about the excerpt. It is a really visual passage. It would make a neat little comic, too.

  4. I've become very casual around bees. They always seem pretty busy and mostly choose to ignore me. That said, I did get dive bombed by some bumble bees last week. Those things are huge and a little scary. I took a few pictures and made a hasty retreat.

  5. Oh, Caroline, I've been so there, done that! Bees, wasps, and all kinds of things come in. I hate to kill them, too. I also hate getting stung. A few years ago at The Natural Gardener, I got the Bug Buster. I safely rescue all kinds of critters and take them outside. In case NG doesn't carry it anymore, I found it on Amazon.

    I'm not a "product" person but I use this so often, including on flies that dive in as soon as open the doors. I hate to squish them (because it also makes a mess). I "vacuum" them up and send them outside to feed something or other.

  6. Haven't been stung by a bee since I was a kid, but disturbing a wasp nest on a consult = small drills going to my bone! Glad you're OK and don't want bees banished like some people do. This post should help me to be more careful, bees or working around cactus glochids! And our wasps lately...odd.

  7. Great post!

    Bees are wonderful and their honey is worth the sting...

    Thanks for that Utah Education Network's bee page!