Bee-havior

[Charles E. Page, September, 2003]

A few days ago [September 2003] Alberta and I were walking around on the lawn looking at a small flower garden in the corner. A short distance behind me Alberta said," What do you suppose made this hole in the ground?" I thought it might be a mole or chipmunk as she poked her cane down into it to a length of 8 or 10 inches. All of a sudden a "zillion" bees came boiling out. We made tracks out of there as fast as we could, with me slapping at bees with my hat. Alberta was stung 6 times and I twice. They were small bees but real sassy and followed us a long way around the back of the house. Their venom must have been strong, as shown by our swellings and itching for days afterward. This little interlude reminded me of some of the "bee" troubles I had years ago on the farm.

One of the unpleasant problems associated with haying with horses was running into a bee's nest. If you ran the mowing machine through the nest, the bees, being slightly unhappy, would come swarming out to the attack. If the horses were moving fast enough you might get past before the bees found out who caused their trouble. But when you came around the next time they were ready for you. It was bad enough if I got stung, but the worst was for the horses. They were held in the harness and hitched to a heavy, slow-moving machine. In such circumstances in their pain and fear horses had been known to break up the harness and "run away". That often meant injury to them, to the machine, and maybe to people as well.

I had a few unpleasant problems but nothing disastrous. As soon as I realized we had hit a nest, I would take a detour the next time out around it, and come back later after things quieted down. I could finish the little spot by making one pass at a time at peaceful intervals and getting away fast each time.

One day we had unknowingly raked up a large bee nest in a windrow of hay. As we came around the next time, I saw the angry bees swarming around and stopped the horses in time. What to do? The hay was ready to put in and no time to waste. Finally I decided to sacrifice a section of the windrow to get rid of the bees. Getting as close as I dared, using a pitchfork I made a break in the windrow a few feet on each side of the nest location. Then I threw a lighted match into that section of row containing the nest. The hay and nest went up in flames. Some of the bees burned up with the nest, but I was surprised see the bees, that were away at the time, fly back straight into the flames and were also destroyed. I suppose they were attacking the unknown enemy.

I regretted having to kill the bees, but I couldn't leave a nest like that in a working field any more than I could have had one in our house.