Bees and me

Looking back at life on the farm, I am struck by how little I remember. What I do remember is the house, known to most people as ‘The Big House’. I had my own special room in the Big House, a bee-proof room. It seems my allergy to beestings started very early in the piece. African honeybees, (Apis mellifera scutellata) are extreme bees; they attack, and once one bee has stung the rest of the swarm come in like kamikazes. There is a particular scent that swarming and stinging bees have. I don’t know if everyone can smell it but I certainly can. According to my research, it is an alarm pheromone that smells “a bit like banana”. I think that is stretching it!


I can remember the terrifying sound when the bees swarmed. If you saw a swarm coming in, it was like a thick cloud, like a taste of Armageddon. Should two or more swarms choose the same place to hive, a fierce battle would ensue. Anything or anybody who was in the area was in danger. I can remember one year all my mum’s hens were stung to death. Another year, my niece’s budgies, all gone. The farm dogs too.

African honey bee. Photograph by W.H Kern, University of Florida

In the Big House only one room was more-or-less bee-proof. This was the blackboard room, which opened on to the interior courtyard on one side and into a passage on the other, so two doors. There was one gauzed window. As soon as we heard the sound of swarming bees I would be hustled into the blackboard room and all the doors and windows closed. If my younger sister was at home, she came in too. While we were confined, would draw on the blackboard with coloured chalks or play dress-ups in mum’s silk wedding gown and dad’s black graduation gown. If a stray bee managed to find it’s way into the room it was squashed, and that’s where you could smell the bee smell. This was probably not a good idea as the smell enraged other bees, which might try and get in. It is important to know how to remove a beesting without pressing the poison sac. Scraping it off with a sharp knife is the best solution and then apply bicarb of soda. Trust me, I know.

After the all clear and most of the random bees had been cleared we would be released. The bees would swarm in the chimneys and in the ceiling space. As time went on, the bees that swarmed in the ceiling space above the sun-room made plenty of honey. The honey would drip through the ceiling and make a honey puddle on the concrete floor.

I’m sad that I’m allergic to beestings because bees are one of my favourite insects. Having to carry an Epipen® is a pain in the bum. Sometimes I think it is a waste of time. I don’t have a clue how to use it and it sits in a drawer in its original wrapping. I know what anaphylaxis feels like because beestings are not my only allergy. I’ve come round from anaphylaxis with needles stuck into me after taking antimalarial tablets and any medication with sulphates.

This blog started life as part of a writing marathon at New Norcia. It was the 20minute entry. My thanks to Liana Christensen and the members in the group for their encouragement and motivation.

Bees and me