Oct. 27, 2022

Midnight in the Bee Yard - A Halloween Special (097)

Midnight in the Bee Yard - A Halloween Special (097)

Without a doubt, some of the most peaceful places on Earth are bee yards. Tranquil, serene and quiet with only the soft hum of the bees fanning the air through their hives floating on top the silence… Peaceful, except when it is not.  Have you...

Without a doubt, some of the most peaceful places on Earth are bee yards. Tranquil, serene and quiet with only the soft hum of the bees fanning the air through their hives floating on top the silence…

Peaceful, except when it is not. 

Have you ever worked in a distant bee yard, late at night, away from home, cell service, friends, and family? What did you hear? See anything… strange? Did anything go “bump” in the night? How’d it all go for you?

On today’s episode Jim and guest co-host, Jeff Ott, sit in the Honey Bee Obscura bee yard and talk about scary moments working bees. Jim has had several… moments, to share. What would you do? What did you do?

They’re not certain if telling scary stories, long after dark in a bee yard is the best idea they’ve ever had, but since it IS the season, they invite you to join them… If you dare.

We hope you enjoyed today's episode. Please follow or subscribe today and leave a comment. We'd love to hear from you!


Thanks to Betterbee for sponsoring today's episode. Betterbee’s mission is to support every beekeeper with excellent customer BetterBeeservice, continued education and quality equipment. From their colorful and informative catalog to their support of beekeeper educational activities, including this podcast series, Betterbee truly is Beekeepers Serving Beekeepers. See for yourself at www.betterbee.com


Honey Bee Obscura is brought to you by Growing Planet Media, LLC, the home of Beekeeping Today Podcast.

Music: Heart & Soul by Gyom, All We Know by Midway Music, original guitar music by Jeffrey Ott

Copyright © 2022 by Growing Planet Media, LLC


Honey Bee Obscura

Episode 97 – Midnight in the Bee Yard: A Halloween Special


Jim Tew: Jeff?

Jeff Ott: Yes, Jim.

Jim: Jeff?

Jeff: Yes?

Jim: Are you there?

Jeff: Yes, but where are we?

Jim: This was your idea. You're the one who said let's do a show on Halloween night from our bee yard at midnight. Now you're wanting to back out.

Jeff: This is the first time you've listened to an idea of mine. Why did you choose this one?

Jim: I won't listen to another one.

Jeff: This is scary Jim.

Jim: I know it. I told you in the setup that one of the spookiest places in beekeeping for me has been in my bee yard after midnight. The bees are asleep but everything else is awake here. Listen.

Jeff: What?

Jim: I don't know, there's raccoons out here and there's coyote but the coyotes wouldn't come close would they?

Jeff: I don't know. I hope it was just a coyote. There is wolves here aren't they?

Jim: Not in Ohio. Are there wolves where you are? This is not all right. This really isn't very funny. Plus my screen is dark out here. It's giving off light in the bee yard.


Jim: Hey I'm Jim Tew.

Jeff: I'm Jeff Ott from Beekeeping Today Podcast.

Jim: We are trying something that we will probably never try again. A presentation for you in our bee yard after midnight on Halloween night. What an event.

Introduction: You are listening to Honeybee Obscura brought to you by Growing Planet Media, the folks behind Beekeeping Today Podcast. Each week on Honeybee Obscura host Kim Latham and Jim Tew explore the complexities, the beauty, the fun and the challenges of managing honeybees in today's world. Get ready for an engaging discussion to delight and inform all beekeepers. If you're a long timer or just starting out, sit back and enjoy the next several minutes as Kim and Jim explore all things honeybees.

Jim: Jeff, tell me while we're sitting here several thousand miles apart but under similar situations, anything ever happen to you that you would call spooky or surreal in your beeyard or in your bee life?

Jeff: No, I have to say not. I've been scared of what I've found inside a colony once I've popped the lid or sometimes what I haven't found when I popped the lid, but no. What about yourself?

Jim: I've had some instances that had never had any use. Did you hear that bird? I guess it's a bird. Can you hear that on your end?

Jeff: It was was kind of screechy.

Jim: Never mind. I've forgotten where I was. I do have several things, a couple of things. I've never had a use for them in any presentation and so since this is a unique situation here goes one of them. When I was working for Ohio State, we used an abandoned clean, we cleaned, steam cleaned, swine facility. It was a long, low building and above it was an attic, a loft where they would put bidding and then they would open trap doors and drop bedding down into the stalls below. It took us weeks to clean it, to steam clean it, but we got it cleaned. It always had a old pig barn ambience about it though in the odor area.

Up top, no electricity up there. You had to have a flashlight when you got up there. It's where we stored a lot of our equipment and you know what beekeeping equipment looks like. Even in the bright light of day you know what it looks like. Imagine that same old, unloved, never going to be used again but too good to throw away equipment in the dark in that attic. I got all the way to the end of the building with flashlight and you know how the light is. It's always on those spooky shows where the light just lights up a small part of your life.

Jeff: All the shadows come to life.

Jim: That's important because on the far end of the building, I was very near it now, was an odd shadow being thrown against the end wall and I couldn't make out what it was. It looked like a huge cushion. I kept moving closer and I just can't make it out, Jeff. I don't know what this is. The floor is squeaking underneath and the air smells like it used to be a pig barn and there's heavy dust everywhere. Suddenly as I got right up four feet from this cushion thing, I realized it was a fully grown raccoon looking at me straight on and it had puffed itself up. You know how animals can do that, to make itself as big as possible. The animal had nowhere to go. He was backed into a corner and I was shining a light in its face about five feet from it.

I don't want to tell you what I said and I don't want to tell you how long it took me to turn around and to give the raccoon the whole loft of that barn and get out of there. Why was I even up there? Because you always need a bottom board or something. The raccoon won that one that night. When I got back down to the lower level I made the conscientious decision to do two things, get a better flashlight or never go up there ever again.

Jeff: It's like that commercial where one character says to the other, you ever notice in horror films how the characters always make poor decisions? Why did you go up there in the first place in the dark with a single flashlight?

Jim: You had to be there but I was just going to be going six minutes. I was just going to give whatever it was. This happened 35, 40 years ago. I was going to be right back down.

Jeff: You were using a real nice flashlight?

Jim: No. I had the classic flashlight. You're talking about why was I out there anyway. Why do people always have flashlights that are defective?

Jeff: that's right.

Jim: Why do flashlights always need bumping? That just kills me. Don't bump the light. That's just going to break the filament in those old flashlights. Stop banging the light around to make it work.

Jeff: [laughs]

Jim: That swine facility was on the abandoned campus of what was at one time a large hospital. Actually I want to be very careful here Jeff and I don't offend anybody. It was a mental hospital. Ohio had long sense changed its protocol and its treatment mechanisms. That facility was just abandoned and it had a farm that went with it and all these outbuildings.

Jeff: One of those long time ago facility from the turn of the 1900s?

Jim: Yes. It was given over to Ohio State to use for storage and to plow, till the land. Teaching and growing crops and whatever, but they're those old buildings were sitting everywhere. Yes, they looked just like you think they would. It was going to cost millions of dollars to tear them down so just let them sit there. This is the second story. On the several thousand acre farm that went with that of course we had bees. I need to put a spoiler alert out that this story really has no ending You had to feel what I felt working alone. Why would I be working alone Jeff? Let me give you a bee lecture. You can't find anybody to help you. You got no friends.

Nobody wants to go out at midnight and work these bees. I had no one out there. I was there alone and I was doing something in preparation for moving bees to apple pollination, closing them down and strapping them up and being ready to go early the next morning. I was working and whistling and I theoretically had that same useless flashlight. If it wasn't that one it was one just like it. You got to point the light directly at the hive, directly at what you're doing. The bees want no part of this so every chance they get they're up against the light. You know the drill when you're working bees and being out there at night. I was just getting things done.

You know as an aside, you need a smoker that has fluorescent paint on it because if you lay it down then you've got to shine that little flash of light directly on the smoker to find it again. Heaven forbid that you lay down your hive tool. The hive tool is just gone. You probably won't even find it the next day. That's my situation. I was out there very late at night getting these colonies ready to go, trying to keep up with hive tools and smokers and then-- Let's take a break while I get ready.


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Jim: Then a feeling came over me. I am not making this up. I'm not a brave guy, but I'm not a skittish guy either. I just had this bizarre sense that I wasn't alone at the edge of that forest bordering on that apple orchard. [chuckles] You keep working, like you whistling when you're walking past a cemetery. I kept working and that nagging feeling kept growing and I had 15, 20 more colonies to get ready. I took that light and you shine it along the tree line. That just makes everything worse, Jeff. Don't ever do that. If you're spooked a little bit already, don't be shining that light off axis. It is not going to help. It put the weak beam out there and just made everything look sinister.

How can an apple tree a few yards away look like some demo--? It does. You stand there at midnight with a feeling that something's watching you and you shine a light on that apple tree and it takes on a whole different persona. I tried to keep working and I'm want to really feel like a weak guy here, but at some point I just broke. I thought, "I'm not doing this anymore. I'm not doing this anymore." I left the scene, I left the smoker. I had kept my hive to, and this is what was funny. The dew had fallen and when I got in my truck, it's just a two wheel drive, it began to slip on the grass and it wouldn't get out of there. Then I'm in my truck. I'm trying to run away from something unknown in the dark and my rear tires are slipping on the dew covered grass.

You rock it back and forth. We all know how to do it. I got the truck to move and I left everything. I left the colony open. I don't want to admit this, but I think the smoker was going. It probably gone out. I don't want to say I left the lighted smoker there. Dew had fallen anyway, there wasn't a fire hazard. I'm gone. I spooked myself and the next day I went out fully expecting to find blood and guts and dead whatever. It was nothing. There was never anything. I just got it in my mind that I'm on the campus of that abandoned facility. All the old stories about those facilities must have haunted me. I was overcome with silliness and I left it.

Jeff: Let me ask you though, how do you know the rear tires of your truck was just slipping on the dew? How do you know that the back of your truck wasn't being held by whatever?

Jim: Now that's a path I had never taken. I saw myself being silly, but I saw myself in control. You're saying that I wasn't even in control at all. People who have not turned this off already, you had to be there. You've just got to be at a bee yard at midnight by yourself on the distant campus of an abandoned facility. You've got to be there with the little damn flashlight trying to convince yourself that everything is alright. You had to be there.

Jeff: I would've been looking for footprints behind the truck that weren't mine.

Jim: You know what the one feature of all of my memories are about these, all my stars, you don't want to be there? It was in a bee yard after dark. I've just realized that when I was telling you these, that that was the situation. That it was in a bee yard after dark. Even now when I walk out to my yard right here behind my house, you go back there at night and the bees are all clustered out front and they're humming and the light hits them and the light hits them. Just a pile of junk equipment takes on a totally different look than it does like a pile of junk equipment during the day.

When I was in the South, South Alabama, North Florida, we used to move bees to watermelons for watermelon pollination. I want to tell you straight up that when we did that job, we wore gloves and protective clothing primarily for the potential rattlesnake bite that never happened. I did see rattlesnakes in my yard one time, but I never had a snake come for me or one bee under the colony when I picked it up. I had to always assume that it could happen. Rattlesnakes were the reason I wore gloves. The second reason I wore gloves was because of the extraordinary population of black widow spiders that was there.

Every beehive underneath the cement blocks they were on, had a black widow spider or two, which is a fitting animal for my Halloween story motif here. The third reason you wore gloves was to protect yourself from bee stings. I always thought that was comical that I wasn't wearing gloves to protect myself from bee stings. I was worried about snake and spider bites. That was the attitude, that was the atmosphere, that was the air in those southern yards all that long ago. This is not my story, but it's my brother's story and I will shamelessly tell it. If anybody knows my middle brother, I guess I won't give his name, then you accost him and tell him that his truth is known.

He had a friend helping him move these bees to watermelons. That part is exactly correct. It was a big flat bed truck and it was too high. If beekeepers have ever done it, you know the drill. You pick up two deeps and a super, it's a big colony because watermelon producers want big fine bee colonies. They don't want these small colonies sitting around. You'd pick up those two deeps and probably a super is strapped up and you head for that truck and you heave it up and you would always be low about three to four inches. Then to pick up the extra three to four inches you had to reach inside your soul and take about 30 to 40 seconds off the top end of your life and use strength you really didn't have to get that hive up on the truck. It was that high. It was that much work.

At the time, my brother was a youngish man. He had a youngish friend helping him. It was dark. They had the concerns that I've already described to you. It's dark out here. It's a hot night. We know animals are out here. We know it. We know it. As they were under a dead strained lift right there, when they are at their absolute peak maxed out, my brother's phone attached to his belt set to vibrate, went off. Under a dead sweat lift with that phone vibrating on his belt. my brother thought they had just picked up a rattlesnake and in the dark it had dropped off and was stuck on his belt.

Jeff: [chuckles]

Jim: Could this get any worse? It gets worse because the snake kept striking him because about every 10 seconds it would strike again s the phone was going through its cycle of vibrating. Jeff, what's the worst thing? What is the worst thing you can say right at that moment in the dark with what you think is a rattlesnake stuck on your belt? What is the worst thing you can say?

Jeff: Nothing I can can repeat right now.

JIM: He said, "Snake."


Jim: Do you know the reaction that has on your work partner? That guy was gone. That colony crashed to the ground, broke all the pieces, flashlights everywhere. My brother thinking he had a snake stuck on his belt. It was a chaotic scene. Later in life he became a minister. I know what I would say if I thought I had a snake stuck on my belt. What did you say? He told me he couldn't repeat it. That was in the early years of his career. He was still on you at being a minister. He was okay. Jeff, the whole thing, all of these memories, they're all goofy. None of them are truly serious, but it is a different world. Your bee yard is a completely different world at two 30 in the morning from anything you've ever seen.

You're probably not out there very often unless you're doing pollination work and getting bees ready to go, or bringing bees back from pollination or moving a yard or whatever. It is a side of the bee yard that you never see. Here on Halloween, it just seemed a decent time to use these stories that never have a chance to be used otherwise and never serve any purpose. [laughs] We could call this episode Life in the Dark Yard.

Jeff: [laughs] On Halloween.

Jim: On Halloween.

Jeff: Jim, I really appreciate you inviting me to the show this week. Sitting out here in the dark, in the honeybee obscure bee yard. It's a scary place.

Jim: It's only scary if you let yourself be scared, so you have to be in the mood for it. It a weird place.

Jeff: [laughs]

Jim: We're not going to do this again. Probably not even next Halloween, but I didn't mind doing it this time. I had a good time, but I am going in and go to bed now. I'm done with this and I'll lie there thinking about my poor bees back there, in that spooky yard.

Jeff: I'm going to go back and just double check myself next time you call me and ask me if I want to meet you in the bee yard at night.

Jim: You started it

Jeff: [laughs]

Jim: Listeners, I want you to know he started it. I just agreed to do it and I set it up. Anyway, good time, Jeff. Let me bump my flashlight and get it back on and I'll find my way to the house now.

Jeff: Happy Halloween, Jim.

Jim: Good night.

Jeff: Good night.


[00:21:39] [END OF AUDIO]