Swarm catching, part 2

At “dusk” (ok, dark), I got the hive box ready.  One super full of drawn comb and fresh foundation, another empty super, and an eke.  The whole empty upper box thing is to imitate a spacious swarm box.  So they can all crowd up in the ceiling.Then I went to get the nuc box from the woods.  Whoa!  Quite a few bees on the outside of the box.  More than before.They’re  so neat.  They’re like lined up in stacked rows.  And quiet, just a low hum.  It was bedtime.

Ok, so my big idea was just to put the box inside the hive, and let them flow out of the box in their own time.  I was in no mood for dumping.Only problem, the nuc box is taller than my vacant woodenware is tall.  One more super would be perfect, but literally the day before, I’d bumped up Violet  another super, (I name my hives- this one will be Pansy, if all goes well) and had only two left.  Would be plenty, except for unexpected eventualities.

Therefore, I improvised.One tub, and a hammock repurposed as a gasket, to close up the little gaps (about a quarter inch), because Rubbermaids aren’t Langstroth compatible.  Quite close to the right size though.

Then I got to spend a half hour picking bees off myself.    They were walking around; I think they’d walked off the box up my arms during the transfer, and were just dopey and confused.  On my head, in pockets, on my back.  You don’t want to peel off the suit and crush them in the process (sting, sting) or release bees in the house. I’d pluck them off and poke them back in and walk towards my door, dying to be finished and then buhzzz, buhzzz.  Another one! Another two, four, eight, twelve.  Finally I was clear.

The next day: Uhoh.  There’s a breach in the gasket.  They’re acting swarmy still, which could mean that they’re still sending out scouts to shop for the next place.  Good, though, because it means I have to go in.  I wanted to get in and take the nuc box out, and get rid of this stupid Tupperware arrangement, but was reading how I had to keep them locked in, and was conflicted.

Look what’s inside!   Walls of bees.  They’d vacated the nuc box alright, and I lifted that out, and there were straggling bees all over the it and the hammock.  Many of them flew back while I was adjusting- pushing all the bees back off the edge so I could get a lid on them.After the lid was on, in the interest of no bee left behind, I went over each object (hammock, box, tub) one by one, cleaning off the bees and dropping them in the hole in the cover.  Lots of them were walking.  When almost all of them were in, and the rest airborne (they’ll be fine), I closed up the hole.

Bye bye now

They had a completely different vibe today.  Instead of the intense, excited potential, it was a much more chill, Sunday morning after the rave vibe.  No casualties, no stings, and based just on their mood, I think that means they’ll stay.  It could mean that they’re in a content waiting state, but I’m hoping it’s just cool down after the swarm, and soon they’ll go back to work.

Much better

Lots of wasps out lurking around, and the bees weren’t mounting their usual vigorous defense.  I hardly see wasps now since their colonies seemed to “stop” at the beginning of August, but there were several, different kinds, getting involved today for some reason.

Oh, and Galahad is sitting on the keets!  Sitting on them!   Adorable. 

Galahad is step-fathering the new keets

The bee swarm denouement can wait – this is too cute.

So, also yesterday, I picked up ten beautiful little guinea babies! Keets are crazy cute, with their orange puffin beaks and long necks.  They were almost completely silent on the drive home.  Birds seem to like car rides, if not the transitions and banging doors.

I was looking forward to Galahad‘s reaction to them, but I got home at bedtime.   G hopped right up to his perch, and I installed the keets in a vacant chickery, slowly tipping their traveling boxes to the side (scuffle scuffle) and opening the ends.  They didn’t come out.

In the morning they were quiet.  Galahad hopped outside as usual.

Then the babies came out of their box and started singing their little car alarm sounds, and he went nuts.  He was streaking around the greenhouse, stopping, listening, peering, running back and forth.   I hear them!  Where are they?!  I was doing all the morning feeding,  shifting, and watering, and I left the door ajar for him to get back in if he wanted.  He did.  It seems louder at this end.Warmer. Warmer…Found’em!They’re a month old, and they are a selection of colours!  “Normals” – pearl grey, white, and buff.

I left him there chatting.  They would car alarm, and he’d talk, and they’d quiet.  I checked on him later- did he want to stay in the greenhouse?  Yes, definitely. 

The keets were cute, relaxed.  A content guinea is a quiet guinea, and they were all piled up roosting on top of their box.

Then came lunch time.  I moved their lid askew to feed them, and left it that way, and when I came back later, uhoh.  Ghost town.What do we have here?

I thought it was extra quiet in here. 

The keets had liberated themselves (should’ve known, guineas are mad escape artists) to get to their new Daddy.  G was struttin’ around, tall and as proud as if he hatched them, and they’re all scuttling along behind him, happy as clams, digging under the vines.  They are used to a jungle.  So adorable!

Lock up time, there was one little keet scurrying around the door.  I don’t know how it leaked out, but I opened the door and it shot inside and showed me where the rest were.  They were buried under a pepper plant, and I could just see Galahad’s black and white speckled wing and hear him cooing.   I can’t be sure if he was sitting on them, but he was settling in on the ground with them.

Wow.

I figured he would assume parenting the little birds, but this exceeds my expectations.  I planned to keep them in the chickery a couple days, then let them stay in the GH with Galahad until they learned they lived there, but this is great!

He’s such a treasure, and since his habits are going to be reproduced 10 times now, it’s a good thing he’s got such great qualities.  He’s unconcerned about me; he lets me get quite close, and doesn’t screech when I show up (my husband is sure to get the treatment though).  He comes in every night, which is keeping him alive.  He’s quiet, not too much of a yeller.  He’s down with the chickens.  When he doesn’t have his own kind, he makes friends.  But he’s sure happy to have his own kind!  Finally, someone who can run just as fast.

I figured they couldn’t do too much damage in the GH now the plants are all too big to kill, seeing as guineas are only moderately destructive.  Chickens are very destructive with all that scratching.   But I did mean to harvest all the low tomatoes and eggplants before letting them out of the chickery, because I imagined eleven taste tests.  As it was, they only broke one young tomatillo (it’s not dead), trampled the lemon balm (so what, it’s a mint) and perhaps have damaged some  watermelon  vines (we’ll see).

Now that I don’t have a shadow of a doubt that he’ll bring them back in every night, I can let them go outside soon, if they don’t handle that liberation themselves too, like one already did.

He’s eying the high hanging fruit

 

 

 

My first swarm!

and boy, they did not make it an easy one.

There’s another awesome advantage to having your hives right outside your front windows (I love having the hives so close to the house; it’s often not recommended, but there’s much to be said for the close connection):

When you glance outside, five minutes after seeing nothing unusual, and see that they’re swarming!

It was sensational.  I knew right away, because I’d never seen anything like it, and I could hear them roaring, too, from inside.  I ran out and took a couple pictures.I always imagined a bee swarm was like, a cloud of bees, grouped together, like a thing you could point to.  No.  They’re zooming around in straight lines in all directions, buzzing loud like they’re angry (they must really be excited), and they just fill all the air.  They filled the visible sky.  You’d have to zoom out quite far before the swarm entity would appear like a cloud.

Then the air full of bees started to move.

All I remembered was that I would have to follow them, so I quickly grabbed a roll of flagging tape.  Because of course they headed out over the densest, awfullest brush around here.  I flagged my way in, thrashing after them, though they were easy to follow by ear – so loud!!

Seriously, ten minutes from “no unusual bee behaviour here”, to gone.  Now if I’m going to be retroactively honest with myself, I think maybe one of my hives has split-swarmed before to vistas unknown.  because there were times it seemed like fewer bees than there should be in the box when I opened.  If they can go that fast, entirely possible.

They didn’t go too far.  I got under the epicentre of their sound, looking up at them.  They seemed to be concentrating.  Their thousands of bodies in flight made a distortion like heat shimmer. And then, sure enough, I saw a crowd of bees starting to form on the trunk of the big maple I was under.  That’s where they were choosing to stay.  Ok.

Time to go home and google!  (yes, first I pulled a couple physical books).  I found out some things .  Things like that they don’t initially go too far, they just make a temporary stop and send out scouts from there to find a new home.  A little like committing to move by selling your home and moving all your stuff out before thinking about where you might go next, or calling any real estate agents.  So the cluster of bees in this current temporary location could stay there a few days while deciding where to live henceforward (settling arguments comparing the great view in option A to the third bathroom in option B), or… maybe just an hour.  Act fast.  Don’t smoke them, do mist them with water (this was so clutch!).  They’re full of honey, and docile.

I went back to the tree.  The silence was striking, like the bees had turned off.  They had all landed, and were quiet.  I’d have never found them, visually, if I hadn’t followed them when they were noisy.  They were way up on the maple, wrapped all around the trunk in a two foot band, like you might collar a tree to keep squirrels out of it.  A band of bees instead of metal would be very effective against squirrels.

I got my long ladder, and climbed it, and learned that I needed another ten feet (twelve actually- I measured later, and the bees were 27+ feet up).  Then I made at least six phone calls, to everyone I knew who might have an extension ladder, and a marginal interest in bees.  No one answered.

Ok, time to work with what I got.  I took apart my 3-way ladder and dragged a section of it up the first  ladder, and lashed it to the tree for a second flight.

Not Worksafe approved.
Where the bees were

Just as I started rigging that, I heard a distant clap of thunder.  Are you joking?  Are you f#$%ing joking!!?  (I was answered by another thunderclap, just in case I hadn’t heard correctly).   And Really, bees?  You picked a rain day?  We’ve had a series of thunderstorm squalls the last week, and they move in fast, and dump sudden torrential amounts of rain.  Because my heart wasn’t already pounding.

Then I gathered my stuff.  Bee brush, string, squirt bottle.  A bucket?  I went with a nuc box.  (spoiler- should have used the bucket- it would have been easier to tie to the tree and to carry down on my arm, or lower down).

Last, I made one more call, to leave “the message”: Umm,  if I don’t call again by 4:30, the place to look is at the bottom of a tree, follow the flag line from the beehives.  But this time someone answered the phone, and ground support was mobilized:)

Up in the tree, at the top of my ladders, I was quite comfortable.  Nice view.  I dragged up all my stuff in a couple of trips and stationed it in the branches.  I tied the cardboard nuc box securely to the trunk of the tree below the cluster, and started scooping bees and dropping them into the box.

So, this is the good part, and there are no pictures, because trust me, none of this situation screams “Selfie time!”  I had lots of things on my mind and God I wish I could take pictures of this! only passed through fleetingly.  I really wish – but it was out of the question.

Standing on the top rung I could just reach the bees with my bee brush.  Although they were thickly wrapped all the way around, the heaviest mass of them was on the far side of the trunk from me, so I was reaching around and trying to shake chunks of them loose and quickly scoop them into the box.

Bees hate the bee brush (but I couldn’t reach without it – later when they were lower I could just use my hands).  They hate it with a fiery passionate fury that supersedes their much touted docility when swarming.  I don’t know why they hate the bee brush so much;  maybe it tickles.  Or pokes.  But it incites them to wild rage. It’s actually funny to watch them attack the brush so viciously, seething with hate, uselessly stinging the brush hairs with all their might.  But I was attached to the brush – guilt by association, and I took a few stings. The squirt bottle was amazing.  I’d feverishly mist around my head when I got a cloud of buzzers mad at the brush, and they’d go placid like they forgot all about it, and settle back down.

After I got a few stings, I went down and got out of tree-climbing-appropriate wear, into my bee suit.  Because limited visibility and loose snaggable fabric will be just the ticket!  Back up in the cloud scooping bees, my friend arrived at the foot of the tree. I could hardly hear him for the bees humming at my head, like standing next to a big diesel.  The ground support was really helpful, though, because he could see the other side of the trunk that I couldn’t, and report if I was making headway (“What?”) , and “Up!  Down”, (“What!?”)  to get remaining clumps.

It seemed to go pretty well.  I was getting bees into the box.  Only thing, they seemed to want to come out of the box.  It was like a really slow boil over.  I’d dump bees in, they’d flow back over the top of the box.  I’d scoop them back in with my hands.  The upper trunk was mostly cleared – blessedly, they did not move away upwards.  They were teeming out of the box and wrapping the tree again lower down.

I went down tree for a break, and because I needed snips.  I was shaking, dripping with sweat, suit soaked, feet sore from the ladder rungs, but exhilarated.  Seems I was exerting myself to balance and cling to the tree and work.

Back up, now the air smells like rain, the wind is coming up (still thundering), there’re more bees out of the box than in, and I’m getting reports from the ground that masses of them are clumping on the back/trunk side of the box (that I can’t see).  I figure the queen must be in the vicinity now, no longer up on the original spot (good!), and I decide I have to untie the box from the trunk and move it down, so that I can sweep bees into the box again.

I have to interject for a moment how awesome this all was (while also being risky and sketchy).  All these bees!  Individuals, but together, a fluid mass.  You never get to experience the hive as an undiluted entity.  Unlike when you handle a frame covered with bees, now, the “thing” is the bees. You can hold a handful, a baseball sized chunk, of bees! They’re hot!   And vibrating.  There is a penumbra of potential energy around them, a considerable power, humming, vibrating my arm.  Amazing!

I had to get a grip on the box now, and untie the strings I’d lashed it to the tree with, using knots that I’d tied without the untying in mind.  It was all neater than this in my imagination of how it would go.  But the box is covered, inches deep in bees, as are the strings, and there are multiple random little maple branches dipped into the box that are now one with the bees-  I had to snip those off.  I had to reach into the bees to hold the box, and again to expose my knots, and untie with one hand, while supporting the box.  The bees are heavy!

I lowered the box a couple feet, and then I had to tie it on again, because I had to hold myself on the tree with one hand and use the other to scoop bees.  I never had two hands free.  My second tying, one handed, tree swaying now, was much less secure than the first, and I worried the string would give suddenly, and the box drop.  I swept the bees in.  I was seriously tired now.  Almost two hours in, and the soles of my feet were asleep, I was shaking like hard shivers, it was imminently going to rain, and it had just occurred to me that I had NO IDEA how I was going to bring this box down a ladder that I absolutely needed two hands to climb, as it was straight vertical.  Not a clue.  And I’m watching my string around the box slip further with every movement of the tree.

I was definitely making an effort to keep my priorities straight:

  1.  Don’t fall out of the tree
  2. Don’t drop the box of bees
  3. Don’t hurt any bees.  In that order!  (it’s easy to flinch from a sting or to avoid crushing a bee, and flinches can become slips).

I was hugging the tree and box together, it started to rain, and wanting to cover the box, I realized the lid was out of my reach!  I’d moved down, and it was still lodged in the branches above us.  I could just touch it  using my bee brush.  As I was frantically whacking at that, trying to dislodge it, the rain started to pound down in big thumping thunderstorm drops.  I realized I had a very limited window left, and I had to get down, with the bees, now.   With the combination of desperation, fatigue, and the bee magic vibrating through my upper body as I hugged the box, I kinda blacked out a bit and don’t remember any thoughts or “hows” until it was over, but the lid came loose, I set it on the boiling-over bees, balanced the box on my shoulder and upper arm using my head (cheek and ear to this magical radiating box), and got down.  At some point  the lid was knocked off and went down on its own.

The rain didn’t last long.  The remaining clumps of bees in the tree  came into the air, confirming that the queen must be in the box, as the bees appeared to have changed their minds and direction, and were now headed into the box.  Yes!  When  I came back after the squall, they were almost all in.

Doesn’t look like it’s all that dramatic, does it?  The bucket is for the rain- there’s a big screen window in the top of these boxes.

WOW! So exciting!

On the bright side, swarm catching will probably be easier from here on out.  I’m sure swarm catching events can be much harder than that, but really, I think they are often much easier.  Location, location, location!  So this was one heck of a beekeeper threshold experience.  Next thresholds:  being called to collect a swarm from somewhere else, and having a swarm voluntarily arrive.  Heard this is a nice place with vacancies.

The story’s not over yet.  They still have to get into a hive at dusk, but, that will be part two.  I manage that just about as elegantly.

The bee swarm managed to eclipse not only Cotton and chicks first going out on the grass today (old hat for Daisy) and Foxy’s fourth chick (it’s a mom-sitter), but also the arrival of NEW BABIES- GUINEA KEETS!  Galahad will be so excited;  he hasn’t seen them yet as it was almost dark and they stayed in their box.

It was a huge day!  To think it started out with me thinking “I think I’ll call this a day off.  Just do what I feel like, maybe get in a nap.  ”  Ha ha.  Ha.

 

The look you get when you walk in on someone in the bathroom

I didn’t know she was in the bath.  I thought this pine tree was unoccupied and I walked right up to fill a water bowl.  I was definitely interrupting.  I think I got the bigger start.

She had the pine tree spa all to herself and was enjoying her privacy with wild abandon.She got over it though.

*Foxy has four!  Her last egg hatched a couple hours after I was taking pictures of the three new chickc, making the ugly clucking the first 100%-er of the year – the first broody hen to hatch all her eggs.

Three new chicks

Foxy has managed to hatch 3 of 4 chicks.  She somehow broke all her first eggs, and I gave her a second batch, so she has been setting longer than usual.

She’s used her confinement productively to start regrowing her moulted feathers.One. Two. Three! They’re full size eggs and chicks, looks like two Ameracauna crosses and a Chanticleer.Seems like the danger zone.

Foxy is notably the least good-looking of all the Silkie hens, always grubby and making no effort at all.  Just a slovenly chicken.  It’s funny how different they are.  Most times setting hens will try to shit away from their eggs, so they aren’t sitting in it for days on it.  Makes sense, right?  At least they direct it all in one pile not right under them, and at best they get up and go outside the box to relieve themselves.  Not this one.  Nope.

But she was determinedly broody, so I let her work, even though I had to muck her out in a way I usually don’t.

Next door, Daisy is a determined digger.  She must have legs of steel.  She goes all day, preferring the greenhouse  where she can dig deep holes to the outdoor grass.  She kicks dirt and straw against the fence with a thump, thump.  Then she fills in the last hole digging a new one next to it, all the while clucking enthusiastically, like what could be better that this!  The chicks are always spattered with dirt.  I assume they’ll inherit quite the work ethic.  At least two weeks old now,  these Silkie babies are not substantially larger than the day-olds next door, although they are clearly more developed, with the tail “spray”, wing tip feathers, and longer legs.

I forgot, harvest starts at the beginning of August

Had a very promising canteloupe, despite the vine leaves being all weird, like they’re blighted.  But then I opened it, and it was green, green, green.  Pretty, though.  Pigs and hens enjoyed it.There’s a couple little watermelons coming.

The tomatoes have hit stride, so there’s 1-2 gallons ripening every day.  I’m so not ready to start canning already.  Too soon.  I wondered if I’d get any of these.  Exactly what the song sparrow couple in the next shrub was also thinking, watching me pick.  She’s taking ALL the ripe ones!!  But I think there’s enough for us all, provided a whole flock doesn’t move in. I’ve been getting a bowl a day. Chamomile flowers!  I’m excited to harvest some of my own.  Itðs something I usually buy. And loads of chamomile seeds, so there will be even more flowers next year.

Baby beefin’

Staredown!The little roosters are beefin’ again.Until one of their sisters runs up, then they’re suddenly and unconvincingly casual. Pepper’s found a new perch. She’s not going to miss any water fountain gossip. Cream Puff jumped up in the walnut tree for some alone time.  Way up in the tree.  Fluffing herself up, walking back and forth on the branch.  Higher than chickens normally go.

Chris got nervous.  She came down in her own time, just when he started to look like he’d go up after her.

And what the heck is this??!  It’s huge, nearly two inches.

Grub generator reboot

(mild gross factor warning for very sensitive – grubs)

My “new and improved” grub generator wasn’t working.  The original buckets were better.

YouTube instructionals notwithstanding, the grubs don’t walk up the vacuum hose.  They don’t negotiate the ridges very well.  What they do do, is crawl around that flat ridge near the top of the Rubbermaid, and they have no trouble crawling straight up the sides of the plastic.  They really make time too, it’s sort of amazing.  They’re on a mission.So I bored a couple holes along that flat ridge on either side for them to fall out,And put on a little tray to catch them.My biggest “move” though, was physically moving the thing out of the edge of the woods, to right in the middle of things at the corner of the greenhouse.  The biggest downside is smell.  It’s not as bad as you might imagine (I don’t think), and the smell comes in phases (as do the grubs).  It smells the day before a “shipment” of grubs come, and doesn’t smell while they’re  productive.  It doesn’t smell, it smells…I can live with it. Smell and inherent grossness on one hand… vs. recycling, free chicken food, and high quality protein supplements for my birds – it’s a good trade.

Moving the box of death into the middle of everything is mostly so that the chickens use it.  And boy do they.  They are always around it, keen eyes out for any escaping grub.  Little Pepper is a real addict. Always at the box.  She’s gonna be healthy.

Even in the pouring rain – I was out there slinging water – I saw the teens running over periodically to check for grubs.Grubs teeming out into the tray. Perchick partaking.  I removed the vacuum hose after the drilled holes proved effective.  Not quite there yet, but closer.  It’s an evolution.

And now, something cute:Chicks (teens) cashed out in the heat.

Itty bitty feather slippers

The little Silkie chicks are ridiculously cute.  There’s five of them; these two and Daisy has three, including the late silver arrival (who’s doing very well).  It’s nice to have Silkie chicks under Silkie moms;  I got used to seeing them with the fast-growing, out-sized “regular” babies.  The moms are so doting, and fierce!The five are all still tiny fuzzballs, even ten days old, and you can see their feathered feet.  I can already tell that this little brown one comes from the “extravagantly feathered feet” stock.  Daisy’s been outside, but we had a big rain day (another one!) and they went back under cover.  Just like yesterday, a thunderstorm rolled over suddenly and torrentially.  SO loud in the greenhouse. I got wings!This silver one is so special.

What the heck are these bees doing?

I took a look at the hive and got a bit of a fright that they were swarming (on foot?).  That clump hanging off of the landing ledge…?

But then I looked at the other hive:How similar is that!!?  My theory is that it had something to do with the heat and the time of day.  In another hour, they were all in the hive for dark.

I was looking forward to going in the hives today, but then there was a sudden (glorious) thunderstorm!  Good thing I wasn’t in the hive thing -the catastrophe would be hard to overstate.  The storm appeared fast and dropped a quick deluge and a breath of cool air relief, and passed by fast.

The chickens all got dampened, to various degrees.  The lightning was still about two km away but the thunder cracked so hard, while I was out feeding the chickens, that the hens all simultaneously started running, flapping, and screaming, but they had nowhere to go to!  Very funny.  They just reconvened a minute later under the trees and coops when the rain came down.

Happy about living naturally