Category Archives: Bees

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. 

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.

 

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.

Not what you expect when you open a hive

This hive….*head shake*… I knew right away it was going to be trouble.  In the nuc box they were already busy attaching the frames to the box.  At first opening, they had burr comb and bridges everywhere – I figured they were going to be sculptors.  Overactive wax glands. Plus about a dozen queen cells that time.

I carefully scraped off all that unauthorized comb, but not even two weeks later, they’ve attached a sail to their feeder bottle.  Not sustainable!  Full of honey too.  And they had the whole inner cover stuck on to the frames.  I’m going to have to go in oftener to keep them in line.  I was there to super them up, and didn’t have time to scrape and clean everything, especially after discovering queen cells all over (again).  I just swapped out the comb and honey covered inner cover and carried on.  This hive is very vigorous, which is great, but they seem a bit crazy.  In the “crazed” sense of the word.  They have the numbers, but they don’t feel strong, they feel unbalanced.

I’ve named the hives!  The one on the left is Sunflower, the problem hive, on the right, is Violet.  The names just came, so I know they’re right.  I’m going to paint flowers on them.  I’ve got to put my beekeeper number on them too, asap.

New thing for me: I pulled two brood frames from this hive and started a new box (!).  There’s a closed queen cell on one, so in theory (I haven’t read up on this, just did it spontaneously with not much knowledge), lots of workers will stay with the brood they’re tending, and when that queen hatches, they will (swear fealty) to her and become a new hive.  That, or they’ll all leave and go back to the mother hive a few feet away.  I hope it works!   The new hive is Pansy:)

I didn’t see the queen in Violet, not that she isn’t there- there was a big beauty last time- so I don’t know why they’re requeening (again), but there were two big queen cells on two different frames, and that’s what made me steal one.  The perfect conditions, won’t happen often.  Oh, and there was a waggle dance being performed.

The other hive, Sunflower, kept busy consuming their syrup instead of using it for architecture, and they are smaller in numbers but mighty and well-behaved.  Not a bit of burr comb out of place, and frame after frame of closed brood, so they are about to have a population boom.


The baby chipmunks are doing well, scuttling around.  They’re not all the same size, and the smallest one is soooo cute.

The broken chick is doing very well.   Putting weight on it day before yesterday, limping yesterday, using it today.   Healing so fast!  She and Apples are in the greenhouse for rain day, and they’re scratching up a storm.  Tomorrow I’ll take her little cast/splint off.

Bee waterer

The bees have decided where they want to drink.  The purple chicken waterer.  Now it’s a bee waterer, because the chickens won’t use it anymore.  They know better.  They know what bees do.

This happened last year too.  The bees co-opted a waterer.  I prefer them to use the top of the blue barrels; that’s nice and safe, and closer, but they do what they want.

What I’m excited about is fixing the bee drowning problem.  They manage to drown themselves even in that little waterer.  The answer is corks!bee waterer with corksLots of bee life rafts.

 

Move-in day for the bees

Time for the new bees to go from their nuc boxes (temporary housing), to their forever homes.Sheltered from the rain with a hive lid.

These bees were also midnight bees.  They came from a agreat distance, and with the aid of caffeine and chatting on the phone, I did very well on the drive back, until I was 10km from home and the black dogs struck.  At midnight there was no one else on the road so I crept, 40kph the last few klicks.  My theory was if I fall asleep and go in the ditch, I’ll go in slow.  So tired. 

I got home and fell fast asleep in the driver’s seat the moment I shifted into park, sleeping next to the boxes of bees belted into the passenger seat until dawn.  It was really neat, a different, dreamless but not completely unaware sleep, with the light humming of the bees next to me.  Not often one sleeps next to bees, I suppose.

I was annoyed by the ping of rain in the morning, that forced me to move, to put the bees in place on their prepared stands, and cover them for the day’s downpour.

The following day came move-in day.

The four frames in the nuc box get placed into a super, alternating with brood-ready comb frames, and a frame heavy with honey on each side, for insulation.

These bees had built some significant burr comb on the bottom of the frame, so much it wouldn’t go in the super, and I had to slice that off.  While I was doing that, always a delicate job, I did the unthinkable:  I dropped a frame.

I’ve never done that before.  Immediately I heard Klaus’s voice in my head saying to stay prepared (in the event of a sudden sting), and never drop a frame.

I didn’t drop it from very high, it slid before it fell, but with a frame, however it lands is going to be bee side down.

Right away my feet were stuck where they were.  I picked up the frame and there was a pool of bees rumbling around on the ground, all around my feet.  Not to mention suddenly three times more airborne as a moment ago.

I finished with the other frames, then crouched and started scooping bees into my hand with the bee brush, and dropping them in the super.  I got most of them this way, and the rest were forming a group and on the march.  Here they are starting up the leg of the hive.  So smart!

I picked up the straggling individuals until I could move my feet; the group seemed to have it handled.  Amazingly, I did not get stung.  More amazingly, not one bee was killed!  Not one bee body from the drop.  Inside the empty box, the remaining bees are doing the same thing, grouping up, here on the wrong end of the box.  The fallen bees have finished their journey in.  20 minutes later all the bees had found their way inside. The other hive went much better.  Phew!  Nerve wracking, but no casualties.  Moving day never goes all well as you expect.

Where there’s life, there’s hope

My bees might just make it!  This weird, hot-cold “winter” can’t be good for them.

It was warm enough for me a couple days ago to take the lid off and give them a jar of syrup (amazing.  In February!), but I was sick with worry.   No bees outside, on a warm day.  I was pretty sure I was going to find a dead hive when I lifted the lid.  Ugh.

But instead, I found a black knot of bees around the empty jar!  Yay!  And hardly any dampness, or mold in the eke insulation, which indicates moisture.  In fact, it was more dry than last year. I gave them a full jar, put the the lid back on, and then the guard bees came shooting out while I was taping them back upHey!  You’re jostling us!

Good:)

Will they or won’t they?

So far, so good.  The bees are still alive.

This winter with its crazy yoyo temperatures has to be hard on them, but they are still humming in there.  Hope they can make it. I can’t open and feed them again yet.

I lost the big hive, my original hive, quite suddenly at the end of last summer, and these, the new bees, didn’t have long to get established, and God forbid, they may have been infected with the crisis from the other hive.  But so far, they’re ok.  I’m tense about it.This is two bees at the upstairs door, walking around on the tarpaper the hive is wrapped with.  On warm enough days, a few come out walking around or flying.

Bee Bizarre

The bees are doing the strangest thing.  They are obsessed with the chicken food, groups of them buzzing and crawling over it all day.

The chickens are a little nervous about this, but they eat anyway.

It started as soon as I opened the last bag of chicken food, so the only thing I can guess is that this particular batch has a lot of pollen in it.  If there was some weed in the field or one of the grains in flower at harvest time, pollen might have come to be ground into the feed, and the honeybees are scavenging it right out of the chicken trough.

Every day, the bees are in every chicken dish, all day, working.  I’ve never seen such a thing before.

Bee skyscraper

The old bees (on their third summer) are not dividing.  I added a fifth super in July.  It’s not like five full size supers is unheard of, but it’s tall!  I thought they were going to split this year, and I’ve had inviting accommodations all set up, should they feel like swarming.  They didn’t.

Now they likely aren’t going to, since it’s too late to set up housekeeping and build up honey stores before the winter.  So that’s a huge hive.  I guess that means they’re happy. They may winter in three supers this year.  Next year, they’ll surely split.

It’s tall!  I can’t see into the lounge to check on their syrup, I can’t lift the lid, and I can’t see in if I do, without a ladder.  And working off a ladder is terribly hard.  I had my first taste of it installing the fifth super, and wow, I kind of wish I’d opted for mixing small and full supers.  Moving heavy weight very slowly and smoothly to not crush bees, in a bee suit, is quite a workout – I was dripping, and shaking.