Tag Archives: bee

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.

 

Proved: honeybees can sting and NOT die

After rescuing another half-drowned bee I ended up crouched by the hive, captivated by the drama and taking pictures.  When my camera battery died I got up to go, and then the really cool thing happened.

I got stung.

When I got up and walked away, lifting my foot squeezed the bee that had fallen or explored into the top of my shoe, and she stung the top of my bare foot.  I froze, setting my foot down to relieve the pressure on her.

Remembering that my bee guru said “If you give them time, the bee can work itself out after it stings you, and go unharmed”, I thought, well, I’ll just give her a chance here.  I bent down to watch.

The bee stuck to the top of my foot by her stinger was agitated.  She made a couple clockwise revolutions, but then turned the other way, and decisively started running circles around her stinger anti-clockwise.  She paused, hunching like she was trying to pull free, and rubbed her stinger with her back feet.  Then she resumed running counter clockwise (quite fast).

She was obviously unscrewing her stinger from my skin.  Amazing!

My skin was reddening and swelling in front of my eyes, beneath the bee.  I wondered if the swelling would “grab on” to her stinger.   Of course, it felt like I’d been stung on top of the foot.  That hurts.

She would pause and tug and rub with her feet, and then run some more.  She made at least three dozen revolutions around her stinger.  I couldn’t believe I was watching a bee unscrew herself from the top of my foot.

Did I mention the camera batteries were dead?

Near the end I could see her whole stinger, about 2mm, and it looked like the tip of it was barely attached to my skin – the weight of the bee was tugging on the very surface layer of my skin.  She made a couple more turns, came loose! – and promptly fell back down into my shoe.

The whole extrication took somewhere around two minutes.

I waited, and she came walking back out, climbing my foot.  I tried to pick her up, she tried to fly and she fell in the grass.  She was all flustered, behaving weirdly drunk.  Maybe she was simply dizzy.  After a few more attempts to pick her up and dropping her, I got her to the hive and deposited her on the doorstep.  Totally fine.

Then I went home to lie down.  I get stung on my feet at least once a year.  This time I got all the same hot, swelling, feeling like a big bruise symptoms, but I did fancy that this time, I got a smaller dose of venom.

When one gets stung on the hand, flinching or the reflexual flick is enough to throw the bee and rip the stinger sac out of her body.  The sac speared into your skin by the stinger then autonomically pumps more venom in, pulsing like a disembodied heart.  I feel like this time, I only got the one hit when she first stung me.

 

 

Bumblebee nests

I’ve been suspecting that I had bumblebees nesting along our path through the woods.  I’ve heard and seen them flying low and sort of furtively in the area, since last year.

Then I learned more about bumblebees and that it’s sort of special to find a nest (they burrow in the ground), so I was keeping a more attentive eye out.   Yesterday I happened to be walking out in the morning and caught a medium sized bee in the act of  leaving her burrow, rather clumsily and noisily, bzzzZZzzz, like she hadn’t had her coffee yet.  I knew it!

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These are in a bank on the side of our daily walking path

I found four little holes in the area, two of which have perfectly clean entrances you can see into before the tunnel curves (so I’m sure those are in use).  What do they do in the rain?  They remind me of bank-dwelling swallows.  They seem to like the clayey soil and the compacted dirt of our path.

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This one is RIGHT in the middle of the path.
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Now we have it flagged to not step directly on it. I’m pretty sure this one belongs to a Bombus Ternarius that I run into VERY often flying low in the area and generally beehaving sneaky. I’m sure it’s her.

I must report to bumblebee watch.  It’s going to be awfully hard to figure out what kind of bumblebees live there.  It will be a long stakeout, or else I’ll have to set up a trail cam, ararar!

The bees are thriving

Everyone has been asking:  Are your bees ok?

Happily, they are doing very well.  Not bad, since I thought this hive sat on the edge of 50/50 winter survival chances.  They are vital and exploratory, polishing off a jar of syrup every few days, and making appearances at the neighbours’.  The pollen du jour is now bright orange.  Dandelions, perhaps?

Even though I can’t inspect them thoroughly yet, I gave them an empty super, sure that they were gonna bust their seams any moment.  All that pollen has to go somewhere.

H.W. has taken more of an interest in them, watching them every day, and reporting that the bees HATE the “door” (the entrance limiting stick).  We’ve been having warm days, and the inbound flights start bottlenecking at the entrance mid-morning.  Then he pulls out the stick and “the bees BOIL out!”. It takes a few minutes to rebalance, like traffic after an accident is cleared.  Then the bees come shooting in and out like a time lapse video of La Guardia at 16x speed.

The bees have decided to share the chickens’ canteen.  I don’t understand; they have their own perfectly good bowl.  But they line up on the edge, drinking.  Every night I have to go and fish out (usually three) soggy bees and deliver them to their doorstep.  In the day they can pull themselves out of the pool and dry off and warm up in the sun, but at night they are too chilled to fly home.  I hold my finger with three bedraggled bees by their door.  The evening arrivals are zooming in and they land on my hand on their way in.  I can feel the warm sweet air of the humming hive coming from the entrance, and the grateful swimmers perk up in the warm draft, drag themselves off my finger and indoors.

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Bees have pushed the stick open themselves

I tell H.W., who is sympathizing with bee frustration, that the stick still has to go back in at night.  “But they hate it!”  As it turns out, the bees are more than capable of opening the door themselves.  They just don’t shut it.

 

Bee sculpture

When I’ve had the hive open (sorry, sorely remiss on bee updates), often there are comb protuberances where the bees decide to build comb between frames, or connect to the lid, or the frame above it.

When I pull out frames and then need to break off these comb “burrs” so that the frame can slide back in, I give the broken off bits back to the bees to reclaim the honey and the wax.  They were making a habit of sticking all the frames to the inner cover for awhile so there was quite a bit of comb to scrape off.  And tasty…omg!

On top of the supers and above the inner lid, I have a 6″ box to accommodate the feeder jar:

2015-08-28 09.14.13and that’s where I toss the chunks of comb, on top of the inner cover.  (The bees crowd this space in the day, supping and sculpting, but in this early morning picture, they are mostly down in the hive).

Thing is, the bees have not recycled all the wax.  All the honey is extracted, but only about half the wax I’ve thrown back to them has disappeared back into the hive.

The rest of it, they have made into sculpture.

That’s the only way to put it.  They aren’t using this comb for anything, and it’s intricately molded and shaped – changed so that it doesn’t resemble the jagged chunks of comb that were piled in there, and does resemble some fantastic art-deco architecture.  Amazing!!!

There’s a fantastic domed archway and a Gehry-esque zigzag highrise.  So beautiful!

Ground bees

Can you see the little bee head poking out of the hole on the right?

There are these interesting bees around.  They’re developing a habitation around the camper.  I’m not even sure that they’re actual bees, but they seem to be moving in here because of the abundant blackberries flowering all around us.  They live in the ground, and they build their tunnels fast.

Perhaps they are a kind of hoverfly, although they’re yellowish and grey and behave something like Mason bees – those bees that you can make bee blocks for.  At any rate, a pollinator.

All in two days, about a dozen entrances went up (down?), and initially, they were very noticeable because the little pea-sized holes were mounded up with loose moister dirt, like molehills.  Look closely in a hole, and you could see a little bee butt or bee head, and if you waited, you might see another bee come in for a light hovering landing and then slip down the hole, or one come up and push out a grain of dirt.  Get too close, though (about 10”) and the bee in the hole would retreat out of sight like a crab.

At night, they would close in their little mounds!  Each former hole would be a little cone of sandy soil with no hole at all, and in the morning the holes would open up again.  Now, they seem to have established their tunnels, and the mounds are gone, either kicked flat by us walking on them, or the bees spread their loose dirt farther around.

I don’t know what they do in the rain.

They seem to have particularly chosen where we walk all the time and where the wheels of the truck roll when we park, which must cause serious caveins and earthquake damage in their little settlements, but I think they chose the high traffic areas because the weeds and grass are suppressed there.  At any rate, we co-exist.  I try not to step directly on holes, although there are so many and we can’t help it in the dark, and they don’t sting us, thankfully.

Other Bees in my Life

The Fuck You Bee


Unlike its friendly, grateful counterpart from last summer, this bee just came out of nowhere to take his feelings out on me.
I was sitting down to eat outside when this bee zoomed straight at me from a ways away (I saw him coming.  Now I know why they call it a beeline.), and did this crazy agitated buzzing at top speed around my head.

I did what one does with confused bees, hold perfectly still until they figure out I’m not a flower and leave.  So I was sitting there motionless with my eyes half closed while the crazed bee divebombed my hair and face.  Then he dove straight at my eye.  I barely got my eyes closed in time, and remained still and relaxed while he(she?) walked around on my eyelid for a second.  And deliberately stung me.

I was still so peacefully confident he was a normal bee that the brutal heat spreading over my eye took a moment to register as a sting.  Then I started screaming, and ripped him off my eye and threw him(her?) away.

H.W. came running and grabbed me and walked me away from the scene of the crime, set me in another chair and ran to get his first aid kit.  The bee hadn’t had enough, though.  He found me in my new location, started the buzzing and stunt diving on my head again, and since I was injured now I started screaming again and flailing at him, and H.W. came and had to beat the bee off my head with a jacket.  That was one pissed bee.

I’ve never seen a bee behave like that before.  It wasn’t a wasp, and I hadn’t disturbed any bees lately, and like I said, I saw it coming across the yard, from somewhere I hadn’t even been.  Determined bee, though.  I’m really lucky I got my eye closed in time.

It swole up quite picturesquely, and I looked even worse the next day, when the swelling all drifted down and across my face, giving me two black eyes and a jowl on the stung side, like a bad Botox event.  It especially hurt when the swelling crossed the bridge of my nose in the night, making it puffy and tender like a bruise. I don’t usually give the bridge of my nose that much attention.

What amused me most is the way no one at all mentioned it at all when we went doing about 15 errands that next day, even I looked like an early victim of the zombie apocalypse.  Not one single comment.

June 1

The Thank You Bee.

I was watering the garden this morning when I noticed a panicked bumblebee sloshing around in my bucket. I quickly scooped her out and set her on the dry mulch, hoping she’d dry out (to be honest, I thought of the bee as a him, but I’m pretty sure worker bees are actually all female). Every time I checked, she was still stumbling around in the hay, looking drenched and trying to make her wings work.

Twenty minutes later I was half way across the field when a bee lit on my hand. It was the same bee! The feathers of her back were still slicked and glittering with water. She flew from my hand to my other shoulder, and rode there for several minutes while I worked, nibbling a little. I felt blessed, and I knew for sure she’d never sting me.

“Oh hi,” I said, “you’re welcome.”

Even insects know more than we think, I think.

In an unrelated note, this is what happens when you leave mung beans soaking overnight in a jar too small for them. Hilarious. They were all over the floor, still tumbling out every few seconds, when I discovered them in the morning.