I heard the roaring sound again and looked out. Pansy?!! What’s it been, five days? Since a giant contingent of the bees just departed from Pansy, I had a hard time even believing what I was seeing, although, a swarm is pretty unmistakable. Not possible. There aren’t enough bees left to split again. There were.
I was completely expecting Violet to swarm. Violet hive is huge and strong. Both V and P were full of queen cells when I checked them, so I’m sort of hoping for a Violet swarm, but who knows, maybe they needed to requeen.
I was planning to do other things, but I had a swarm to rehome, so I did that instead. I got my outfit on, and set up a box to put them in.
They were so good to me. They balled up at knee level on a branch I could snip, right next to the hive yard. What a relief, and change of pace. Look how easy they’ll be to move! A very small bee ball, but there is also a pile of bees on the ground, almost as many, and still many in the air at this point.After my first snip dislodged a clump of bees from the hanging ball, I got a box. Not too helpful. I placed a stick as a ladder, hoping the ground bees would go up and rejoin. They didn’t.I snipped the main ball off, walked it over to the box,and in they go.I went back to collect the pool of bees on the ground.
I picked up the loose twigs one at a time and knocked them into my box, which really just made them airborne again. Unfortunately, they were piled up centralized on a big dirty root ball. I thought, can I just pull that whole root ball out? Yahoo, I could. However, have you ever tried to yank a root out of the ground smoothly? Doesn’t happen.
I put the root by the hive box and took a break to wait for them all to walk inside, with a helpful twig ladder. I come back out.
The root ball is completely clean of bees, cool. But what’s this?Bees have regrouped on the next branch over!
Repeat: snip, carry, deposit bees in the box. (this is bee shipment #3)There is still a big pool of bees on the ground.This time they are wrapping around a larger piece of wood.
Around this time I notice that there seem to be more bees outside the hive than inside. They are walking out and walking all over the outside of the hive. The sticks inside the box are clean of bees, so I can clean up in there.Now the bees are pooling on the ground where the root ball was, and I can’t imagine why this spot is so interesting. I get the big branch with the bees on it on the box, and then start scooping bees by hand. Let no bee be left behind. Then I bring bee shipment #4 to the hive. Turns out there are many more bees involved here than it originally looked like. Calloo, callay! They’ve gone back inside! The tide has reversed and they’ve chosen to stay, at least for the night. Bees are so neat when they’re swarmed. Tickly, all vibrating and buzzing, but for a change, they aren’t on the job. Bees normally are at work, and tolerate your disruption in the hive because they’re just too focused, mostly, until you really get in their way. Bees in swarm are like they’re on vacation. Not on any mission at all, relaxed. Look at the handful of bees, walking off my hand and in the door. At this point it started to rain, like clockwork (2pm before an evening downpour is apparently optimum time to swarm), so I put a big lid on, sheltering the ball of bees in the box at the threshold, and left them to walk in, now that the decision to stay had apparently been made.
Yay! A new hive! I’ve barely got enough hive parts now to catch one more swarm, should Violet split as I’ve been expecting.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
Don’t fall out of the tree
Don’t drop the box of bees
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.
I recommend sheep/chicken mesh electric fence for pigs.
The night was stormy, a mini-blizzard. In the dead dark and strong wind, we went outside and wrestled the fence into place and plugged it in, then extracted the so-very-successful two-strand, in a big snarl, naturally. The pigs were willfully asleep. There was shouting, yet they refused to wake up. It was cold outside, they weren’t budging from the hay nest for nothing.
We caught them! The mesh fence works. In the morning, the pigs bolted away from the sight of us, ran into the fence at top speed ….and then sproing! bounced back. They tried it again and again, but eventually concluded that A: they don’t fit through it, past the nose, and B: the fence bites back.
I wouldn’t put it past them to figure out that only the horizontal strands are hot and selectively chew their way to jailbreak, but until then, our piglets are under control.
They are SO different than the last pigs. Besides being bigger when we got them, these pigs are feisty, and wild, with opinions. The pink pigs were totally into cuddling, crazy for touch, until they got too big for that to be safe for me (perhaps because of being weaned earlier?). We won’t be petting these guys anytime soon.
Most pertinently, the two-strand fence that failed so spectacularly this time worked with the last pigs. They screamed blue murder when they got shocked. These pigs don’t peep at it. We did have problems, but, the user-problem variety. We got lax about keeping it hot- it’s easy to find excuses to not carry batteries around – serenely thinking they’ve learned what the fence does, we don’t need to keep it hot all the time.
Pfft! The troublemaker noticed once, maybe by accident, that the fence wasn’t always hot. After that seed was planted, sometimes it’s off!, he felt it was a reasonable risk to test the fence, and did, every single day. The moment it wasn’t hot, grounded out by their rooting or a dead battery, he was out. Then, he would target the energizer, chewing and ripping the leads off and sometimes hiding them in the pig house. This practice definitely delayed the restoration of power.
A very educational mistake on our part. Won’t happen again (I’ve got a solar maintainer on the battery now – way cheaper than the admittedly awesome solar energizers).
This is the usual view of them.
Then they look back, balefully.
They wait until we leave, to eat. I’m conditioning them to the sound of approaching food, but so far we mean flee!.
They’re super cute, with their upright ears, long straight tails and white socks. Hopefully, they will come around and become friendly. Eventually.
In fact, recovering the escapee(s) only took three days, better than I hoped for after my initial googling.
In the morning, we did two things. I went out and tracked the missing piglet, and HW moved the “good piglet” from the greenhouse to her own bed.
Right at dawn, he went to the greenhouse, looking for the piglet. We knew she’d be cozy, that she’d take liberties with the chicken hay fort and make herself comfortable. She’d taken apart some bales and made a huge haystack, and then buried herself in it. He had to dig for her. Then he grabbed her by two legs, a front and a back (picture that) , and carried her outside, from the greenhouse to piglandia. I saw him coming down the trail hanging a starfished pig, head limp. She made a couple of slightly irritated grunts, like “Don’t bogart the covers”, but that was it. Her eyes didn’t open.
She slept right through it! HW slung her into her bed in the pig palace, mounded the hay up over top of her, and she didn’t twitch. She stayed there, soundly asleep, until past noon. I had to reach into the hay before I left for work to be sure she was really in there. Dead to the world at noon.
I set out in the morning to track the missing pig, which was very informative. She had practically followed us back, and stayed out of sight in the treeline, but used our trails and come right up to where she (a foot tall pig), could see the greenhouse. She’d popped in and out of the trees looking at the greenhouse from different directions, walked up and down our driveway, out and back on the road a fair ways, had a look at the quad trail, meandered through the orchard, and then gone back out where she’d originally jogged, into the woods. In other words, she knew exactly where we lived, and where her sister pig was, by the time we went to bed.
Pigs don’t mind using trails and roads one bit, and walk in straight lines on them, but off-trail, they move in long S-curves. Also, they retrace their own steps, walking almost in their own footsteps. Hoofsteps? The little bit of snow on the ground was nice, kept all the information.
I put out sprinklings of feed just a bit closer in than her nearest look-sees, knowing she would probably follow her own tracks back in in the morning, which, judging by Sleeping Beauty, might be quite late in the day.
HW got home before me. At work, I got a text: Zero pigs.
Okay, now they’re officially both at large. Awesome.
Later I found out the details, that he had walked up and found Adventure Pig standing outside the electric fence, Good Pig standing inside the electric fence, and on his approach, both of them took off, Good Pig whizzing through the two-strand like it wasn’t there.
When I got home, both pigs were eating from one of my bait piles right next to the greenhouse (we considered using the greenhouse to trap them), and spent the evening scuttling around in the treeline, watching me watch them. At least they’re together, and happy.
We raised up the strands of the fence and turned it off, hoping that Sleeping Beauty would give the pigpen rave reviews on Travelocity and both pigs would choose to retire in there together come nightfall. Then we would sneak up in the night to restore the fence, trapping them behind the electric tape (again), bahaha!
Because that’s been working so well thus far.
Actually, my week-long plan to get the pig back is ahead of schedule. Except for the zero pigs development.
First there were skirmishes. I tried a string to the bird feeder to yank on and eject the thieving squirrel. The squirrel chewed its way into the bird seed bucket.
I would jam a steel bucket upside down on top of this compromised bucket in order to keep them out. I mean jam it on, squeeze it down, not just rest it on.
Somehow, I don’t know how, but the squirrel would lift or pry that steel bucket off of the prize. I like to imagine a little squirrel overhead press, lifting the bucket off with Olympian effort.
I’d be in the house and hear -CLANG!- and know that the squirrel conquered the bucket again. Then I’d give him some minutes to enjoy it after all that work before I went out and put the bucket back on top.
Then one day:
HW came inside with the bucket, and a squirrel still inside- worried and holding still.
These pictures are shot through the hole in the lid.
Then for a little while I didn’t notice the squirrel so much. I’d slowed down on feeding the birds, since it was warm. I figured he’d moved on along with the birds to the usual burgeoning springtime wildcrafted buffet.
I hadn’t refilled the seed bucket in the wood”shed”. Little did I know, HW had.
So one day, I find this:
So that’s where the squirrel’s been. Feasting and cavorting like a kid in a ball pit.
Oh yeah, squirrel?
I put a bucket full of dirt on top of the seed bucket. That’ll fix ’em.
A few hours later….
That’s what I get for using a plastic bucket.
I gave the remaining seed to the birds and gave up for this year.
The snow is deep, but the voles should not feel relaxed.
The Mighty Vole Hunter rests not in the winter.
I don’t know if he hears them mousing around or smells them, but without warning, he will suddenly leap in the air off the path and come down, plunging his head into the snow and sometimes snuffle-plowing around for a while.
Depending on the surface of the snow, he may smack the crust with a paw to crack it, and then thrust his head in and burrow around.
If he’s lucky, he comes up masticating ostentatiously with disgusting crunching sounds, tails or feet hanging out the side of his mouth. EWW!
If the vole’s lucky, he comes up only with a face full of snow.
He is really very good at hunting voles. As good as a cat. He gets one almost every day, sometimes two. In the “grassy” wasteland adjoining the Walmart parking lot, of all places, he caught the vole of voles, a trophy the size of a squirrel! Proving some things are flourishing around Walmart.
Sometimes the vole escapes. Yesterday he flipped the tiniest of voles out of the snow next to the path. Somehow, it escaped between his back legs, flopping around while he was looking under his front paws- Where’d it go?
Barely two inches long, it righted itself and darted to take refuge- under my boot, where I stood behind him. I saw the tail slip in under my foot and was standing there thinking Seriously? Is it hiding? Under my foot? Yep. I lifted my boot and it dashed away a second time, while Snowy snuffled around mystified. It was right here. I had it!
What we want to know is: Does he keep his eyes open under the snow?