I woke this morning around 3am to the sound of rain. I wondered how rain might impact the intentions of my naughty bees. I call them naughty but fully realize this is a normal occurrence in the life of bees. Did they forget that they were package bees, and that package bees do not typically swarm their first year, so I read. Either they missed the memo or I missed the memo. At 4am I started coffee and began Googling about swarms, swarms and rain, etc. I read that rain could be in my favor regarding the prospect of retrieving them, that damp bees may fall in a larger group leaving behind the driest who may fly. I couldn’t wait to tell my husband this since he was elected to climb the 28 foot ladder and reach up another 5 ft with a gathering container yet to be constructed.
My mentor has a bucket on a long pole that she recently used to retrieve her swarm in her backyard. When I described this gathering container to my husband expressed his grave concern about being 25 ft up on a ladder, holding a long pole with a heavy bucket on the end in one hand and a bee brush in the other hand. What a baby! He had an extension pole for painting and an old elongated aluminum fishing net and I had reusable grocery bags from Hannaford so….he cut the net off the fishing net and I cut apart two bags and using duct tape we created a light-weight bee gathering container. Oh and the only duct tape I had was black with fluorescent skulls and crossbones…bees behave (hey I’m a middle school teacher and kids love duct tape and skulls). My mentor arrived at 7 am. with several bee suits, a couple of mediums with frames for them to draw out, and a honey super with honey keep them happy. Sounds like we’re rewarding them with honey for such bad bee-havior 🙂
With the ladder tied securely to a tree limb, a tarp beneath to collect any falling bees, a hive pieced together with spare equipment my mentor brought, suits and gloves on…my husband ascended the ladder, scooped some bees, came down the ladder enough to hand the gathering container to me to dump into the hive. While I waited to be handed another container of bees, my mentor searched for the queen in the flurry of lots and lots of very active bees. Ok, they were irritated, their plan was thwarted. She spotted the queen as I readied to dump the second bag of wandering bees. Success! 95% of the bees gathered plus the queen. My husband was only stung twice, on the same ankle.
Here are a few pictures of the swarm in the tree (I know it is hard to see in this shot), the retrieval set-up, and their new temporary home.
Yep, my ladies left today. They left just as the first guest arrived to celebrate my son’s birthday. Their timing, the bees not the guests, could not have been more inconvenient! I greeted the first guest who promptly said to me, “Oh, you have a hive back there, my neighbor has bee hives too. Wow, it looks like they are swarming.” Before I turned to look at my hive, I first thought to myself “what does this girl know about bees” then I thought “what is that loud sound coming from the back yard?” I turned to look at my hive and sure enough there were bees swirling and flying in front of the hive, higher up than I had ever seen before. This was no orienting flight! I had to reply to the young lady, “I believe you are right, it would appear that they are swarming!” I walked toward the hive and noticed that the sound that I was hearing was not coming from the hive but rather from somewhere else in the yard. I walked away from the hive and toward the back of our yard and stopped where the noise was the loudest. I looked up into a tall ash tree and could see thousands of bees flying among and throughout its limbs and leaves. The noise was like nothing I had heard before.
I called my mentor immediately who told me that it would take a while for the bees to settle in the tree and suggested that I enjoy the birthday celebration as much as possible. She assured me that we would figure out how to get them once they were settled. The bees slowly began to form on one of the limbs, first covering it in length, then moving closer together forming almost a football shape, 30 feet up. We continued with our birthday celebration but it was only minutes after the last guest left that I was on the phone with my mentor once again. She explained that since it was getting to be late in the day (it was 4pm) the bees should stay put until tomorrow morning. We made a plan for her to come to my house early and help collect the strayed group of bees.
My husband is a contractor and usually has ladders of various lengths at our house, well except today. He wasn’t exactly happy about it, but I kind-a-sort-a made him drive 20 minutes to his friend’s house to borrow an extension ladder. I am sensing that my husband may not be feeling the same level of love for the bees as I! At any rate, he came back with a 28 foot ladder which we leaned against the limb below the swarm. He climbed to the top to tie the ladder in place so it won’t slide sideways tomorrow when we attempt to harness the bees. After he climbed down he told me it was fascinating to see how they had gathered around the limb and told me that he would climb back up and take some pictures if I would get my camera. Perhaps he does have a little love for the ladies after all. I will try to post pictures tomorrow. I can’t figure it out tonight.
Tomorrow morning we shall meet with my mentor at 6:30 am at which time we will decide how best to approach the task at hand. I will admit that I am a little nervous about risking life, anyone’s life, to scale a ladder 30 feet up to knock down tens of thousands of bees who do not want to be “captured”. Of course being a new beekeeper, I do not have extra hive parts that are necessary in order to re-hive a swarm. I am very lucky to have a mentor who is so willing to share her knowledge, time, and now materials.
I will let you know of tomorrow’s outcome!
I meant to post this several days ago and after today’s events I thought I would bring you up to date before I explain today. Last week, my mentor assisted me in a hive inspection from bottom to top. Once again, we did not encounter the queen. I have only seen this elusive lady twice since I installed the package of bees in late May. There have been eggs so I have not worried, too much. At any rate, in the bottom hive box, there were several swarm cells along the bottom. We left only one. No eggs in the bottom box. In the second hive box, there were some eggs, not a lot but some. So, she has been around in the last 3 days. There were 5 swarm cells along the bottom of the frames in this hive box. The ladies seem determined to leave! In the honey super, there were eggs on two frames. Not particularly ideal to have eggs in the honey super, I know but they will be using the honey this year. The bees were lovely. It is quite a sight to see so many bees crawling over one another, doing their jobs, doing their dance or fanning. I just love them.
The next day, my mentor called to say that one of her hives swarmed and she was unable to retrieve them but that she had a second swarm going on. When she called, I was on my way to pick up a birthday cake, for my son, at a bakery. I only had two hours to get to the bakery but I REALLY wanted to help her in any way that I could. So….I called the bakery and told them something came up and that I would be late picking up the birthday cake. The bakery closed at 3, I had 2 hours. When I arrived at my mentor’s home, I walked out back and could see bees swirling around a tree. It was a sight! I arrived at her home in capris, a short-sleeved shirt, and flip-flops. Thankfully, she had a bee suit and boots I could borrow. We got everything together that she could possibly think that we might need to contain the ladies. We watched as the swirling circle became smaller and the pile of bees on the tree limb became larger. After about 30 minutes there were only a few stray bees flying around the tree, the rest were clinging together on the limb. No came the fun part. My mentor climbed the step-ladder while I held up a bucket on a long pole into which she gently brushed the bees off the limb and into the bucket. I quickly lowered the bucket and dumped the bees into a hive she put together just for them. We did this 4 times in all. My arms were tired and I had a difficult time staying coordinated as I maneuvered a bucket of irritated bees in a full bee suit in 85 degree weather. I realized then just how out of shape I am!
It was a great experience. Just another glimpse into the “secret life of bees”!!
I have read that once the bees start bringing in goldenrod pollen, hives take on a new smell. Yep, it is a whole new smell and I might add that it is not such a pleasant odor either! Well, unless you like the gym-bag, locker room, smelly sock aroma. Perhaps it is an acquired smell that beekeepers embrace as evidence of the ladies’ tireless work. I mean no disrespect in regards to their efforts but…. their house stinks. There, I said it out loud. I suppose it does not help that my olfactory system is hypersensitive (according to my husband) to anything that does not smell fresh as spring dew!
While I was composing this post, my mentor called to invite me to join her while she inspects one of her hives that she recently re-queened. So….gotta go, I jump at the chance to see the inner workings of a hive.
Sippin’ from the tea cup!
Hello all! I do not know where the weeks go! It has been a bit since my last post. I will update you on the happenings at the hive but first wanted to share my thoughts about providing bees with a water source along with a picture of where the ladies finally decided to partake of their beverage!
Everything that I have read stresses the importance of providing one’s bees with a nearby water source as water is required for the honey-making process. So, because I sensed the urgency in making sure I provided them with water, I moved the very, very, and I mean very, heavy cement birdbath across the yard to its new resting spot in direct line with the entrance to the hive. I carefully chose rocks on which they might rest and drink, and then filled the birdbath with cold water. Additionally, I placed terra cotta dishes filled with rocks and water on the ground near the birdbath. I felt like a good beekeeper, making sure that my bees had a nearby source of water. I never, ever saw one lousy bee take a drink! Sure, they may have visited my watering holes when I wasn’t looking, but I doubt it. Being the dutiful beekeeper that I am, I moved the very, very, very heavy birdbath (did I mention that it was made of concrete?? And actually, I didn’t move it my husband did!) away from the hive. My mentor, Linnea, swears by placing colorful sponges and/or packing peanuts in her water source so I did the same.
And then I pulled up a chair and waited to see if these picky bees would show some appreciation and frequent their newly-placed watering hole. They did! So then I noticed them drinking elsewhere as well, see picture below! In a small garden at the bottom of the stairs leading to the entrance of our house, I have a tea cup and saucer on a post that my sister-in-law made for me. It is meant to be a birdfeeder of sorts but I simply place at the edge of the garden for looks. That said, several days ago I noticed a bee drinking rain water from the tea cup! The next day I found a bee floating in the tea cup so since they seem to like drinking water from a tea cup, I placed a rock in it on which they might rest and sip. Too funny!! So, here is the picture of two bees drinking water from the tea cup. Well you’ll have to look above for the picture since I cannot seem to figure out how to put media where I want it!!