The queen is very much alive!

After my mentor, Linnea, left I examined the cell that we cut out that looked as if the queen died inside. I kept the cell because I thought it would be a wonderful show-and-tell for my students. As I poked and prodded at the dark end of the cell, I noticed movement from within the cell!! I immediately stopped poking at it! I could not believe what I was seeing….now what was I going to do with a very much alive queen bee?

First, I googled “How to keep a queen bee alive inside your kitchen?” or something to that effect. Of course, I got a variety of links! I read that one could keep a queen alive, inside, for approximately 3 days by providing water, warmth, and a little food. I quickly called Linnea, again. She suggested that I place the queen cell in a warm place with a nurse bee or two. I placed the cell in a mason jar along with a wet Q-tip, a piece of sugar candy, and a nurse bee who coincidently had come into the house on my clothes.  My husband cut a piece of screening to fit the canning jar lid so that I could provide some ventilation. That done, I jumped in the shower. After only a few minutes, my husband poked his head in the bathroom and said, “The queen has emerged! Now we have a queen bee in the kitchen! What next?!” She was beautiful, long, slender and tan in color. She chased the poor little nurse bee around and around the inside of the mason jar. I covered the jar with a towel and placed the jar in a dark place, and then I went to bed.

When I woke the next morning, I was relieved to see that both the queen and the nurse bee survived the night. I had to go to work so I replaced the dry Q-tip with a wet one and tucked the ladies under a blanket for warmth. When I came home later that day, both were alive and well. I googled anything and everything related to queen bees, rearing queen bees, queen bees emerging outside of hive, etc. I found a bee forum in which there was a discussion thread that was the best match. Someone recommended letting the queen bee simply walk right into the hive. So…..dressed appropriately, I took the queen to the hive and attempted to release her on the landing board. She did not want to leave the jar, then she did not want to get off my hand. Eventually, I was able to place both the queen and the nurse bee on the landing board. Bees immediately surrounded the queen. I was thrilled! But then…..the bees began pushing and shoving her (yes, pushing her and shoving her is exactly what it looked like) away from the entrance of the hive and onto the side of the hive. Bees continued to walk on top of her but it did not look friendly at all. I was afraid that they would kill her right in front of me so I scooped her back up and took her inside. I called Linnea who explained that it was very possible that they were not going to accept her but suggested that I take of the hive cover and place her in the opening of the inner cover.  Out to the hive, again.

I took off the hive cover and tried to coax her out of the jar and into the opening in the inner cover. She did not want to leave the comfort of the mason jar, nor did she want to leave the comfort of my arm. I was so worried that I might accidently kill her trying to place her inside the hive. Eventually, I was successful and watched her, with mixed emotions, disappear into the mass of nurse bees who seemed to surround her immediately.  She was a lovely queen and I hope that she was treated kindly.

Sunday, Linnea and I will combine the first swarm with the original colony, look for the queen, and treat for mites. After several more days, we will examine the hive containing the latest swarm, check for a queen or the presence of a queen. I suppose at that time I will have to decide which queen shall reign “Queen Bee” as we combine the latest swarm with the original colony. And then……I will hope for the best.  I hope to post some of the video of our latest swarm capture, soon.

Many thanks for wading through my  beekeeping adventures.

Piping what????? You have got to be kidding….

Well, it seems like lots has happened since my last post. I know I updated everyone that the ladies swarmed a second time and that once again, we “captured” them.  What I did not share is what happened later that evening. 

My mentor came to the house late in the afternoon of the day-after the swarm. When she arrived, we had them contained in a cardboard box. Thankfully, Linnea brought, once again, hive parts so that we could transfer the wayward ladies into a hive. Now, I only intended to have ONE hive with ONE cohesive honey-making colony of polite and considerate ladies. Now, I have 3 not-so pleasantly behaved hive of bees scattered in the backyard!!  Anyway, we inspected the hive from which the trouble hath cometh. While we were checking the bottom hive box, I heard a chirping sound. I thought the sound was coming from a nearby bird. My mentor, Linnea, asked me, “Do you hear that sound?” I replied that yes, I did hear the chirping sound. Linnea told me that it was a queen, a piping queen!  What a privilege!  I have read about being able to hear a piping queen (she might be in the hive or still in a cell) but never did I think that I would have the opportunity to hear it myself. As we worked our way through the hive, we discovered 4 queen cells: two open, two viable cells, and one that looked as if the queen had died inside the cell.  It was a difficult decision to make but we decided to cut out all but one queen cell in hopes that this would help diminish their urge to swarm. 

As Linnea cut out one of the swarm cells, a queen emerged and immediately began flying around both of us, landing on the net  covering Linnea’s face. She eventually “buzzed” us both several times before flying away. We observed some capped brood, however we did not see any eggs. That said, I suppose it is possible there were some eggs but we were working late in the afternoon when natural lighting was very poor.  We closed up the hive not seeing a resident queen or the presence of a queen. 

It is very possible that the colony will not accept the queen who emerged as the cell was cut out, because she was not “released” inside the hive. A most interesting society.

Initially, we thought that we would combine the latest swarm with the original hive but then decided that we would first combine the first swarm with the original colony then add the second swarm several days after.  We had a plan, now only if the bees go along with it!!!

You have got to be kidding me ladies!!

Well,my intentions had been to update the very few people who are following my blog (many, many thanks for your support) about how the ladies have been behaving since their thwarted attempted to find better digs. However, it is funny how things can change in an instance. Yesterday, one hour prior to the time at which we needed to leave our house to check in at a hotel up the coast of Maine, in preparation for my niece’s wedding, the ladies……swarmed….again….from the original hive.  They settled in the same blankety-blank spot as the previous swarm. Well, same tree, same limb but out further, still 30 ft up in a tree.  Damn those girls!!!  What do I need to do, create a sign that reads, “YOU, live here!”  What DO they want…..foot rub, plate of honey nachos, a unicorn…..just want do they think they can get elsewhere!!!!

 

Heartbroken that I may be saying goodbye to the ladies, we had to leave for the wedding. How funny that I am attached to creatures who truly do not and will not every have ANY attachment to me! I worried about them as we enjoyed ourselves at the post-wedding festivities. When we got up this morning, I could not wait to get home but, alas, we headed to the morning-after-the-wedding brunch. I say that I worried, but I was resolved to the fact that they may be gone by the time we get home. My thoughts, and worries, were more about how the remaining colony would survive the winter.

When we arrived back at home today around 1pm, the cluster of prodigal bees were still hanging from a limb high up in an obnoxious ash tree. We dropped off our suitcases, quickly changed from our post-wedding brunch attire into jeans and bee suits, and made plans. I knew that my mentor, Linnea, was working until 3pm (I called her yesterday in a panic but she advised me to go, enjoy the wedding festivities because sometimes the bees hang around for several days before they finally depart the yard and as always, she was right.) I called the local bee whisperer, Karen, who said, yes it would be ok to “dump” the bees into a cardboard box until Linnea could provide me, again, with hive parts. She advised me to go to one of the hives and remove a frame on which there was honey. “Should I brush off any bees or shall I take bees and all?” I asked. You should brush off the bees because you do not want to lose anymore bees than I already have, Karen suggested. She also told me make sure that I gave them a wet sponge for water and some ventilation. Truly, never did I think that beekeeping was this involved…but I do love it!

I went to the hive, from which they once again deserted, and removed a honey super. Before I closed the hive back up, I evenly spread out  the remaining 9 frames, at Karen’s recommendation. I am so very thankful to Linnea and Karen, who patiently answer my many questions. 

 

I  am digressing. I created a make-shift hive box in an old Xerox box. I cut a hole in the top and using some wire mesh Linnea had given me previously to make a robbing screen, my husband taped it in the hole so that they would have ventilation. I placed the honey-filled frame along with some sugar candy and a wet sponge inside the box.

My husband climbed up 25ft and, using the same home-made scooper we used 2 weeks ago, began the process of scooping and passing the fetch to me. Once handed the bag-o-bees, I dumped them into the cardboard box. The first time, I overshot and most of them landed on the blue tarp. Drat! The second and third time, I had better aim.

I think we got the majority of the bees but I really do not know if the queen or a queen was included. That said, a lot of bees are hanging around just one corner of the box, on the outside, fanning. So, perhaps the queen is in that corner, inside the box.

My mentor is due here soon at which time we will open the original hive, search for a queen. We will search for a queen in the cardboard box. We will then play the very difficult game of: Which queen do we keep and which queen do we……..well you know. Hopefully, we will return the wayward group from today’s thwarted trip back into the hive, treat for mites just in case that is the reason they left and then close the hive back up.

To avoid rambling any further, I will end today’s blog. I’ll be back to update you tomorrow, hopefully with some photos from today’s swarm retrieval. 

All is quiet, kind-a-sort-a!

It has been one week since a good portion of the colony attempted to run away from home. So far, they have stayed put in their temporary hive. As suggested to me, I began feeding them sugar syrup the day they absconded with full bellies from the lovely hive I so laboriously built and lovingly painted (I might still be a little sensitive to their actions!).  The first time I approached their hive to give them a new jar of syrup, I wore my bee jacket with helmet/veil, gloves, capris and flip-flops. I know, I know….I was good until “capris and flip-flops”.  Previously, I have  been quite lucky wearing capris and flip-flops but that day was different. As soon as I lifted the top off the hive, what seemed like hundreds of bees but probably was more like 50 bees ascended on me quite quickly. They repeatedly “pinged” my jacket, helmet, and net covering my face. They did not seem intent to sting me but rather to intimidate me, and it worked. It surprised me most of all and my reaction only heightened their mission.  They rattled me, terribly.  I backed away immediately; they followed me. I turned and walked away; a good number followed me continuing to “ping” off my helmet.  Eventually, the stalkers flew away.  I returned to the hive after I quickly changed into pants put on socks and clogs. This time, I took a deep breath and sent the bees loving thoughts of my good intentions.  Although they resumed “pinging” me, I removed the empty jar and replaced it with a full jar of syrup, this time emanating pure calmness. 

I would like to report that, since that day, the ladies have been welcoming when I approach the hive with a fresh jar of syrup, but they have not been that lady-like. In fact, I found it necessary to use smoke on two occasions….just to swap out the jars. The hive from which they departed continues to be calm and very busy bringing in pollen. Next weekend, my mentor and I will begin the process of determining which hive has the best queen (assuming that the original hive raised a queen successfully) and then finally combining the hives back into one big happy family. Sounds too easy!! I am sure the day will be full of surprises. Oh, and I guess it is time to treat the  bees for mites. And then it will be time to take off the honey supers (it will be interesting to see what is left) and think about preparing  the hive for fall-to-winter health and comfort.

I readily admit that this has turned out to be more involved than I had anticipated but must also admit that I love the bees!  I was inclined to say “I love my bees” but after their behavior last weekend, they truly are not “my” bees. I do my best by them but in the end, they will do what they will do, that is until they are caught!

Back in their new home…they are SO grounded!

Swarm settled 30ft up in tree

IMG_0265

IMG_0266I 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.

What do you mean you are leaving me!!!!

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!

Hive Inspection & helped with a swarm

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”!!