Swarming Fun

A few weeks ago I just happened to be home from work in the middle of the day and looked out the window to find this (click through to watch on youtube for the full impact):

It was the very first time I saw a swarm and the whole experience was remarkable.  After watching it for what seemed like ages, their landing spot became clear.

See all the black dots on the blue sky?  All bees.  I promise.  Unfortunately, that landing spot was the top of a tree to one side of our yard that was not terribly stable.  We didn’t have a ladder that could even reach it.   I called a local beekeeper that I found online.  He stopped by that evening with a bee suit and a ladder and discussion ensued.

Swarm

I stayed on the deck for the intense part of this process as my last few stings required a trip to the doctor.   The local beek headed up the ladder like it was no big deal with a cardboard box and shook the bees off the tree so they dropped down into the box.

retrieval

The box was literally turned upright to put the bees into a hive body that we happened to have in the garage and the box was left close to the hive for any late arrivals who were determined to stay exactly where they were.

Because I was concerned that the swarm maybe missing a queen (she could still be in the tree, or could have been injured/killed during the retrieval), Wayne grabbed a few frames of brood from the big hive (the original source of this swarm) and moved it into the new hive.

Moving Frames

After the move, I was very concerned that we may have moved the queen from the big hive into the smaller one although Wayne didn’t think he saw her on any of the frames.  Only time will tell.

Moving Frames

We made sure the entrance reducer was set to the smallest option and then left it hoping that nature will work some magic.

Swarm Retrieval Complete

Bee Update

A quick update: It has been ages since we posted – almost a year in fact!  To bring you up to date, we lost our remaining hive on our land to an animal of some sort (bear maybe?).  The hive was completely demolished and on the ground in pieces.   We do still have one large hive at the house which was growing steadily and (as will become evident with our next post) was bursting at the seams.

Checking in on the Bees

Although we keep bees, we have (mostly) allowed them to keep themselves this season.  We had a few extra hours on Saturday and decided it was about time to take a quick peek and see how they were faring.

Below is the hive in our back yard.  We added an extra super the last time we inspected and left the feeder on the top in case they are in need of water.  Last year when it got so hot, the girls chose our neighbor’s pool as their water source (not the best idea for anyone!), so we want to do our best to avoid those complications this year.

Our Hive

I had my trusty camera, so Wayne did all the heavy lifting (good excuse, huh?).  First things first, we removed the cover and located just a few (hundred) ants.  Ugh.  We’ll have to work on that a bit.  Next we remove the feeder to find the girls buzzing around and none too happy to see us.  I firmly believe the less you inspect, the less tolerant of inspections the bees become.

Here’s where the fun begins.  Wayne commented that he was hearing the girls rather loudly.  That’s not surprising if they are aggravated, but something about the way Wayne said it made me pause.  Two beats later, Wayne goes running (literally) across the garden in his bee suit (yep….our neighbors were outside…of course), through the garden gate, directly to the hose.  He turned it on, took the nozzle, aimed it at his face, and pressed.  He was left wet and gasping a bit.  After making sure he was okay, I almost collapsed giggling.  Other beekeepers will likely know what happened.  For those who have not been in a bee suit I’ll explain: there are zippers.  A collection of them.  If you forget one or two (like the handy ones around your hood), bees get in and often get ever so slightly frustrated when they can’t get back out.  Wayne had been collecting “friends” inside his hood while we were out there.  They were becoming less friendly the more time they spent with him.

Thankfully Wayne’s quick (and comic) reaction meant that he ended the experience with only one sting, and it’s in his beard. So, although it is painful, it’s not noticeable at all.  After double checking for bees in his suit (and finding one other rather aggravated bee), we carefully zipped him up and returned to the inspection.  My guess is that he’ll double check zippers next time.

Super

The first super from the top was FULL of honey.  Totally and completely.  It’s great news as it means the girls are thriving and collecting; however, it means that they are likely honey bound.  We’ll need to either harvest, or add an additional super.  Otherwise they may start storing honey in the brood chamber and there will be no where for the queen to lay.

Honey

Speaking of which, here’s one frame from the brood section.  The capped cells all contain developing brood.  The pattern is a bit strange.  You would normally see the whole middle filled in – almost in a football shape.  Wayne suggested that maybe those were newly hatched and/or the queen is making her way there now.  Who knows.

Brood

We didn’t pull out any additional frames as the girls were rather grumpy and had been open a while because our of detour   to the hose.  Wayne will be poking around again on Monday to add a super if nothing else.

As Wayne closed up the hive, I wandered around the garden a bit.  It is a total mess right now and needs weeding and training of the vines that are trying to take over.  Our bee balm is one plant that I’m glad is getting a bit out of control.  Not sure what it is that I adore so much, but I just find them gorgeous, and (bonus) the hummingbirds love them too.

Bee Balm

First Spring Inspection & Sad News

Hives in Morganton

It’s been a long time coming, but last week Wayne finally had time to head out to our land and check on the bees.  The hive stand & hives as he found them are above.  One obstacle hurdled.  There has been some bear activity around our land over the last few years and I was a bit afraid of leaving the hives with no one living on the property and no bear fence.  I was half expecting to find the hives demolished – either from a bear, a raccoon, or some other small animal who felt it was worth the trouble.  It seems we did okay though.

As soon as he arrived, he noticed activity from the hive on the right.  Nothing much at all from the one on the left.  Not a great sign.

He started the inspection with the hive on the right and was excited to see this when the box was opened:

Activity in the Hives

Any activity was a good sign overall.  And after pulling out a frame or two:

Brood Frames

Not too shabby.  The pattern looks decent although they haven’t filled out much of the frame yet.  I don’t believe that’s a swarm cell at the bottom – maybe just funky shaped comb? Wayne did mention that quite a few cells were in between frames and that he broke open several by accident when pulling the boxes apart.  He even thought he got a quick peek at the queen as she was running across one of the frames.

The other hive was the polar opposite.  I mentioned a lack of activity and Wayne was disheartened (but not surprised) to open the box and find this:

Cluster

A tell-tale sign that the bees starved.  The cluster is in tact, but all dead.  He said the frames had bees and he was a bit confused at first but realized they were in their standard starvation stance – heads down in the cells, searching for honey.  The bottom of the box at the screened bottom board looked like this:

Bottom of the Hive

I’ve been reading lots of accounts of starvation on various beekeeper blogs around the world over the last two weeks.  I know it is something that beekeepers just have to learn to deal with periodically, but I’m thankful I wasn’t there to find it.  I guarantee it would have brought me to tears.  It’s been a week now since he went and even looking at these pictures is incredibly hard.  I keep playing the “if only” game: if we’d only fed them one more time….if we’d only been out earlier to inspect the hive…etc, etc.  I know it is pointless.  It won’t change fact that we lost the hive and all we can do is try to be more diligent moving forward with the two we have remaining.

In better news (because I couldn’t stand to end on that note), Wayne did have a chance to visit with the hive in our backyard today and all looks well.  He saw the queen, saw lots of brood and honey, and added a super to give them lots of room to fill.

Here’s to hoping for a successful beekeeping year ahead!

Bees: DC Rescue

My sister, a resident of DC,  sent me along this link and I found it fascinating.  I’m so glad they took the time and energy to save the bees rather than killing them.  Check out all the comb!   City Bees

Bee update: Inspection and Harvest in One

It was supposed to rain early Sunday afternoon, so before lunch we headed out to inspect the hive in the backyard.  I didn’t want to disturb the girls too much, but I wanted to get a general feeling for how they were doing and (if we were so lucky) to grab a frame or two of honey depending on what they had stored.

The Hive

The girls were in a good mood when we opened the box in spite of the continued ant infestation and the presence of a few small hive beetles.  We pulled out some frames from the top super and found them about split – half capped honey, half uncapped.

Capped Frame of Honey

We picked three frames that were fully capped and put them aside for harvesting.  We replaced the three frames with empty frame of foundation.

Frames for Harvesting

We moved down a bit into the second super and it looked very similar to the one above with one exception – one frame appeared to contain brood on one side and honey on the other.  The capped cells may be drones as they were slightly raised.

Brood in the Honey Super

I have no clue as to why the queen would wander up this far, but it was slightly concerning, so we moved that super over and checked the brood chamber.  The top box in the brood chamber was as to be expected.  The brood patterns were fantastic – her royal majesty is filling up almost every cell on each frame.  We didn’t see anything out of the ordinary at all.

Brood Pattern

For kicks, we moved that box and pulled out a few frames in the bottom chamber.  Well, to my surprise, there are frames that haven’t even been drawn out yet!

Undrawn Foundation in Brood Chamber

I’m a bit confused by this and not quite sure how to handle it.  Maybe we added extra boxes to soon?  I suggested to Wayne that she may be working in the second box and feeling full, so she moved up?  Just in case, we grabbed three empty frames from the bottom box and switched them out with full frames from the second brood box.  I’m hoping the switch will encourage them to fill out the empty frames and give our fertile queen plenty of laying room.

We closed up quickly. The girls were patient, but not that patient and they were beginning to ping off our hoods.  We brushed the bees off the honey frames the best we could and carried them onto the deck.  We double checked each frame and found a few wayward bees before carrying the frames inside.

Wayne took a nap while I ventured into honey harvesting again.  It was the same process we described in this post; however, I was distressed to find out that hooked wire foundation is much more difficult to get off a frame.  Following Wayne’s suggestion, I ended up cutting the comb off the frame and leaving the wires intact.

I paid more attention this time and noticed that we again had two very different looking combs.  One was a deep dark color while the other was a light amber color.  I was still unsure as to whether that was two different types of honey, or just darker comb, so I endeavored to harvest them separately.

Dark Comb/Honey

Here’s the end result:

Honey Harvest

You can see that one honey looks slightly lighter than the other, but definitely not the color difference it appeared to be when we harvested it.  The comb, on the other hand, is remarkably different.  I plan to put the wax in two batches out in the solar wax melter next week when the rain here is supposed to stop and the sun returns.  I’ll try to take pictures after it has been cleaned and melted down to show how wildly different the colors are.

In the process of moving the frames inside, we had spilled a small amount of honey on the deck railing  (lesson learned: use a tupperware container or something with a bottom when carrying frames of honey).  The sugary sweetness was drawing quite a crowd of bees.

Deck Railing

Since the bees had already invaded our deck, I added a bucket with the empty frames (post harvest) for the bees to clean up as well.  At some point in the process Sparky decided that he was rather fond of honey and didn’t let the large quantity of bees stop him from getting his share.  He literally stood and licked the frames clean around the bees.

Sparky Fighting for his Share

He was out there for a good while before I heard a yelp and he came flying through the dog door.  Apparently one (or many) of the bees decided they had shared enough.

The harvest result this time?  16 8.5-ounce hex jars or 8.5 pounds of loveliness.  I imagine this will be the last time we harvest this year, so we plan to enjoy it.

Honeybees and Russian Sage

Wayne and I both adore Russian Sage and have it planted in clumps in front of the house.  I walked out the door to the car yesterday and one sage group was literally alive with bees.  It sounded like the plant was buzzing.  I stopped and sat down on the pavement for a minute or two just to watch the bees jump from flower to flower.  They are fast moving and a bit hard to catch, but I did get one shot of a bee at work.

Honeybee enjoying Russian Sage

Happy Sunday and enjoy your week!

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