The bees took over my blog post again
So it’s been forever it seems – a whole month anyway – since my last post. There’s no good reason I haven’t posted, and I have several started posts that never made it past the first paragraph or two, or else turned out to be wrong for this blog. My last start was titled “A Beautiful Day,” which shows you kind of where I am these days. Nothing earth shatteringly new, just enjoying life.
Probably the biggest news since the last post is that my bees swarmed! It was exciting to see, bittersweet in a way too. I’m pretty sure it was Aurora’s hive (I didn’t see the actual hive leaving, just the thousands of bees spiraling up into the air). I can’t believe it would be Regina’s hive, since that one (my Warre hive) was only two months old at the time. It was July 4th, the first beautiful day of many to follow. It was sunny and warm, with a pleasant breeze, and I came out the door with my midday mocha to see the bees, the bees, the bees. I ran over to the hives to see if I could tell who was responsible. Both seemed excited, with a lot of activity, but not an obvious flow out of one or the other at that point.
As near as I could tell the ones in the air were heading loosely toward the two big maples in the pasture. I watched them and searched the trees for an obvious cluster of the swarm. As the blizzard of bees disappeared into the canopy, and the area above the hives went back to normal I finally spotted the swarm. A cluster of thousands of bees, Aurora somewhere amongst them, in one of the very top branches of the maple. Tippy top, in a place NO one could get them (I was thinking of calling a swarm catcher beek), even with a cherry picker extension on a fire truck or power company truck. They were at least 100 feet up, the tree is on a hillside, and even to try and climb up there would be fruitless, as the branch they were on was too small, and too far out, to hold any kind of human weight. So, my girls did good.
I checked them throughout the day, and they were holding tight. I was a little worried for them, as the 4th of July fireworks would be loud that night (90 minutes of what sounded like a war zone – why is this supposed to be fun?). I’m not close to any other houses, and the tree was in the middle of the pasture, so they should be safe from anything being shot off, but still I worry (noise, smoke). They were still intact the next morning before I left for work, and I was glad to see them. But, by the time I got back that afternoon they were gone. I got out the binoculars and looked again. Nothing. The scouts found a new home remarkably fast and hopefully they are safely ensconced in a hollow tree somewhere, building comb and growing their numbers, collecting plenty of nectar for the winter stores to see them through.
A word about swarms. A swarm is basically the bees way to reproduce. The resident queen leaves with about 50% of her subjects, leaving some queen cells (baby queens yet to hatch) and plenty of bees in the mother hive. There are many reasons a hive will swarm – sometimes it’s a matter of room – there’s no room to grow, so the hive splits. Sometimes it’s health – a weakness or parasite bothering the mother hive. And sometimes it’s just…time. The bees know best, and do what they do best. Conventional beekeepers, that is, beekeepers who keep bees in order to harvest honey, try to avoid swarms. They do regular inspections and if they see queen cells (comb built for growing a baby queen) they take measures to prevent a swarm, or do what’s called a split, which is basically jumping the gun on a swarm and splitting the hive so that they can keep the bees but now have two hives instead of one.
Since my beekeeping is by no means conventional, and could even be called lazy (last inspection? Um…May?), the swarm wasn’t any kind of loss for me, and in a way made me feel good about my bee guardianship. I do need to get in there and see what’s going on after the swarm. There should have been plenty of room (after the May inspection I’d put two more boxes on for them to build comb), though mites may have been a problem since I don’t treat for them. I do notice that since the swarm I’m not seeing the dead white pupae in front of the hive like I was before. And I’m not smelling that fermenty honey smell that I was smelling. So we’ll see what the next inspection shows.
Regina’s hive, the Warre top bar hive,seems to be doing well. I’ve not done a single inspection and when I open the observation windows I see lots of activity. And evidence that there’s virtually no way I can do an inspection now, without breaking up the comb to a degree that would cause major damage to the hive. I put the second box on a while back, when it seemed they were filling up, but they have yet to build comb from the top bars in that box. Instead they’re building up from the bottom, on top of the bars of the lower box. Kind of weird, but only because I’m not a bee, I guess. I trust that they know what they’re doing, and they seem pretty happy and calm when I go out and look.