Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Our Taylor-Made Hive, part three.

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At last writing, Robb and I had caught two swarms of honeybees, and were in the process of integrating the bees that Taylor had raised for us into these two colonies.

We were doing what's called a "newspaper combine" which means that we were placing the new bees in a hive box above the existing colony, with a sheet of newspaper between the two boxes. The theory is that in the time it takes for the bees to chew through the newspaper barrier, they will have become acclimated to each others' scents, and will form one cohesive colony. The beekeeper cuts a few slits in the paper, to facilitate chewing, and the bees do the rest.

Sounds simple, right?

It did work, but it was a bit like trying to introduce a new cat into a home that already has a cat.* Despite closing them in separate rooms, there was a good deal of fighting.

Because we didn't know if either of our swarms had a viable queen, we opted to split up the frames of brood from Taylor's colony. This way, either colony could use the existing eggs to raise a queen of their own. Half went on the Gloriana hive, and half went on the Elizabethan hive. At the Gloriana hive, there was some conflict, but things settled down pretty quickly. The Elizabethan hive was a different story. For the first day, there was a full-on war between the two groups of bees. I was away from home that day, and Robb was left to fret over the potentially stupid decisions we had made as novice beekeepers.

Had we taken two perfectly good groups of bees (from Elizabeth and Taylor) and set them up in a situation where all they wanted to do was kill each other? Were we Bee Murderers?

By the time I got home, the bees had mostly settled down for the night. There was an alarmingly large number of dead bees on the floor of the hive. Robb had been reading and re-reading everything he could find about newspaper combines.

We just had to wait.




Strangely, and wonderfully, a truce was reached overnight. Over the next few days, we watched the "mortician bees" fly over our garden, and dump their dead sister far away from the hive. Dead bees that fell near the hive were laboriously dragged into the nearest garden bed. It was grisly, but fascinating.

And now, both colonies are thriving. They're flying and foraging. It's really amusing to see the bees waddle back into the hive, their britches laden with bright yellow pollen.

What's incredible to both me and Robb is how the presence of two beehives in our tiny back yard doesn't fill the place with bees. The foragers fly straight up in the air, and head out to wherever they're going. When I get home from work, we often sit right next to the hives, and watch their comings and goings. It's remarkably soothing, which is not something we expected.

Now, we're waiting, and leaving the bees alone, because we understand that the time before a new queen starts laying is a delicate one. We've got to contain our curiosity, and let the bees do their work. I've -- mostly -- been able to refrain from spying on the bees. While we've not opened up the hives since we added Taylor's bees, I have been taking advantage of the screened floors on the bottom of the hives.

If you come over to my house, you may find me, lying on my back in the grass, with my head underneath a buzzing beehive.

Yeah. I'm insane. But you already knew that.





*Robb is laughing, because he thinks it was more like introducing three thousand cats to a home that already has three thousand cats.

9 comments:

Sylvana said...

"like introducing three thousand cats to a home that already has three thousand cats" -- at least you're not THAT insane!

Strangely I was thinking that I would like to see pictures of the grisly scene and the work that the bees did in cleaning up. These were all things that I didn't know about bees.

Now I want a hive!

. . . Lisa and Robb . . . said...

Sylvana -- I couldn't bring myself to photograph the corpse-carrying. It was impressive. A bee can fly, carrying its own weight. Who knew?

AmyMarieR said...

I love it that bees carry their dead to the flower beds - and perpetuate the cycle (bodies decompose and help the flowers which the bees then pollinate). Nature is fascinating! And so is beekeeping from your narrative. Thanks for sharing.
LifeAsRiley

Christine said...

It sounds harrowing! So glad it worked out, but I keep picturing the warring bees in medieval tunics and long swords valiantly defending their castle!

Carla said...

I just finished reading all about your adventure with Bee keeping and am so inspired to start up a hive. I will need to do a bit more research and thought before taking on this, but I really would like to do this. We have 13 citrus trees and a few other fruit trees and herbs that are always covered with bees. Maybe they are trying to tell me something....

Anonymous said...

Wowee! You just gotta plant giant sunflowers this year! The bees will love them! And they will look bee-utiful in your yard!

Annalisa

. . . Lisa and Robb . . . said...

Sadly, the slugs really really really love our young sunflowers.

Anonymous said...

Upon futher reflection, I suspect the dead bees are buried in the soil, and then they arise from the dead, and crawl out of the dirt, which I have witnessed. They create stark terror to many, which is why so many people run in fear from them! We all hear people running from swarms of them, screaming "zom-BEES are attacking!" They try to sting holes into our heads so they can try to suck out our brains, but, being dead, don't have many good brain cells left that work, so will settle on stinging any part of you. Yep, that's about it....

TaylorM said...

And I'm laughing because I think Robb's description is actually kind of accurate. :) But I'm glad to hear the "integrations" all went well. I was worried about them for a minute there! :D

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