Monday, April 25, 2011

Buzzing About


As I was drinking coffee on Sunday, I got a call from a woman who had a swarm of bees in her backyard. Since she lived quite nearby, Robb and I decided to run on over to see if we could catch the bees, and offer them a home.

In some ways, this was an easy swarm to catch. The bees were reasonably docile, and only about a foot off of the ground.

In other ways, this swarm was tricky. The bees were lodged behind some beautiful and thorny older rose bushes, so getting the hive box near the bees required determined contortions.

We brushed the bees into a box that Robb had built, and about half of them stayed put. This was a good sign, indicating that we might have caught the queen.

The other half of the bees flew up into the air, and then coalesced back onto the fencepost. Every time we brushed them into a box, they'd fly right back to the fence. It was very alarming to watch, and homeowner Leslie must have been less than thrilled by the display.

Since the bees in the hive box were "fanning" the "come on home" scent, we were reasonably certain that the queen wasn't on the fencepost. We decided to leave things alone, and come back later.

I drove out to pick up PJ, another one of my "imaginary friends." PJ runs a stencil company on the East Coast, and I've been buying from her for years. I've always considered her a friend, even though we've never met. She's on an extended road trip, and was passing through the Bay Area, so we just had to get together. (Click here to see her amazing stencil work on an Albany NY library)

PJ had made the mistake of telling me that she had always been interested in bees, so I dragged her over to check on the swarm. I gave her a veil, which foolishly had been sitting next to a bottle ofscented swarm lure. I advised her that there might be some chance that the bees would be excessively interested in the smell of the veil, and almost as soon as she donned the veil, her cellphone began buzzing and vibrating in her back pocket.

PJ is remarkably even-keeled. If a strange beekeeper told me that I might be wearing bee-attracting chemicals, and if my butt started buzzing, I certainly would have jumped a mile.

The bees weren't interested in complying with our wishes, so we left them to do their own thing.

When I found out that PJ was going to be visiting, I invited a number of decorative painter friends over. But, it turned out that Robb was having a really rough day. I tried to contact everyone to impolitely uninvite them. For better or for worse, Allie and Heidi didn't get the message, and showed up while PJ and I were still mucking around with the bees. Robb and I still find it very hard to anticipate how he's going to be feeling, which continues to hamper our ability to make social plans. Some day, I hope we'll get this figured out.

I did go back to get the bees, in the early evening. Silly girls were still lolling about on the fencepost, so I chatted with Leslie, and admired her delightful 1930s home. And when I got stung in the crotch, I hardly freaked out at all. Thank goodness I was able to use Leslie's bathroom, because I needed to remove the venom-pumping stinger from my jeans. (I think there's got to be a special Beekeeping Merit Badge for remaining calm after being stung in that way.) I'll be housing the bees in Allie's back yard, as soon as Robb and I build a roof and screened bottom for the hive.

Thanks, everyone for making this such a memorable day!


Mel said...

You are Amazing. I'm impressed! Our beekeeping mentor here at school, David, brought 4 new boxes of bees to install last Thursday. We were both Foolish and didn't wear our veils. Never be reassured by "this looked easy on youtube." I got one sting on the face, right by my ear, and he got one on the nose and one in the lip. After that, we suited up and did better, but not after terrifying my 10 fifth graders as we did Not leave the scene calm, cool, or collected. We did chuckle about it, though.... You & your capturing rogue swarms self are my hero!

Curbstone Valley Farm said...

My kind of swarm...low to the ground! Regardless, there do always seem to be some obstacles, no matter where they land, high or low. The afterswarm I caught last had a few persistent bee-ings that insisted on reclustering on the rosemary branch. Perhaps these bees were still 'on the fence' about their new home...sorry, couldn't resist :P No doubt they could still sense the Queen pheromone and were a bit confused. I must admit though, that's not a place I would have expected to be stung! Better than on an eyelid I suppose, but only marginally so! Ouch!

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

Never be reassured by "this looked easy on youtube."

Truer words were never spoken, Mel!

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

"No doubt they could still sense the Queen pheromone and were a bit confused."

That's exactly what we thought. That scent was a very strong bee-magnet. When the sun started going down, the bees eventually left the fence.

Jimmy said...

I've never caught a swarm so I'm only guessing here....maybe smoke the area to cover the queen scent? I had not thought of that until reading this.

Barbara E said...

Great post. I have several wonderful memories of bee situations and am always in awe of people who work with them. Incredible beings!

LeslieH said...

thanks again! you guys were fabulous! and thanks for the honey. how are my busy/buzzy little friends doing?

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

Shiloh -- the bees just ignored the smoke.

And while I was driving home, one of the dismal thoughts I was pondering was the story of the beekeeper near me who set the bed of his truck on fire, because his smoker was still hot.

I *don't* have a fire proof box in my car.

camissonia said...

Wow - I'm impressed! I know very little about bee behavior so it's always edifying to read your posts. We do get the occasional bee swarm on our property, but I'll be less alarmed and more intrigued (albeit from a distance) the next time I see one.

Noreen said...

Your bee adventures keep me on the edge of my seat. I hope your sting(s) are feeling better and that the benadryl fog is lifted.

Brighthaven Becca said...

Oh my! You make me think I should be wearing something protective when I hang out with the bees!


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