Sunday, June 10, 2012

A Few Days in the Life of a Beekeeper



Robb was out in the back yard, chatting over the fence with our neighbor when our QEII hive swarmed.  The air was filled with bees and noise and confusion.  The bees eventually settled in our neighbor's bottlebrush tree, in two large clusters.

Robb attached a five gallon bucket to the end of one very long pole, and then attached out bee brush to the end of another pole.  Robb whacked a bunch of bees into the bucket, and he poured them into our handy-dandy swarm catching box.  Half an hour later, the bees were all back up in the tree.

When I got home from work, I helped Robb knock those bees out of the tree, and pour them into the box.  We waited until dark, and carried them back to our yard.  This sounds simple, but this particular tree was so very dense that it was a huge challenge to maneuver any tools at all inside of the canopy.  Robb and I make a very good team.


While I was at work, the bees that had swarmed on Wednesday did it again.  They all flew out of the beehive, filled the air, and eventually settled on the underside of a board that we were using as an impromptu roof for that hive.  Robb caught them, put them back in the hive-box.  At some point after that, they all flew off.

As I was arriving home from work, another swarm emerged from the QEII hive.  We stood in the back yard, awe-struck.  Seeing (and hearing) all those bees swarming through the air is a truly impressive experience.

Eventually these bees settled in the lemon tree of the neighbor whose house abuts the back of our yard.  Since I speak no Spanish, and the adults who live in that house speak no English, we had one of those odd conversations, relayed through a very young child.  I got permission to collect the bees from their tree. The tree the bees were in was filled with thorns, the yard was covered in detritus, and I was worried about bumping into the huge cactus patch next to the citrus tree.

These bees took their sweet time, going into the box, but I eventually retrieved them from the neighbors' yard.


While I was driving home from work, the QEII hive swarmed again.

Once again, they flew into our next-door neighbors' bottlebrush tree.  In fact, they landed on the exact branch that the first swarm had alighted on.  We imagine that this branch must have been scented with some residual pheromone from the original swarm.  We tried several times to catch the bees, but the tree was so dense, that we could not accomplish much.

We decided to "bait" our swarm-capture box with a frame containing both honey and brood.  Our hope was that this frame would attract the bees into the box.

While I had the QEII hive open, I took the opportunity to split this colony into two hive-boxes.  I had, it should be noted, already split this colony earlier in the season.  However, it is also worth noting that this particular colony came from my original Gloriana hive.  I caught those bees from a colony living in a locally-famous telephone pole.  The season I caught those bees, that colony produced six swarms.  These bees had "swarmy" genetics.

Usually, when bees swarm, the colony has raised a number of new queens, and the old queen flies away with her retinue.  When the new queens hatch, we are told that they either kill their un-hatched sisters, or fight to the death.  In either scenario, only one queen survives.  However, that's clearly not always the case.  In some instances, each of the emerging queens collects a group of followers, and they leave the hive as what's call an "afterswarm." 

Right now, I'm waiting to hear if a local beekeeper, who has been working on a queen breeding project might be interested in picking up the unhatched queens from the QEII hive.  I can't keep catching swarms, but I also don't want to kill these young queens.

I feel like we're drowning in bees, at the moment.  At least it means that our bees are all healthy!

Also, we are fortunate to have very patient neighbors.


Anonymous said...

I was so glad to see a bee post as I've been having a bee problem I was hoping you could help me with. My nextdoor neighbor has about 50 or 75 bee boxes on his property. Last week I accidentally overwatered one of my veggie beds and it attacted a absolute ton of his bees. At first this made me happy but then they discovered my goldfish pond in my veggie garden. This too made me happy at first but... the poor bees keep drownig in my pond. I have a lily growing in it that they land on to drink water, but I am constantly scooping struggling bees out of the water that didn't quite make the lilly pad landing. I must have scooped out a hundred dead bees last night from the pond. I also noticed that some of the bees didn't go home at night and stayed on the lilly pads.

Do you think there is anything I could do for them? My hubby floated a board in the pond this morning but a lot are still drowning.

on a side note; I'm getting a ton of bee activity in the garden and wonder if they swarm if they will come my way. I do have an old empty hive myself, have you ever heard of a lure to attract swarms to an empty hive?

~Traveling Garden Gnome

Stefaneener said...

You didn't mention the beekeeper politics!

I get tired of the swarmy hives. You guys are very patient -- this is what my May looked like!

It's also a good reminder to check my strong hive. Maybe tomorrow.

Your neighbors must love the honey you provide!

Curbstone Valley Farm said...

I'm impressed your afterswarms were so close together. So much for the 16 day rule! Our February split hive has built up so much, it's almost terrifying how much population is in there. I feel like I could split it six ways from Sunday right now. I can't get in the hive until next weekend, but am afraid they'll do like these bees, and vamoose before I get the chance. I hope your hive settles down now, for a while at least!

Barby said...

My one hive of bees absconded sometime in the fall - I am pretty certain where ever they went they died as they had no food for winter. Then the Flower Hive was oddly underpopulated, and they are pretty much gone now. I noticed this when I saw a lot of feces and dead bees on the front of the hive and realized after a check that the bee I was seeing were just robbing the honey and such from the hives. No bees were taking care of the hive. Well, at least someone's bees are being fed. Be happy (even if you are tired) that your bees are still with you. I am a tiny bit jealous!

K said...

I heard this on NPR the other day and thought of you. I had no idea flowers have an 'electric field'. Crazy. And super cool:


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