Saturday, May 12, 2012

The Giddy Beekeeper!

This is my friend Patty's swarm! She caught it and now it is hers . I got giddy when she called, telling me about the it last Thursday at 5pm. I wanted to go help her and watch her hive the bees but we had company coming for dinner that evening. I waited patiently for Patty to post photos online and was giddy the next morning when I finally go to see her photo and her video of the bees marching right into the hive.

I am a complete wreck thinking about swarming. You see my bees are not on my property. I provide pollinating services for an organic farmer and he provides a spot for me to keep my hives. It is a win win for both of us. I have never worried much until this year. We have the perfect storm for swarming and I am worried that Crazy Comb is going to take up house somewhere else on his property. Furthermore I have never caught a swarm and I am not prepared to deal with it either. I don't have enough spare equipment so if Crazy Comb does decide to swarm I am going to be screaming for help from the local beekeeping community. That being said watching this swarming event unfold and seeing how Patty got the bees back into a hive was so captivating that part of me wouldn't mind if it happened.

After Patty caught the swarm and secured it in a large cardboard box she took it home, yes, in her car, and set up a new hive. She put a sheet on the ground in front of the hive and dumped the bees on to the sheet. Over the next two hours the bees marched right inside the hive. It was simply surreal to watch. Research has show us that bees use a process of consensus decision making and swarming a perfect example of how this works.

The bees get edgy and agitate and they start making plans to split. They make provisions for those they are leaving behind, feeding some of the brood royal jelly which creates a new queen. About 2/3 of the bees start gorging themselves and the queen starts slimming down so she can fly off with the swarm. Finally they agree today is the day and off they go, taking up temporary residence in a tree or some other structure while scout bees go out looking for a new home. The scout bees return to the swarm and communicate the options and collectively they make a decision to move. During the short time they are hanging out for the scout bees to find a more permanent spot is when beekeepers can catch the swarm and re-hive them. Honey bees are docile and particularly so during swarming. They don't really pose a threat unless you are aggravating them. Any beekeeper believes they are luck to catch a swarm.

Paula and I have taken steps to minimize the risk of swarming but bees will do what they want. We divided the Turquoise bee hive in half and we are making space inside Crazy Comb so they don't start to get the itch to leave.  Our approach with Crazy Comb is risky and any experienced beekeeper would do a divide. We spent Friday evening in the bee yard moving things around to manage the bees. We had a new queen in our divide, Mr. Abbott's Little Bee that needed to be released, a brood box from the Turquoise Bee that we needed to move over to Mr. Abbott and we wanted to once and for all find our queen inside of Crazy Comb.

Working through our list of things to do, all went smoothly. Our new queen was released easily and the brood box was moved without a hitch, thanks to a bee escape I put in place 5 days earlier to get the bees out of that box. Then the fun work, checking Royal Ruckus for brood, one week after releasing her Yellow Lady. Both of us were stunned to find almost all the frames in Royal Ruckus completely combed out and beautiful brood on at least five frames. We also caught a glimpse of The Yellow Lady. Then we checked Katrina's Drone Den, again beautiful comb and Snow White the queen.

Finally we tackled Crazy Comb. I had thrown a queen excludee between her two brood boxes on Monday hoping to isolate the queen and if we couldn't find her maybe we could see eggs and then we would know which box she was in. You might remember that this is the hive that may have swarmed last summer and we had not seen the queen in her since last July. While we love to speculate about the mystery of Crazy Comb, what happened when, we also would love to get some clues that would help us figure out her story. Was the original marked queen there and we just  couldn't find her? Had she supercede a week and sick queen or had she swarmed and re-queened herself?

We started going though the top box. Paula was pulling the frames out, looking on one side while I inspected the other side. Frame number 3, there she was, a huge beautiful unmarked queen on the side I was inspecting. Giddy with delight I pointed her out to Paula! At least that was settled, we had a new queen. At some point a virgin queen left that hive, headed for a drone congregating area to essentially prostitute herself with a handful of drones and then returned to the  hive and was accepted by the colony. Amazing! It is a little reassuring to me in that having a younger queen might help minimize swarming behavior. We also put an empty brood box on her so that they have plenty of room. And now we are keeping our fingers crossed.

We were seriously giddy with ourselves and the bees. We got everything done that we wanted and we had five hives in great shape. Now to keep Crazy Comb from swarming and move on to the first nectar flow. I am becoming a giddy beekeeper and a honey whore. I keep thinking about all these bees, all these hives and all the honey we might get. This is a far cry from the voice I kept hearing when I started all this three years ago "It isn't about the honey it is about the keeping of bees."  Hum . . .


Anonymous said...

I am excited about next week, this is very interesting!


GF Gidget said...