Sunday, July 1, 2012

Losing a Swarm

Swarming is to the beekeeper what losing all of her calves is to a cattle-woman. Beekeepers try to anticipate swarming and assist the bees to reproduce in a more controlled fashion by splitting hives. This saves the "caves" and keeps the cow in condition to accomplish some work. I am not laissez-faire beekeeper. I am responsible and proactive and yet a hive has managed to swarm on me. There is an old English poem which reads:

A swarm of bees in May is worth a load of hay;

A swarm of bees in June is worth a silver spoon;

A swarm of bees in July isn't worth a fly 

So in July let them fly. What does the beekeeper do on June 30th when they get the swarm call. I'd had a particularly horrific day at work and was looking forward to a picnic at my brother-in-laws. Brats, swimming, heck maybe even a bonfire. Driving home my cell phone rang, I didn't recognize the number with a 507 area code. "Cari, Steve Abbott here. I have a swarm in my yard, just like last August." The poem doesn't even mention a swarm in August which is almost unheard of. I had sort of doubted Steve last August when he told me weeks after the fact about a swarm he'd seen. However, early this spring it was clear Crazy Comb had re-queened so there was a possibility she'd swarmed. I sent Steve several emails this spring about swarms, what to do and who to call if he couldn't reach me. I made sure he knew if it happened again he should call so we could try and catch the swarm. Steve went on to describe the swarm, smaller than last August, hanging in a tree about four feet off the ground.

My heart skipped a beat or two,  I had a flood of emotion. How could this be?  Could I catch it? I'd never tried to catch a swarm before. I told Steve I would call him back as soon as I got home and got organized. I tried to reach Paula, my beekeeping partner. When she didn't answer I got a little more nervous. Could I do this myself? Shit was the only word that came to mind. The phone rang, it was Steve again.  "There moving north and up higher in pine tree. I have a ladder you can use." O.K. I knew I was over my head. I told Steve I would be home momentarily and would be making some calls to the Twin Cities Hobby Beekeepers Swarm Catchers hotline to get some help. I got no more than another few blocks and Steve called again. "They are not clustered, they are flying all around. I am not sure they are staying in the pine tree." I explained swarming behavior to Steve. They usually find an intermediary place to hang out while scout bees look for permanent home. Then they move again. It was weird they were not clustering and seemed disorganized. Maybe the queen didn't make it in the move. I would need some advice from the swarm catchers.

I was so glad when Bob answered the swarm hotline and explained the situation. Bob seemed to think they were on the move. He gave me the name of two swarm catchers in Northfield I could call. I knew the bees would need to cluster again before we could even consider catching them.

I called Steve back to tell him I was on my way down, it would take me an hour to get there. "There gone, not even on my property anymore. I can hardly see them and they don't seem to be in a cluster."

My heart sank, a lost swarm, even though it was nearly July I wanted those bees! I need those bees!  I couldn't believe it. Which hive I wondered. 8 days earlier I knew all the hives were stable. It couldn't be one of the new hives, or Mr. Abbott they have plenty of new room, new queens and no reason to bolt. Well, maybe Mr. Abbott but why would a small divide swarm, it didn't make since. The only hive we had not inspected deeply was Crazy Comb and she wasn't divided in the spring. I figured she had maybe swarmed in August and re-queened so I thought she would be o.k.

I am anxious to get down there and inspect the hives. Our apprentice beekeeper Colleen is going to help me since I can't reach Paula. Royal Ruckus is Colleen's namesake. She is a real trooper and after today I think she will probably be elevated from apprentice to beekeeper.

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