beetiger: (sunbee)
[personal profile] beetiger
Last week, I went in to check the hive. It was looking really full in there. Crazy full. Maybe I'd fed them a bit too much pollen in the early season, so they may have overproduced brood, but hey, it was May, the apple blossoms were getting pollinated, and I had gotten my bees through the winter.

I added a super on top of the hive in case they needed more places to start putting honey, with a queen excluder on so Her Highness didn't go up there, and a top door so they could get in and out correctly. They'd built a lot of extra comb in the compartment where they used to have spring food, so I made my first little candle of the season and kept a piece of pretty perfect round comb for [ profile] projectmothra to share at show and tell.

Yesterday afternoon, I was out at appointments during the morning but decided to come home for lunch, and when I drove into the driveway, there was a huge cloud of mellow bees in the front yard. Around the car, around the bushes with the lovely red flowers, around the big spruce tree. I had never seen anything like it.

I called my main bee mentor, who didn't answer. I called the hippie bee guy I take classes with sometimes, and he told me to quick get out my frame drum, sit under the tree, and play a heartbeat like he'd shown me. And sure enough, the swarm began to settle into two cone shaped clusters dripping from branches, almost low enough to get at with a ladder. Magic. My mentor said if they stayed two, probably one had the old queen and one had a virgin queen who got away from whomever the new queen in my hive was. But after about ten minutes, one cone won and all the bees moved over.

There's nothing wrong with bees swarming; it's the natural way hives reproduce. And swarming bees are pretty much the calmest bees ever; they have no home to protect, and they are about to head out. When you see photos of people putting bees on as beards, those are swarms. So it was not scary at all, really. But beekeepers don't like to lose bees, and suburban beekeepers don't like to worry that they've just given their unwilling neighbors a free hive of happy honeybees in a hole in a wall of their house or anything. So it's generally considered a good idea to collect your swarms if you can. It's like a free hive.

Once they are sitting on a branch, you usually have between about 12 and 36 hours to collect them. So I took a few pictures, then I called up a taller-than-me beekeeper friend to drive over and help, and then I got the empty hive box into the front yard, and the ladder out, and....the bees had already left, within about half an hour of landing. Which is very unusual, but not entirely unheard of.

So they are gone. Probably somewhere close, since the scouts gave the okay so quickly. I walked my property and the neighbors to confirm they weren't still right here, and I didn't see them anywhere obvious. I'm hoping they went to a dead tree somewhere in the power line right of way not too far from here -- they'd be happy there and out of people's way. I'm pretending I don't know about it unless someone comes and asks, because I do not want my neighbors freaking out, and they would. And I'm still planning to collect the nuc of new bees from Connecticut that I'm supposed to get a pickup call for anytime now.

The main hive looks a little quiet, but normal, from the outside. I figure I'll give them a few days to settle down before opening it up. I feel like a good steward of the Earth, sending more honeybees out to pollinate the world, if a little bit of a failure as a beekeeper for not collecting them. I still have a perfectly good, healthy hive in my yard. I had a reason to pull out my frame drum for the first time in forever. And I feel very very blessed to have been able to see this process from my hive. If I'd decided to take my reading to Panera instead of coming home, I'd have missed this entirely.

Date: 2011-05-13 04:07 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I'm glad you got to see it! It sounds pretty awesome. And I hope they found themselves a nice natural environment to make their hive in.

(I am reminded of my friend Drue telling us about going outside one afternoon and looking up at her house just in time to spot the swarm settling on the side of the attic and then just flowing inside. Their 1840s farmhouse has had several hives in it, including one really old, huge one.)

Date: 2011-05-13 04:12 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I'm really glad things are going okay. This is like, the first time you've posted about this stuff in quite a while.

Date: 2011-05-13 05:21 pm (UTC)
beowabbit: (Scenery: wildflower blossom)
From: [personal profile] beowabbit
Wow, cool!

Date: 2011-05-13 06:12 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
That was an awesome read! Thank you! What an adventure. :-)

Date: 2011-05-13 06:23 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
How lovely! I know it was a disappointment that you didn't get to keep the new hive, but you sent a new hive of honeybees out into the world!

Also, it means that the hive you have now must be very healthy!

Date: 2011-05-13 06:56 pm (UTC)
rosefox: Green books on library shelves. (Default)
From: [personal profile] rosefox
That cone picture is amazing.

Date: 2011-05-14 05:13 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
So cool! Thanks for sharing.

Date: 2011-05-14 03:22 pm (UTC)
rowyn: (content)
From: [personal profile] rowyn
Wow, that's so cool! I've heard that wild bees haven't been doing very well the last couple of years, so I'm glad to hear about a new hive out there. :)

Date: 2011-05-15 10:59 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
My swarm zoomed off about 3 hours after settling in a nearby tree. I think the "common wisdom" of how long before they run off may be in error.
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