Monday, April 26, 2010

Queenless in Tallahassee

This weekend marked the 2-week point after my swarms, so it was time to take a peek inside and see what was happening. I checked both blue and green hives last weekend and saw no queens, but did see larvae in each hive so I thought that things were probably going well. But a lot can change in just one week.

Saturday was so windy I couldn't even get the smoker lit. Then Sunday morning we had a monsoon, and by the time it cleared up in the afternoon it was windy again. So . . . this morning I waited until about 10am, suited up, lit the smoker and went visiting.

Blue box was the one I was most concerned about, since this was the one that I was certain had swarmed, and since I saw no queen last weekend. I'm still new at all this and will be the first to admit that I am having major problems finding queens - even though I've started wearing my reading glasses when I open the hives. But today I was 99% sure there was no queen in the hive. I saw plenty of honey, pollen, and nectar, but no eggs or larvae in any stage. To add to it, the girls were downright testy - which is one of the signs of a queenless hive. Up to this point I've barely needed to use smoke at all. But today I was puffing it everywhere and they were flying all around me. Obviously, they did not appreciate my visit. The green box was, sadly, in almost the same state. No signs of a queen or her handiwork.

I went inside and called David, my bee mentor, to get his opinion on the matter. He first helped me calm down, then suggested that I either: 1) take a frame of eggs from the new, yellow box (the captured swarm) and put it into one of the queenless hives, thus allowing the girls to produce a new queen on their own; 2) combine one of the queenless hives with the yellow box, using the newspaper method; or 3) buy new queens. He ever-so-patiently walked me through the steps of each option, but by the time I hung up the phone my head was literally spinning with details.

As if my brain wasn't boggled enough, I spoke with Bob Jackson after dinner, who had a completely different slant to the whole thing. Bob seemed to think that I should wait a bit longer and see if I don't have virgin queens in both hives who just aren't laying eggs yet. But - he also agreed with David's suggestions, and said that all options were viable. He also reminded me that bees DO NOT read the beekeeping manuals, and tend to do whatever they happen to feel like doing at the moment! Listening to Bob on the phone reminded me of something I keep hearing about beekeeping: ask 5 beekeepers the same question and you'll get at least 6 different answers!!

After thinking about it all afternoon, I decided this evening to ask around and see if anyone has any queens for sale. This is, most definitely, the easiest approach to my double problem, requiring the least amount of skill and luck. But at this stage in my life as a beekeeper, I'm thinking that easy sounds pretty good. Luckily, one of my inquiries paid off and tonight I got an email from David L., who lives just 2 miles down the road. He's got queens for sale and will have two ready for me tomorrow! Yipee!!

So . . . stay tuned for my next new adventure: requeening the hive.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

'Tis the season

For swarming, that is. I went to the monthly meeting of the beekeeper's club last night, and swarm stories abounded. It seems that just about everybody either had a hive swarm this week or knew somebody who did, so I guess I'm in good company. Although I have to say that I didn't hear anybody else with a swarm capture story quite as odd as mine. I'm still quite proud of the bucket/duct tape/bamboo pole apparatus I concocted, and am now in the process of working on a new and improved swarm catcher for next swarm season . . . just in case this 20 feet up in the oak tree location gets to be a habit. Hmmmm - I'm thinking telescoping pool brush pole, a hoop at the end, and a pillow case sewn onto the hoop. Or maybe a rope pulley in the tree with a box attached to it?

Stay tuned . . . .

Monday, April 12, 2010

Swarm II

Well . . . when it rains bees, it pours! After all the excitement of yesterday's swarm and capture, I expected to relax today and have a peaceful and non-dramatic day in the beeyard. But it seems that was not what the bees had in mind.

I went outside about noon to put away my handy-dandy bamboo bucket bee-catcher, and happened to glance up in the tree where they'd swarmed to see if any stragglers were still hanging around. Guess what? On the branch just above the site of yesterday's swarm was ANOTHER one!! Now I'm sure there's something going on here that I don't yet know, because I'm thinking that it's just too much of a coincidence that another swarm would pick not only the same tree, but almost the same branch. Could it be that they were attracted to lingering pheremones from yesterday's event? Or could it be that this is just a really, really good tree to hang out in if you happen to be a swarm of bees? I'm hoping somebody at the bee club meeting on Tuesday will be able to shed some light on this mystery.

But, I digress. We continued to watch Swarm II all afternoon as it grew and settled in for the night. By dusk it was quite a bit larger than the one from yesterday. Several thoughts immediately came to mind: 1) Were these bees the remainder of my blue hive? 2) Did the green one swarm too when I wasn't looking? 3) Had the captured swarm left the nuc box and re-assembled on the tree? or 4) Were these bees from someone else's hive, or possibly a group of wild bees? Nos. 1, 2, and 3 seemed unlikely, since there seemed to still be plenty of bees coming and going from the blue, green, and nuc hives. But still . . . . I have to admit that it was really, really tempting to pop the lids on the blue and green hives just to see how many bees were left, but I resisted temptation and decided to let them (and me) have a day of rest and relaxation. Besides, I had the entire community coming to my house at 5 for the monthly community dinner and meeting, and it really wasn't a good time to get out the veil and smoker. Nothing like having a basketball-sized blog of bees hanging from a tree in the front yard when your whole neighborhood is at your house for dinner. So much for trying to be an inconspicuous beekeeper!

I woke up at dawn this morning and sneaked out in the yard to peek at the swarm. The size had changed pretty dramatically and had formed into a perfect heart shape - an unbelievably beautiful valentine of bees hanging in my favorite live oak tree, surrounded by resurrection fern and Spanish moss in the early morning dew. I hope that I never forget what a breath-taking sight this was.

By mid-morning we detected a bit of activity, with a few stray bees darting to and from the swarm and a few others orbiting a few inches around it, and by noon a small hole had opened up in the side and bees appeared to be climbing out of the hole and flying off. We figured a scout had come back with news of a good place to move, and that a decision had been made. Sure enough, we went out for about an hour and, when we came back about 1:30 the swarm was gone.

I may never know where these bees came from, and I'll definitely never know where they went - but I will go to sleep tonight feeling thankful that I had the chance to watch them for 24 hours, and for the lovely valentine they gave me before they departed.

Saturday, April 10, 2010


So . . . it's been 2 weeks today since the bees arrived and I set up the 2 hives, and today I learned another valuable lesson - bees don't always do what the beekeeping books say they should be doing!

So much has happened in the past 2 weeks I can't seem to keep up with it! It was two Saturdays ago that I went with David to pick up the bees from Bob and bring them back to their new home. Then last Saturday, I opened the hives for the first time and took a tentative peek inside to see how things were going. Looked good to me, although I though I might have seen a couple of queen cells on one of the frames. Thursday Jeff the bee inspector came and we spent an hour going through the hives and checking things out. Sure enough - there were 4 queen cells, but we cut them out and thought things were OK. Put the honey supers on both hives and patted myself on the back for how smoothly things were going.

Big mistake. At 2:00 th
is afternoon I was in Target shopping when I got a frantic phone call from hubby saying there was a "tornado" of bees coming out of one of my hives. Not good. I rushed home to find that about half of the girls from the blue box had made a very pretty, but not so easily reachable swarm about 20 feet up in a live oak tree in the front yard. We tried the regular ladder. We tried a neighbor's roofing ladder. We tried a combination of roofing ladder and pole saw. Then I realized there was just no way to reach the swarm and cut the limb without either having the whole limb come crashing to the ground or ending up in the emergency room with a broken something, or both.

So . . . as I sat on the ground watching my bees hanging from the tree, I had a thought. If it's not possible to bring the bees down to a container, why not bring the container up to the bees? A few minutes later, I had a 5 gallon plastic bucket attached to a long bamboo pole with duct tape.

My friend Garrett McCampbell came over to help, and he and I held the bottom of the pole together and guided it up slowly until it was just under the blob of bees. Then we whacked the tree limb with the bucket and ended up with a bucket o' bees, and a whole bunch of really mad bees raining down on our heads. We slowly lowered the bucket to the ground and dumped
the ones we caught into Garrett's hive, then went up for another bucket full. Five tries later, we located the queen and put her into the hive! Like magic, the other bees instantly recognized that she was present, and within 30 minutes every one of them had gone into the box to be with her.

David Hall, my bee mentor, showed up about 6:00 with a hastily assembled nuc box and all of his gear (he SO deserves a trophy or something for all of the help he's given me in the past 2 weeks) and about an hour later we had transferred all the bees from Garrett's hive into the nuc box, added a frame of brood from the
original hive, put on a lid and feeder, and set the box up beside the other 2 hives.

Which just goes to show you that you have to be VERY careful what you wish for - because didn't I just say to somebody recently that I couldn't wait to get some more hives?!

Friday, April 2, 2010

The bees are here!

After a few days of back and forth phone calls, calendar checking, and weather forecasting we managed to coordinate the schedules of myself, my bee mentor David, bee seller Bob, and the bees themselves and set a date to go and pick up my two nuc hives!

David came by about 4 last Saturday with his truck loaded with bags of sugar he'd picked up at the bee supply place in Moultrie, Georgia. We then loaded up my hives and stands and drove to Sycamore - about an hour away from here - and arrived at Bob's place. I was certainly glad that I went with David in his truck. I'm not sure I would ever have found my way there, and I really didn't relish the thought of driving home with several thousand bees in the back of my minivan! On top of that, we discovered on the way over that we had (in addition to bees) homeschooling in common as David and his wife homeschooled their two daughters all the way. So - we had lots to talk about on the ride!

Bob has about a hundred hives on his 40-something acre place. He gave me the grand tour in his golf cart - beautiful land with acres and acres of planted pines and rows of beehives. We then all suited up and opened a few hives, looking for the perfect nucs for me to take home. After a little bit of searching Bob found the ones he was looking for - 10 frames literally dripping with bees, five for each of my hives. He spent lots of time with me, showing me the queens, capped and uncapped brood, larvae and eggs, pollen and honey. There is so much to learn and remember!

We very carefully loaded the 2 hives onto the back of David's truck and secured them with packing straps, then drove them back to Tallahassee. Arrived just a few minutes before dark and gently placed them on the stand I had set up by my blueberry bushes. I have to say that the girls were NOT happy after an hour of jostling around in the back of a truck! You could hear the hum from both hives about 10 feet away. After setting them up on the stands we removed the packing straps, took the moving screens off the entrances and reduced them with bricks, then installed the Boardman feeders with sugar water and - VOILA - I had two hives of bees in my yard!

Went to sleep Saturday night tired but happy, with the sound of that humming in my head. I set my alarm for 7, wanting to make sure I was out in the yard by the time the first bee woke up and ventured out of the hive. I fixed my coffee and went out to bee-watch. About 8:30, the first ones emerged, taking their orientation flights and returning to the hive - I suppose to pass along information to their sisters. Slowly out of the hive, up in a loop, and back in. Then out again, up and out a little farther, and back in again. By noon there were hundreds of them checking things out - even a few venturing into the garden, buzzing around the blueberries, and sipping water out of the soaker hoses!

Fast forward to Friday, April 2. The girls have been here for almost a week now, and have settled in and seem to be enjoying themselves. I'm now seeing them all around the yard - on the clover, in the dogwood trees, all around the garden. They come out around 9, and exit in a steady stream, returning loaded with pollen.

So far I've resisted opening the lids, but tomorrow's the day I've picked to do it for the first time. Practiced lighting the smoker today and finding just the right fuel to produce a steady cool smoke. The inspector is coming next Thursday, so for now I'll be happy with just taking the lids off and peeking inside. If I feel good about it, I'll look at each frame to see if the empty ones are being drawn out with wax - and will possibly move some of the outer, empty frames closer toward the center. I'm a little nervous about doing this the first time, but excited too. Stayed tuned!!