Saturday, March 13, 2010

Bee-youtiful

Last year was the first year I had excess honey, so specialty one-pound jars were bought, a label designed, and I started selling honey. Directly to friends, but also through a local store which likes to carry local food. Turns out they'd sold out of what they bought from me, and asked for more today. I have just enough to do another two dozen jars (when they show up from the maker). Maybe I'll expand a bit more this year.

On way to expand an apiary is through splits. I may split my boomer hive tomorrow or Monday. It needs inspecting, at any rate. I don't want to miss swarm cells and have the bees take off on me. It's fully swarm season here, finally.

A friend of mine has a spot in her yard to which bees return yearly. New swarms, sometimes more than one per year, cluster in a peach tree or nearby bush in her yard. There must be a scent left there that tells wandering bees that this is a good spot to swarm to. The first call -- "Swarm near the peach tree again!" came in today while I was learning to stripe a Little League field.

Caterina was the only family member to come to the bees with me, and she would much rather jump on the trampoline than take pictures of her mama hiving a swarm. (Besides, the camera is heavy for her and she sometimes takes more ground than subject.) Some of these pictures were taken one-handed, so sorry for the quality.

The swarm seemed very small when I peeked into the bush. Oh well, I figured, I can always help them grow. But then, I looked more carefully and there were two clusters in the bush. I couldn't tell how large the bottom one was, but the top was about the size of a large grapefruit.


My friend had told me to go ahead and do whatever I needed to get into that area, so I carefully snapped some low-down twigs. It was important to be able to drop the swarm onto something and then retrieve it, since I wasn't going to cut the branch on which they were hanging, and the space was too small to put the hive box under. I wanted to be able to "snap" them onto the top of the hive and then pull it out, like a spatula under an undulating pancake of bees.

With the first shake, more bees than I had expected fell onto the top. I quickly pulled it out and "poured" the bees down into the hive body. I had brought a full box of comb, carefully selected to have good broodnest pattern, so that it would be an easy transition. No box to shake them out of, just installing the hive right onto the stand at home. The sheet is there to wrap up the bees in the hive box. I didn't bring a bottom, and I don't want them flying around after they're hived.

Perhaps I could have waited and they would have moved into the box on their own, but today was a ridiculously busy day. Shaking it would have to be.


I was impressed at just how many there were. Masses of bees, even though the shake had led to quite a few flying around away from the bush. Those eventually re-congregated on the bush in two clusters, just like before.


The following series of woefully uncropped pictures shows how the bees just flow down into the box, finding their way among the frames. I had, by this time, turned the box top over and capped the hive, making it a nice dark safe place for them. I used a cardboard box top to catch and pour subsequent shakes of the bees.

Watch the little twig in the middle of the top of the hive cover. The bees move away from that as they "boil" into the box.

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The big kid needs to be taken over to the carpool point at 6am again tomorrow. It's frisbee tournament time, so Eric and I will drop her off and then go over, in the cool hours of sunrise, wrap the bees up in the sheet, and carry them home. By the time it's warm enough to fly, they'll be installed in the hive Ellie is hoping to manage herself. I don't think she wants to keep bees; she wants to sell honey! I can't blame her; it's a sweet end to useful work. But she should have to get up at 5:30 too.

23 comments:

Heiko said...

This is mighty impressive looking! They keep telling you to start a swarm you just pick one off a tree. I'm telling you I've never seen a swarm of bees in a tree and I have looked.

Jan said...

Wow, super photos, well done!

Daphne said...

I hope your new bees work out for you. I've never had swarms around where I live. It would be just too cool to see.

Erin said...

Great post! And those bees look pretty healthy, too. We have a guy here that we can call when we want to do bees and in exchange for him harvesting the honey, he will set up a hive and relocate a swarm to our yard - sounds interesting, but I think for a small hive I may want to build the hive myself and keep the honey! Either way, great learning experience for the kids.

Ribbit said...

Fantastic, fantastic, fantastic!!!!! Your honey is the best we've ever tasted. Very earthy and decadent. Glad you've seem to have gotten yourself another hive.

Stefaneener said...

Heiko, I've only seen two spontaneously myself, and the first one I had no idea what I was seeing. Here we have community email lists that you can advertise on, plus a swarm list on the beekeeper's list, plus the police have a swarm list. I bet where you are people just know who to call when they see swarms. They're local and adapted, although some people think they are genetically inclined to swarm. I like them a lot. Lots of vigor, usually.

Jan, thanks. Some day I'll carry a photographer (over 4 feet tall) with me.

Daphne, I bet you have. . .

Erin, I was very impressed! Keeping bees is interesting and fairly easy. I just heard a talk by a guy named Serge Labesque. See if you can find his Chow video interviews.

Ribbit, thanks. I was thinking about you and honey yesterday. You guys have got to find a local supplier!

Susan said...

That was a great series of photos! It is amazing how all those bees disappear into the box with frames. Not like pouring marbles. We're in the market for a swarm if you hear of any more. We've got a dead hive.

kitsapFG said...

What a great (and interesting) post! I had no idea how a swarm was collected and hived. So do they typically stay put once they are in a hive that is suitable or do they have wander lust once they have swarmed once?

Curbstone Valley Farm said...

Very interesting post. I'm surprised there were so many bees hiding in that bush! Congratulations on selling out of the first round of honey!

Christina said...

WOW. This is so fascinating. It's all new information to me, and I'm hooked!

Mr. H. said...

Really neat! It was very interesting to see and read about how you collected them. They seem so docile. Do you have to worry about the African bees in your area?

Stefaneener said...

Susan, I'll keep you in mind. The odds of more swarms are quite high. My town seems to be a hot spot. This one replaced my dead out.

kitsapFG, some people think swarm queens are prone to reswarming, and I've had them decide to take off again. This bunch was here yesterday, and I'll check again. No promises, but they have a very nice hive with lots of room and lots of stores. They don't have to build a new house, in other words. Just set up housekeeping.

CVF, thanks. Honey sales seem to be slow but steady. A pendant swarm off of a branch often looks more impressive, but this was a big bunch tucked in there.

Christina, bees are endlessly fascinating. They're such cheerful, benign folk, too.

Mr. H., some people collect swarms utterly barehanded, because they are at their most docile then. No babies to protect, just looking for a house. I don't because I've been stung by them and just don't want to start on the wrong foot. Africanized bees haven't moved this far north, and if it stays cold enough, they won't. Seems to be a matter of time. If/when they do, I won't be hiving swarms, though.

Ottawa Gardener said...

That is so amazing. Seriously, I"m impressed just by the process and also because I have a fear of bees. My hubby is going to be the bee keeper in the family. I had a friend whose pear tree was a bee magnet.

Stefaneener said...

Ottawa Gardener, I still hate (hate, hate hate) getting stung by bees, but no phobias, which helps tremendously. I really respect them. It's nice that you have a potential keeper in the family -- everyone can enjoy honey and be grateful; not everyone has to be hands-on

Chiot's Run said...

Very exciting! That's a good looking swarm!

Kristin said...

Fantastic post. I really enjoyed seeing them crawl in. You sure know your stuff.

michelle said...

Wonderful post! I've seen one pendant swarm once, in an apricot tree, it was fantastic. I keep saying that I want to do bees but never get around to it. It would be nice if I could find a local bee group to join but haven't found that either. In the meantime I'll continue to enjoy your bee posts.

時尚 said...

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allisonmariecat said...

Ahem. You have honey-addict blog friends with PayPal...I'm just sayin' :)

Stefaneener said...

Wow. The bee posts sure generate a lot of fun. There will be more, as this swarm seems "hot," or agressive.

Chiot's Run, it was a bigger group than I'd expected. I'm having mixed feelings now, though. . .

Kristin, we're all faking it. Are you going to the class this weekend?

Michelle, your garden seems great without your own bees, but they are kind of fun.

Allison, for you I'll just get honey out. I forgot. . .

Stefaneener said...

Wow. The bee posts sure generate a lot of fun. There will be more, as this swarm seems "hot," or agressive.

Chiot's Run, it was a bigger group than I'd expected. I'm having mixed feelings now, though. . .

Kristin, we're all faking it. Are you going to the class this weekend?

Michelle, your garden seems great without your own bees, but they are kind of fun.

Allison, for you I'll just get honey out. I forgot. . .

Momma_S said...

Your are one brave girl! I think I could shake the tree, but I'm pretty sure I'd run once they started flying around...

Thanks for sharing such an interesting post. I've learned a few new things today!

. . . Lisa and Robb . . . said...

Please please please ... if you need help on a swarm ... please let me tag along. I own a lot of the gear -- bee suit, ladders, long-handled pruning tools. I've got a station wagon and a sense of humor.

And I want to learn about swarm collection.

(I left my phone number on the Alameda County Beekeeper's Yahoo site.)

Lisa in Oakland