Monday, March 30, 2009

Succession Swarming

I had a post all written in my head, prompted by posts on Esperanza's blog and some other things I've been reading and thinking about, about record-keeping and planfulness and recording output, and the different ways people decide what to plant -- dollar value of crop? Taste of homegrown vs. storebought/farmer's market? Nutritional value, or calorie count, รก la John Jeavons?

I was even writing down how many pole and bush beans we were planting out today, and remembering about how we'd made a math lesson out of equilateral triangles to make spacing jigs for the beans, and thinking aloud that if we were even going to have a garden, those escaping hens were going to have to have their wings clipped if we didn't want to rebuild the entire coop "roof," and trying in between everything to motivate my children to do their chores and schoolwork and responding to "Mama, look at this!" when my second daughter called to me. "The bees are swarming."

No. I had just reversed the hive bodies! They have lots of room! I haven't put feed bags and re-dusted them and and and.

And maybe -- I don't know -- maybe it's a swarm from the feral hive in the neighbor's tree. That's the source of my original beehive, and I still don't know. I'll have to get into my two hives later to see if they're the same.

I got on the phone. My sister, my gardening partner, wants to keep bees. But she wasn't home, and wasn't answering her cell. I called a local homeschooler who wants a swarm. But she didn't want it if it wasn't huge. And it wasn't. It was a standard-sized swarm:

It was also way overhead in another neighbor's acacia tree. I figured it wouldn't be hard to lop off the branch and drop it into a box, but the prospect didn't fill me with delight, either. I went back to planting beans.

My son was fascinated with the bees. "Hey! Look where they are!" While I'd been otherwise occupied, the bees had relocated themselves:

For some reason -- the queen falling, maybe? -- they'd moved to the ground, by the fence, about 6' north of where they'd been in the tree. Hmmm.

I have a spare hive body, with a few frames of drawn foundation:

What would happen if I just put it out by the swarm? The lazy beekeeper's method!

They were gentle while I was moving the box around, just flying and hanging out. I was completely calm. Swarms are generally pretty nice to be around, and I've seen numerous videos of them being captured barehanded by keepers. Not me, though. I was willing to just watch and see what they'd do.

However, I'm not just a lazy beekeeper, I'm also an impatient one. (Maybe just a really busy one.) After 15 minutes, I hadn't noticed any movement from information given by a scout bee to the group. Really, it's not going to happen that fast. I don't know the exact mechanism a swarm uses to communicate "Found a great place. Everyone relocate," but I'm pretty sure it isn't an instant thing.

Fortunately, I have a bee suit

They were around sticks and on a log. My seven year old was taking these pictures, until after I shook and swept them off of this log and he decided he wanted more space between him and the now-agitated bees.

One good indication that you've got the queen bee is that the workers will raise their Nasanov glands and fan a "queen here" pheromone to signal the rest of the bees to stop flying around like crazy girls and get inside. To me, it looks as though they're standing a bit on their heads:

For about a half an hour, the hive looked like this:

I finally had my son, who had suited up by now,

help me by lifting the lid of the hive while I gave the log another good hard shake. They didn't like that, but I finally got about 90% of the bees in the box. In about 20 minutes, they no longer looked like a swarm. Just like that, I've got another hive to learn from.

As my littlest one demonstrates all the time, this is all about learning in one way or another.

Tuesday morning:

I should haev remembered that it's never dull. The swarm took off, despite a hive with honey stores in it. I have no idea where they are, but I'm ready for the next one, I guess.


patricia said...

Thanks so much for sharing this story. I loved all the detail--especially Thing 3's contributions. I told Mr. T all about it in the car. (Still have to show him the photos.)

I think you must be giving off some uber-queen pheromones, and drawing these bees to you.

Susan said...

I love the close up photos followed by the from-across-the-yard photos! I was in a cloud of bees like that today. Yes, I actually worked the hive.

We were afraid they would swarm if we didn't give them more space, pronto. Some of them had stayed hanging outside all night. Now with their new space all but a few are inside.

Stefaneener said...

Oh, good!!

I hoped that would help. Good for you for working the bees. Hee hee, I'm just trying to get you guys to all keep bees so I have people to help me!