Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Yet another bee post

First, apologies to chaiselongue, who finds bee pictures sort of squicky. To ease into this post, then, two pictures which have nothing to do with bees! Well, nearly nothing. The first is my Saturday harvest. Four kinds of snow peas, the last of the broccoli, and some shelling peas, which are so covered with powdery mildew it's time to pull the plants.

This morning, I almost didn't notice my guest. Early to rise isn't just for people, I suppose. It's been rainy, just the perfect kind of rainy, and everything is full of beauty.

Now, on to the bees. Ribbit asked where one would find a swarm. Before I became a beekeeper, I saw exactly one swarm in my life, and that just because I happened to look up at the right time into a tree in a park. I thought it was interesting, but it didn't change my life in any way. Well, the next one was the original swarm I hived, so it did change my life. Now that I'm sort of more desperate for bees, there are also many more beekeepers, and the competition is heaing up. Seriously.

So I post on Craigslist, but there's a local guy who offers to pay for the swarms, and he gets most of the calls. The beekeeping club has a swarm pick up list, and members of the public can call us directly. I turned down a couple of calls from this list last week. (Even though I'm anxious for bees, I'm not driving to East Oakland in the evening.) I'm on the local police department's swarm call list, and the local local beekeeper's Yahoo group and sometimes a friend will call. Lots of ways.

On Saturay, there was a post on the local group that a guy had a swarming hive. So I headed out there, after making sure of the address once I realized I had it wrong, and it turned out that there were actually two swarms. So, I got one and he got one, in a sort of synchronized dance of beekeeping. They were low down in a peach tree and on an adjacent fence. We boxed the bees, the gathered up any remaining ones, and then set the boxes aside to rest. We figured that the bees would find their way there if the smells were right.

During that operation, his wife came out to tell us his friends had called -- their hive was swarming. So we packed up and caravaned over there, and I helped him do a bucket catch. You tape a 5 gallon bucket to a stick or pole, then maneuver it under the swarm, punch up and the bulk of the bees falls into the bucket, and you pour them into a box. He was much taller than me, and could easily reach them if he stood on a table, since they were about 15' up. That one took very little time, once we got all set up.

Last Friday, though, my neighbor said that my bees had been swarming. I looked out back but saw no difference in the hives. Maybe they were my bees, maybe not. There is still that feral hive, and I know of at least one beekeeper across the way. Lots of possible sources.

But then -- then the swarm materialized in front of my neighbor's house, flying in a soaring vortex of humming bees. It was glorious, and we reveled in it, but I also thought, "Time to act!" So I put together a waxed cardboard box, called a Nuc Box, which holds five deep frames. I included some stinky old brood comb, figuring it would be tempting to any passing scout bees. We popped it up in a tree, and waited.

Nothing. They ignored it and settled just downwind from it, in a majestic oak tree.

High in the oak tree.

Very very high.

Undaunted, another sweet neighbor tried to help me (even though he's not thrilled about bees) by setting up a 12' ladder, tying a bucket to a very long pole, and trying to "dump" the bees into it from the bottom. No go. Then he made a hook on a pole, and tried to shake them off their branch. No go; the tree was too dense.

Saturday, an even taller neighbor offered to help, and the bees had moved around in the tree. We finally decided to try our extension ladder (something I could never do alone; it's way too heavy for me). Sarafina helped me carry it out and the neighbors set it up:

Helpful neighbors.

I walked up there with the box and frames while they held the bottom. You can see the swarm as a dark ball ahead of me:

Once up there, I found I could sit on the tree, put the box under the swarm, and just sort of push them in there. They fell right in, I traded places with the box, eased the top on, and left it up there.

There were some really beautiful bees in that swarm. Probably not pure bred, but there were definitely Cordovan traits. Blondes! They weren't from my yard.

On Sunday, Eric got up early with me and I went back up the tree, taped a cover on the entrance hole in the box, and walked them back down the tree. They were great. I set them up in the yard. Following that, we stopped by the other beekeeper's house and picked up the swarm in the box. Two new swarms! I thought I was doing great and would have my three hives plus one to replace a friend's dead hive. Of course, as you saw yesterday, I was wrong. No new queen in my big hive called for drastic measures.

Another beekeeper came over and she helped me go through that big hive and use newspaper to combine it with the pretty girl swarm. We checked the big hive, and then placed newspaper on top of the bottom brood box. Then we put a new empty box on that, transferred the swarm's frames from the cardboard box into it, filled it with more frames, and then covered that with newspaper. Kind of a sandwich, because there were more boxes to return to the top.

The bees that were already in the queenless hive were pretty unpleasant to work with. They just aren't right, and they let you know. We shook them into the bottom of the hive before doing the combination.

Now, this could work perfectly. I could have the new queen accepted, get my gigantic hive set up, and then (finally) get to split it into two hives.That done, I'd be finished swarm catching unless I could find some for my friends.

Or the bees could kill the queen and continue on their merry, unhappy way. I'll be able to tell in a week or so. Plus I very much want to cut that hive down -- it's too tall. I dont' know if the dead bees in the front were injured in the moving around, or if they're dead from infighting. I really won't know for a bit.

The really fascinating thing happened yesterday and today, though. I thought I saw bees leaving the hive carrying newspaper like little Labradors. I knew there were bits of newspaper in front of the hive (the little green bits) but wasn't sure I was seeing the movement correctly. So I went out this morning with a camera. Voila!

She had to work really hard to achieve liftoff with such a big piece. It was really impressive to me, and fun to watch. I can only hope that removing the paper means all is well. I'd love a hive full of blondes.


michelle said...

Oh that is so interesting. Good luck with the new swarms. I have to say that you won't catch me 12 feet up in a tree with a box strapped to my back and a swarm of bees in front of me. You go girl!

chaiselongue said...

Thanks, Stefaneener. I'm impressed by the peas - are these from plants from last year which have lasted over the winter? And the hummingbird is amazing! Like Michelle, I wouldn't want to be up that tree with those bees, but I'm glad some people can do it, because we need bees!

Jeff Vandiver said...

Wow, you're a dedicated beekeeper!

Ribbit said...

Fantastic!!! I'm going to have to be on the look out this year for swarms just to say I saw one.

Is catching a swarm the only way to start a hive? I didn't know if it was a case of get a queen and "they will come."

Gordon said...

May I say you are insane? Not about working with bees but doing so high in a tree - when does obsession become madness...

Curbstone Valley Farm said...

Another fascinating bee post. Although I felt a touch of vertigo seeing how far up that into that tree you had to climb! Wouldn't find me that far up a ladder! I really hope your blond bees work out, do keep us posted.

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

I'm in east Oakland, and am looking to learn about swarm catching. Just sayin'...


Stefaneener said...

Hey, Michelle, usually I do not go into ladders -- I had too many close calls. This one was personal, though, and I had a lot of help ladder-holding and all. They had better work out!

chaiselongue, I think they were planted in October, as that's recommended time here. I bet I could squeeze in another planting, but I'm itching for summer crops.

EG, it's just the season.

Ribbit, a lot of beekeepers buy packages (a couple of pounds of unrelated bees plus a caged mated queen) or nucs (a laying queen and attendants, on frames, about 3 pounds) to start. Or you can (not that I can) split a hive to increase your numbers. Swarms are cheap and locally adapted, and we do NOT have Africanized bees here.

Gordon, my neighbor had me attach the ladder to the tree with a strap and they held the bottom. Is that saner?

CVS, it was very very very high. I did not look down. And the neighbors get honey soon.

Lisa, I know. I promised the next available one to another Oakland beek, but you're on my radar. How did Taylor's split work out?

Erin said...

I love the shot of you scaling the tree with the box tied on! And I LOVE the bee posts!

D said...

Oh my! we had a 70' oak fall! in January with a colony in one of the arms of the tree; unfortunately I had a difficult time finding someone to help, but finally one did... good news is that I recently posted the third time on the bees. If you have an opportunity you might enjoy the saga:http://voiceinthegarden.blogspot.com/

Pretty amazing creatures they are!

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

Taylor's split is still a work in progress. We've got a yard full of hives and are just twiddling our thumbs. By the way, I wrote a blog post about a so-called swarm in Alameda. I called you about this, hoping for some advice. Did you get my message?

Ribbit said...

I forgot to add that climbing that ladder like that is how you fall. Falling is bad.

No more crazy stunts like that, or at least get a stunt double.

Stefaneener said...

Erin, thank you. I felt intrepid.

Lisa, I thought you got good trap-out advice. If you left a message, I didn't get it.

Ribbit, you mean hanging on with both hands and stepping carefully? I really was conscious of it being high, and I had on-ground helpers every time. And on the way down, I only needed to wrap the box up in one arm, and could rest that on the ladder too. It felt pretty secure. I generally don't do swarms on ladders, though. Hate climbing them. This one was personal.

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

Heh. I suspected my message wasn't actually being written down.

kitsapFG said...

Well that does it... there is no way I can do beekeeping if it involves hovering off the ground more than a regular step ladder reaches! Really - I am totally SO not good with being up high and even less juggling a heavy load on a ladder that looks like it could go at any moment. Yikes!

I can enjoy watching you live dangerously though and keep learning about the art of beekeeping (and catching). :D

Stefaneener said...

Lisa, email is the best way to get my attention. The kids are unreliable. I'll email you my cell phone number.

kitsapFG, NO, no, no, no. . . usually they are enough so you can reach them from the ground, or with a tool, or on a stepstool. Really. Bees are short!

Esperanza said...

great shots of you in action!

Mr. H. said...

I wish I was in your bee group, you are having such interesting experiences with the bees...how fun. I would have never guessed that beekeeping involved such strenuous excercise.

Jan said...

What a fantastic series of photos, I'm fascinated!

patricia said...

And I felt so rebellious about climbing a little fence. Ha.

Bleu Cheese said...

Amazing, Stefaneener. I was directed here by Tricia's post and am flabbergasted (I love that word) at your intrepid swarm scouting. Out of curiosity, (re: your comment to the commenter above) where *DO* they have Africanized bees? Does the "not have" zone extend down to San Diego, or is it just your immediate area?