Tag Archive | swarm

Making Up for Lost Time

Friday, May 15, 2015

The honey flow is in full force right now.  While everyone else is hacking and sneezing, the bees are taking advantage of the spring blooms. They’re crazy busy collecting pollen and nectar, procreating, and making honey.  Go girls, go!

Chilled Brood

We did have a minor setback about 2 weeks ago.  Frost set in for several evenings, chilling the eggs and larvae, as shown in the photo below, and setting the girls back a week or two.  When I inspected the hives, I naturally thought the queen was once again having issues.  But seeing as I’ve been through this exact scenario only a few weeks earlier, I checked back a week later and found the queens were back in business, quickly laying new brood.

photoHeavy Supers

I added supers to all hives about a month ago.  This past week I lifted them off for inspection and realized how heavy they are already!  That’s exciting news and could indicate a good honey harvest (no jinxing).  By this weekend, I hope to have a second layer of supers on all of my hives.  Good thing I’ve been cleaning frames and boxes.  I’ve stacked quite a few boxes in the greenhouse. Lots of light in there to keep wax moths away.  I’ve given up on maintaining consistent color schemes and have succumbed to mixing them up.

photo

Expanding the Brood Chambers

In addition to adding supers, my other strategy was to adapt “The Rose Hive” method of adding brood boxes just above the bottom box to expand the brood chamber (laying area) rather than expanding from above.  Bees swarm because they run out of space to lay and/or there’s lack of ventilation.  The theory is that if you continue to expand the brood chamber and ensure they have plenty of room, then they will continue to populate and won’t have reason to swarm.  Makes perfect sense to me!  I don’t believe you can ever prevent them from swarming, but they may bee inclined to stay a bit longer.

With that said, all of these supers and brood boxes are stacking up into some pretty tall colonies.  My next strategy is to start splitting so we can get yellow hive back up and running.

Loving this gorgeous spring weather.  Hard to get upset about the pollen when I know how happy my bees are.  Hang in there everyone, and keep eating your local raw honey.  The more local the better!

photo

Advertisements

Rules Don’t Apply to Bees – Part 2 (The Girls Come Home)

Sunday, August 24, 2014 (1PM)

IMG_2661

A week after Pink Hive Swarmed, I’m at a vineyard with friends, and the phone rings. I answered to a frantic hubster who is claiming that the swarm has returned and “they are moving back into Pink Hive”.

“Are you sure they’re not doing orientation flights?”, I asked. “No, I know what a swarm looks like,” he said. Indeed, at this point, he’s seen more swarms than I have. What’s more, he videotaped the event AND sent me a convincing photo. The swarm covered the entire front surface of pink hive.

WTH?

Seriously? What the heck? It had to be the same swarm. I can’t believe a stray swarm would just happen to move into the same hive that just swarmed…unless they sensed that hive was weak. It wasn’t visibly weak though. In fact, I would never have known it swarmed if I hadn’t seen the swarm myself. I planned to wait 2 weeks before checking for brood. As it stood, inside and out, the numbers looked good!

We were thrilled to have them back, of course, but were a bit dumbfounded by what had happened.  So I proceeded to research the heck out of it.

Potential Theories

Theory 1:  I’ve heard of swarms moving into an empty hive.  That makes sense, it’s a ready-made home with no inhabitants and no threats.   Pink Hive was not an empty hive, it was an active hive, so this is unlikely.

Theory 2:  I’ve heard of swarms moving into weak hives – hives that are low in numbers and are either queenless or have a weak queen.  Since the hive had just swarmed, there’s certainly a chance the hive could have been queenless.  They were lower in numbers, but not weak.  Perhaps it was weaker than I thought.  It was a first year hive, and the swarm was a big one, so there’s no doubt the population was hit hard, regardless of appearance.

Theory 3:  Sometimes when a swarm leaves a hive, if the queen is left behind, they will return to the hive within minutes.  They’ll remain in the hive until a new virgin queen emerges, then they will swarm again – usually within a week or two.  When this happens, it is best to split the hive or create a fake swarm before they swarm again.  This should prevent the second swarm from occurring.   However, they came back within hours or minutes.  They came back a week later!

Theory 4:  They’ll often return to the hive if the queen is lost or damaged during the swarm process.  Again, this usually occurs within hours or minutes, which makes me wonder if the queen had been damaged or killed during our botched attempt to retrieve them or during their journey elsewhere.  This seems the most likely situation to me.  Their numbers were halved from their original swarm.  Perhaps their chosen location didn’t work out.

Theory 5:  They just needed a vacation, perhaps somewhere warm, a little less crowded where they could relax and enjoy some sites.  The Carolinas maybe, I hear that’s a popular place with the bees.  They’ve worked hard this season, they earned it :o)

If Only Bees Could Talk

Boy, wouldn’t we like to know the real story?  I do know that there’s a chance of another swarm, if it hasn’t happened already.  The traffic is minimal at the entrance.  I added another box for space. They have tons of capped brood. I’ll give them a check this weekend.

My money says they’ll swarm this Sunday, just after our big family arrives for a nice outdoor get together…in true BooBee fashion. Ha ha. Nothing like giving my inlaws a show!  After all, Sundays mid-mornings are their favorite time to swarm.  Of course I’ll either be useless the rest of the day, or I’ll just let them go…again.

Oh well, they’ll do what they want to do, when they want to do it.  :o]

Rules Don’t Apply to Bees – Part 1 (Late Summer Swarm)

Sunday, August 17, 2014 (10:30 AM)

IMG_2626

 

Beekeepers have lots of “rules of thumb” to keep us at least one step ahead of the little buggers. The bees, however, don’t know or care about our rules. The bees have their own rule. They do what they want to do, when they want to do it. That’s their rule.

The past month has been uneventful at BooBee Apiary. It’s been nice. Everyone minding their own beeswax, collecting nectar and pollen and working hard to make us honey while we gather and enjoy garden veggies and plan out our pending honey harvest.

The possibility of swarms hadn’t entered my mind since June. I thought we were done with swarms, at least til next spring. Supposedly, bees swarm for two reasons:

  • They run out of room, and/or
  • Bad ventilation.

I’ve been adding new boxes, ensuring they have space, and I’ve added vented spacers to help air circulation and provide more entrances.

We’re now in August – the bees should bee switching their focus from reproduction to gathering stores for winter. The girls kick the male bees (drones) out of the hives, the workers start packing comb with honey, and the rapid growth subsides. So swarming this late in the year is not so common.

What’s more, swarming of a first year hive is an even more rare occasion.  It’s those over-wintered, well-seasoned hives you have to worry about.

Think Again

I don’t do many full inspections unless outside activity indicates a problem. Pink Hive was crowded, and I’d just given them a fresh box with new foundation, just above the brood and below the stores. I closed them up and we went camping for four days.

IMG_2582

Sunday we returned, tired and smelling of campfire. I had just finished my shower when the hubster came up and said my bees had swarmed. “Say what???”.

It was Pink Hive – a June split from Blue Hive. The queen originated from a large swarm cell I had placed in with the split. I came outside just in time to see the flurry of activity that remained in front of the hive. I thought at first that the hubster was mistaking orientation flights for a swarm, until he pointed 30 feet up into the neighbor’s pine tree. There hung a massive cluster of bees, every bit as large as our first swarm back in June. Ugh.

The Failed Attempt

The hubster grabbed the step ladder and a bucket conduit contraption. He suited up and climbed the ladder. First time, the bees were too high and he couldn’t reach them. We added another piece of conduit and extended up just beneath them. He could barely reach, but still, he positioned the bucket as best he could beneath the cluster and gave the bucket an upward shove. Half the bees fell into the bucket, I pulled the lid on with the rope, and the hubster came flying down off the ladder yelling “GO, GO!!!”. The bucket remained in the tree, and the girls were not happy!

IMG_2630

I thought the lid only partially covered the bucket opening. We couldn’t see because the bucket was 30 feet up, but we thought the bees could easily fly out and back to their cluster. In the meantime, we hung a swarm trap, scented with lemongrass oil, then we headed out for Sunday errands.

Several hours later, the half cluster hung in the same location. The hubster pulled down the conduit, and before it even reached the ground, I could see a large mass of bees were still in the bucket. I yelled and we prepared to run, but nothing happened when it hit the ground. A mass of bees spilled out, limp on the ground with a few live bees still fluttering through the remains. The lid had closed tighter than we thought and the bees had asphyxiated and were wet with condensation. I felt sick. I didn’t look for a queen. Swarms can have multiple queens, and I assumed the large cluster above still had at a queen to cling to.

The cluster remained through the next morning and were gone when we returned from work that day. Another irretrievable swarm.

I had made some homemade swarm traps, so as a last stitch effort, I applied some lemongrass oil, inserted a frame of fresh foundation, and we lured it up into the tree, just a few feet beneath the swarm.  No luck, but worth the try.

IMG_2635

Another Valuable Lesson Learned

What can I say…another lesson of what not to do. I am convinced that a beekeeper’s best advantage is experience. Hands down, good beekeeping comes with experience. Our experience now includes 2 unsuccessful swarm retrievals, and more fatalities than I care to think about. Now we stand back and rethink our strategies, like keeping the swarm traps in place; fashioning a more sturdy conduit contraption; inspecting more often. Though our best lesson is this: if a swarm is unreachable, if they can’t be retrieved safely and assuredly, let them go. Better to do it right than muck it up.

Boo Bees and Their Garden

June 6, 2014 (Friday)

IMG_4265

IMG_4243

The whole yard is blooming, from evergreens to honeysuckle to clover. The girls are hauling in the nectar and pollen. The veggies are planted and staked. We’re harvesting asparagus and strawberries. I love the spring and summer months, even more since we have bees. I could sit in the garden all day and watch the hives. I’m still amazed at how far we’ve come in one short year. From two nice to five hives.  That’s right!  We now have 5 hives.

Welcome Purple Hive!

After missing out on the split from Blue Hive’s swarm, I took several frames of fresh brood, larvae and eggs from Green Hive and made a split while there’s still enough time in the season for them to queen themselves and become established. Although I might just help them along if I can find a queen locally. As always with my splits, I closed them up for two days to allow the smell of their queen to dissipate, then placed branches in front of their entrance so they could reorient themselves and return to their new location. It’s working. They’re going and coming with legs full of pollen.  A few robbers are floating around, but for the most part, the big hives are leaving their new little neighbor alone.

IMG_4240

IMG_4251

 …

Pink Hive Has a Queen (Yay!)

Pink Hive has eggs, brood and larvae, which means they have a queen. Yay! All those queen cells transferred from Blue Hive did the trick. They’re drawing out their frames and I’m preparing to give them a second box of drawn comb and new wax foundation.

Blue Hive is Queenless (Ugh!) 

Blue Hive, on the other hand, has gone from tons of brood to no brood. Queenless, for now. I was told that after a swarm it would take 3-4 weeks for them to straighten themselves out and have a laying queen.  I’ll check back in another week or two and see if they need any help. Their numbers are still strong, but they’re packing in nectar where there should be brood. Nectar that should be going into the honey supers. Blue Hive has barely made a dent in their one honey super. The frames are still empty and undrawn. Disappointing since they were so active and strong.  I was hoping for a good honey harvest from Blue Hive.  I’m starting to have second thoughts about my Texas bees.  Once good thing about the swarm is that the mean wicked queen left behind a calmer, less aggressive (albeit less productive) colony behind.  Let’s hope their next queen is a little nicer.

Yellow Hive Going at its Own Pace

Yellow Hive is active and well, but they’re not growing as fast as I’d hoped. I was ready to give them a third box, but based on the number of frames they have yet to draw out, they aren’t ready for it. So I’ll just be patient and let them tell me when they’re ready.

Green Hive is Making Honey (Yay!)

I just added another super to Green Hive. They’ve just about filled their first super, and boy is it heavy. Green Hive started out slow, but they’ve picked up and are very active and healthy. I’ve heard that about the Carneolan (Italian) bees.  No signs of swarming yet. No drones, no queen cells, no hot temperament. My Italian bees are very gentle and calm and I can work them with minimal smoke.

Incase they do have thoughts of swarming, we’ve left the bait hive hoisted up in the trees with a cardboard sheet at the entrance that’s been drenched in lemongrass oil. Someday we’ll catch a swarm.

IMG_4266

I forgot to mention that a bit of honey dripped out of some burr comb in Green Hive’s super. I couldn’t resist taking just a little taste. Oh my. No sugar syrup, no chemical treatments – just pure, unadulterated honey from our own hives. Wow…really…just wow.

IMG_4258

Our First Swarm – The Final Chapter

May 30, 2014 (Friday)

 

IMG_4190

 

After 2 days, I knew the girls had left for good. Sad but true. I always hear about beekeepers capturing lots and lots of swarms. I never hear about the swarms that leave for good.  I wonder if that happens more or less than the stories with happy endings?

I consulted my beekeeping club to find out how I can avoid another disappointing loss down the road. The consensus was that some swarms just go too high, to places you can’t possibly get to. That’s what my girls did, and it seems like most beekeepers just accept the loss and move on.  It’s another standard part of beekeeping.

But what if we hadn’t been home? How would I have known they swarmed?  The answer to that question is simply the reduction in bee traffic, which I confess is quite noticeable. Before, the bees were piling up at the entrance, trying to get in and out.  Now they seem less congested, more comfortable and efficient.  Like the wheel has been oiled and is turning much smoother now.

But what can be done to keep them from flying off?  Why didn’t they opt for the bait traps?  Did they find another home?

I’m sure the little traitors found another home somewhere…probably in another beekeeper’s hive.  As for keeping them around next time and whether or not bait hives work, here’s an interesting theory that makes sense.

Bees know well ahead of time that they are going to swarm.  That’s no secret.  But consider this -scout bees are actually forager bees. During their flights out looking for pollen and nectar sources, they are simultaneously scoping out the local scene to determine a good potential home for their pending swarm. So the bees already have a good idea of where they will relocate before the swarm even occurs. If this is true, then a bait hive is virtually useless after the swarm has already occurred.  However, if the bait hive is positioned nearby (at least 8 feet high) several days or weeks before the swarm occurs, then there’s a chance it might work.

There’s also a chance that you might catch your neighbor’s swarming bees. That’s ok too. All is fair in love and beekeeping…as long as you don’t tell your neighbor.

I’d certainly be interested to hear some swarm stories. How have swarms been captured from impossible places, like 40 ft tree branches? How often are swarms missed? Any success using bait hives?  There are probably as many scenarios as there are beekeepers, and there’s no better way to learn.  So let’s hear it!

Our First Swarm – Part 2

May 25, 2014 (Sunday)


Our first swarm and we lost our bees. I was so upset.  The hubster stayed outside and was piecing together the conduit contraption that he rushed out to buy. If I’d kept watch, as I’d been tasked to do, I would have seen where they went, but in the heat of the moment I ran off to seek a last resort and returned to an empty branch and no bees.

I went upstairs to post a message to my bee club when the hubster yelled for me to come back outside, “hurry”! I ran like the wind and saw the cloud of bees erupting from above the trees, just a few feet below their original site.  They’d settled behind some bushes where we couldn’t see them.

This time we sprang into action and began work on a swarm trap. Using an old computer box, I inserted one frame of brood comb and used some nails to tack it in place.

IMG_4192 IMG_4193

We taped the lid closed and carefully taped every visible seam and opening. One hole was left open as the entrance. I added several drops of lemongrass oil at the entrance as the lure. We then adhered the box to the top of a ladder and set it below the swarm’s location, just outside the dense shrubs. Then we watched and waited.

IMG_4200

IMG_4205

We sat outside and wheels kept turning and turning.  I watched YouTube videos on how to make swarm traps, and the hubster was thinking about how to hoist the bait trap higher in the tree and closer to the swarm. I knew the lightbulb came on when he jumped up and ran into the workshop.  Ten minutes later, he emerged with another contraption. A platform piece of wood tied at the corners with rope and attached to a long piece of rope that was weighted at the end with some heavy metal hardware.

IMG_4213

After watching the Fat Bee Man make a swarm trap from a nuc, I ran to retrieve my nuc. Two bait traps have gotta be better than one. Using a Q-tip, I applied a ring of lemongrass oil around the inside of the box and added 5 new foundation frames. The hubster nailed on a flat plywood cover, and I added the entrance reducer and bottom board.

IMG_4222

IMG_4225

The hubster finally managed to hoist the rope over a high branch.We adhered the nuc to the platform, the began lifting it higher and higher, til it reached bee height.

IMG_4228

IMG_4231

We tied the rope to our well pump.  Now we had two boo bee traps!

IMG_4237

IMG_4236

With renewed hope, we returned to the patio where we watched and waited, as though the girls would simply emerge and file themselves neatly into one of our traps. Of course that didn’t happen. And so, with another busy day gone to the bees, we wait and we hope…

Our First Swarm – Part 1

May 25, 2014 (Sunday)

Swarm

I was in the garage when I heard it, a loud buzzing hum. I’d never seen one or heard one before, but for weeks I’ve known it was coming. Blue hive had given clear indication and all the time in the world to prepare. Our first swarm…just like the videos. A massive cloud of bees leaving the hive and traveling to the highest tree branch they could find (little buggers!), about 40 feet up onto a branch that appeared unreachable. They gathered into a large clump, at least 5 lbs of bees, then quieted down and just hung there, leaving me staring in amazement of what just happened, excitement at the prospect of collecting my first swarm, and confusion because I had no idea how we were going to get them down. In the meantime, the hubster is freaking out because he thinks the neighbors might see the bees and call the exterminators, or animal control, or some local authority. The fire department with those long truck ladders would be perfect, I thought. I had no contraption prepared, no bait trap made. Shame, shame, shame on me.

IMG_4190

Swarms are common in hives that have successfully made it through the winter.  It means they’re healthy and productive. They build up fast, become congested, and the queen leaves the hive with half the colony.  It’s not a bad thing, unless the beekeeper can’t retrieve and rehive them.  Swarms will stay in place for minutes, hours, even days. It depends on how long it takes the scout bees to find a new location. They’re actually very docile because they no longer have a home to protect.  Thinking they’d stay put til at least late afternoon, we carried on and planned to deal with them later.

We were expecting my in laws for lunch. They arrived around 11 am, within 15 minutes after the swarm occurred. Our visitors left about 2 hours later and the hubster made a light speed trip to get supplies for devising a bucket conduit. I was supposed to watch the bees. 5 minutes after he left, the swarm began to stir, and instead of watching, I reacted by running to the garage for who knows what…A bait trap?…A bucket? I came back and they were gone. Ugh!!! I had no idea where they’d gone.

What a disappointment.  I was angry at myself for knowing it was coming and not having a plan – hard lesson learned. However, I was glad we got to see it, that we weren’t at work when it happened, and that we knew it had happened. Timing is everything with these girls. They do what they want, when they want. Heading them off comes with knowledge and experience. I have a long way to go in that department.

The hubster returned with his conduit contraption…just incase. I walked the yard, listened for nearby screams from terrified neighbors…nothing, nada, all those bees were gone. At least that’s what we thought…