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Archive for the ‘bee swarm’ Category

Ah, Spring…Clover growing underfoot, blissful 82 degree days with only mild humidity, the smell of orange blossoms lingering in the air, and bee stings. Then the mad rush for Benadryl and baking soda or toothpaste in a vain attempt to minimize swelling.

Every time I get stung, there are varying degrees of annoyance. I can usually tell within minutes if I’m going to swell or not. If the sting is intense, then I will puff up like an inflated latex glove, but if the sting is just annoying, the discomfort will wear off in less than an hour. My mentor and friend, JP the Beeman, is an excellent beekeeper, but he is, quite possibly, a bad influence for me. He’s been working with bees for years and rarely wears a suit and veil unless the bees prove to be angry. He doesn’t wear protective gear unless, “I get stung ten times.”

JP has a youtube channel with more than 100 videos, many of the swarms he’s caught in the last few seasons. Here’s my favorite, where he catches a swarm that landed on an SUV in a parking lot. He scoops through the bees with his bare hands searching for the queen, and even gets underneath the vehicle with a flashlight in his mouth, still scooping handfuls of bees and dropping them into the super with his bare hands!


http://www.youtube.com/user/JPthebeeman#p/u/42/DXDTwxxdrj4

(I’m not sure what is going on with wordpress here, but the video isn’t coming up on my blog, just the link, which isn’t as cool, but please visit it anyway)!

Here’s another video he took, this one in my backyard in October.

www.youtube.com/user/JPthebeeman#p/u/42/DXDTwxxdrj4

Although he doesn’t say anything, I think JP’s laughing at me when I even bother to put on gloves to work the bees in his presence. Actually in the video above, toward the end of our bee session where we combined a weak hive with a strong hive, JP edited out the last part of the video where I’m wearing the suit. I put it on because I got stung twice, but in all fairness it does make me look like I’m about to go clean up an oil spill or something.

So, bolstered by a few successful days without the encumbrance of the hot, visibility-restricting bee suit, I thought I could just be a regular bee wooer. You know, just me and the ladies, chatting about springtime, drones, and work. But of course, that vision fell flat again, as a bee got stuck in my hair and stung me on the head yet again. So, next time, I’ll start out wearing a hat, and then go from there.

But the good news is that this Spring, all the hives look healthy and poised for a good season of honey production. In the afternoon, when the light hits the hives, I can smell the warm wax, the honey and pollen as the bees fan their wings to cool the hive boxes. I’m lucky that the bees decided that they can live with my inexperienced pokings around in their business and I get some honey in return. Spring’s sweet bounty is definitely worth a few stings here and there.

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Hens very pleased with themselves.

Hens very pleased with themselves.


It is always feast or famine on a farm and lately, I’ve felt starved for new topics to write about. But now I’ve got a glut of animal-related events that all happened around last Sunday’s full moon. Two days prior, the chickens began laying eggs again after their period of winter dormancy. On Sunday morning, the birds and the bees were twittering and buzzing respectively, and this Spring-like activity seemed to particularly affect the two lady rabbits. The does started the day by chasing each other around and around their cage, performing various barnyard acts that lady rabbits do when they want a male rabbit, but they only have each other. So, there was only one thing to be done: take one of the females to the male’s cage. (Apparently, if you do it the other way around, the doe will attack the buck). After a brief, whirlwind courtship (less than 10 seconds), the buck passed out momentarily and I took the female away to her own cage.
Lady Rabbit

Lady Rabbit


After that ruckus was over, I’d just come back outside to enjoy a plate of fresh, backyard hen’s eggs when Albert and I both looked up in response to a loud buzzing noise. And, much to our shock and horror, there was a cloud of bees, hovering in circles above our neighbor’s house. In my infinite wisdom, I declared, “That’s definitely a swarm of bees,” and went back to my eggs – the first eggs of Spring. Albert’s response was not so calm. Realizing immediately the PR nightmare for our own bee hives this could present if the wild swarm landed nearby, Albert leapt up from his breakfast and swiftly ran out to the street to follow the buzzing cloud.
crepe-myrtle-tree-swarm
I expected the bees to fly far away, faster than he could keep track of them. But, when the baron of the bees failed to return after several minutes, I picked up the untouched plate of eggs next to me and set off in pursuit of Albert and the bees. The trail led to the front yard, where just two houses down, nestled into the nook of a crepe myrtle tree next to the sidewalk was the the swarm, condensed from a bee cloud into one solid mass of insects, roughly 6 inches wide and 18 inches long. Of course, Jeff, our beekeeping friend/mentor, was already collecting a swarm at another location, so he wouldn’t be on his way for another hour to collect the swarm – all we could do was keep people from walking into it, and baby sit the tree full of bees to keep pandemonium to a minimum among the neighbors. By 10 am, a small crowd had formed: our next-door neighbors, across-the-street neighbors, and lastly, Susan and Bruce, the people who actually lived in the house the bees were across the sidewalk from. Susan’s open-mouthed shock at opening her door to retrieve the Sunday paper and finding 8 neighbors clustered around a buzzing ball of bees was particularly priceless. But everyone got a good look at the swarm, we all learned a little more about bees and nobody freaked out. I actually spent two hours on Sunday interacting with my neighbors who I normally merely say ‘hi’ to and I even met some that I hadn’t before.

Most even stayed to watch Jeff retrieve the bees from the tree. He first rubbed a cardboard box with lemongrass oil, a scent very similar to a what bees give off when they are orienting to a potential place to live. He also provided the bees with some sugar-water feed, so that they would have fewer objections to living temporarily in a cardboard box. Then he proceeded to climb up on a step-ladder and shake the bees from the tree limb into the box.

Box of bees.

Box of bees.

18,000 bees.

18,000 bees.

Obviously, you don’t want to try this yourself, but bees when they’re swarming are generally a bit calmer than when they’re defending a hive. All they want to do is find a new home and protect their queen in the process. Jeff left a small hole in the side of the box so that the workers who landed on the ground could make their way inside. It took a few hours for them to figure out that the queen was inside the box, but eventually, most of the bees willingly contained themselves before the box was sealed and taken away to be put in a hive somewhere else.

Neighbors watching the bees.

Neighbors watching the bees.


So then the question remained: were they our bees? After checking out our two hives, the signs seemed to say no because the hives had no swarm cells which are usually made in preparation for such events. And then, just when we thought the bee activity was done for the day, Jeff spotted another swarm in our backyard tree, right over the rabbit hutches. There was no rest for the weary beekeepers as they set up the ladder again and proceeded to collect this second swarm. When we asked the bee expert why there were so many swarms his answer was simple: “I know it sounds crazy, but it’s the full moon.”

And it wasn’t just the bees. The chickens laying their first eggs of the season, the rabbits breeding and the bees swarming all happened at the same time. In a city it’s easy to forget the ebb and flow of the new to full moon, but the farm creatures that live outside know full well the seasons and the lunar phases that we so easily forget. Any affect of the moon on people may be considered pseudoscience, but in my backyard farmyard, the moon has lived up to its mythological proportions by causing equal parts inspiration and temporary insanity.

Full Moon in the Water Oak Tree.

Full Moon in the Water Oak Tree.

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