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Archive for June, 2009

Barbara: Remember when Mary Beth told you to stayed tuned for updates about the old hive? Well, we do we have updates! Here’s one from a couple of days ago. And I’ll mention that we’ll follow up soon with this morning’s excitement, which is still unfolding as I type — lord have mercy!

 

Preparing to capture the second swarm. A third hive for Mary Beth?

Preparing to capture the second swarm. A third hive for Mary Beth?

Mary Beth: My learning curve in the last two weeks has been steep, real steep! My blue hive swarmed. Again. I felt like I was in the movie Ground Hog Day.

I walked down to the hive to say hello to my girls on my lunch break on very busy sunny day (sound familiar?) exactly a week after the first swarm. Bees were flying everywhere and they were headed to the very same poison ivy-laden bayberry bush that they gathered on a few days ago.

Now, that first swarm was exciting. I felt great because I’d been successful in catching the swarm and putting it into a new hive — the Top Bar Hive that Ray built for me. This time, not so much. This time was like, “Been there done that!”  Was I missing something? I mean, obviously I saw the starting of queen cells, but I left them because “they” say hives almost never swarm the first year, so don’t worry about it. So I ignored the first signs. If you’ve read anything about beekeeping you soon realize there’s a lot of conflicting information out there and everybody has very specific ideas about beekeeping the “right” way. Well, the bees also have their own ideas. My word of advice is take it all in and then watch and listen to the bees.

Anyway, I got the swarm into the super that I screwed back together a second time and I left it perched on a bucket. The first swarm in the TBH was so happy that Barbara and I decided to experiment with keeping the second swarm in a hive made of large supers.

Alas, it was not my day. The super had fallen over sometime while I was running errands and the bees were gone when I got back. I felt very sad and dejected, but, honestly, relieved because the thought of three hives was a little daunting. But who knows, craziness abounds so I left the temporary hive out near the swamp in a stable place this time. I thought I just might need it again, feeling as I do that the blue hive could swarm again. I say this because when I went to see what was left in Old Blue (as I have now named it) I was surprised to find it full of bees. I counted over 7 queen cells and there were about 6 frames of full brood, some emerging as I was working through the hive.

The frames were filled out nicely and, even though the hive had swarmed twice, I saw lots of honey reserves, which leads Barbara and me to believe that Old Blue is still very healthy. We’re thinking that perhaps it was too productive and it became overcrowded because the bad weather has kept the bees inside for most of the spring. Another factor was that the bees weren’t going up into the super I added because of the queen excluder. So I put everything back the way I found it except for taking out the queen excluder.

About an hour later the bees were all over the front of the hive with their butts in the air. WTF! Now what?! You girls are killing me!! Thankfully they finally settled down and went inside.

The next day I put my ear up to Old Blue and there was a queen bee piping in there. (YouTube has a few videos of Queen honeybees piping if want to hear what it sounds like — really cool.) I could hear her loud and clear when I was kneeling next to the hive. Hopefully she’ll take over and get rid of the other queen cells and that will be the end of it. I keep wondering if I should’ve taken some of the queen cells out. I wasn’t sure, so I decided I would wait and see.

Meanwhile the TBH, which I’ve named the Hippie Shack, seems pretty laid back. They’ve built up six combs already, so I removed the feeder and slid the false back to the end opening the whole hive to them.

Old Blue is going to be the experiment hive. I’m going to learn as much as I can from this crazy hive, helping it out if I can and letting nature take its course. My hope is since Block Island is so lush from all the rain and the current nectar flow is high, that we’ll have an additional large flow in the fall with the Goldenrod and that will help Old Blue pull it together before the cold weather sets in.

I wish the swarm that got away all the best. I hope they find a lovely new home. As for the girls that are left, take a word of advice from Mary J Blige — No More Drama!

Lying in bed last night I was thinking, “Thank god I didn’t get any chickens this year! With my luck it would have been a freak show!!”

Addendum: Well, it’s been a wild ride. This second swarm got away, but we have our answer about whether or not Mary Beth should have destroyed the additional queen cells. I can hear you experienced beekeepers shouting, “Yes!” And, of course you’re right. We thought we should, but hesitated. In our first year, we are bound to make mistakes. Clearly, this was one of them.

So a few months into our adventure, we’ve made good on our promise to tell it like it really is – successes and failures. Our biggest mistake so far was to miss the signs of an imminent swarm. We compounded that by not getting rid of the excess queen cells which led to the second swarm — and the third one that followed, which was the morning excitement that I mentioned at the beginning of this post. Another mistake that we think we made was to use a queen excluder. This led to the overcrowding that was another reason for the swarms.

We’ll be filling you in on the story of the third swarm and the status of the hives as soon as we regain our composure. Hopefully, things really have settled down and Mary Beth can get some gardening done. For now we’ll leave you with a picture of one of the queen cells that started it all.

Queen cell — one of a few that we should have gotten rid of.

Queen cell — one of a few that we should have gotten rid of.

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Mary Beth: How is it when you think your life couldn’t get anymore hectic, it does? It’s been raining like crazy in these parts and that’s messed up my schedule in a big way. I’ve been trying to squeeze my clients in on the days it doesn’t rain, but there’s way too much work to do and not enough time which is just driving me to distraction. So, on this rare and very busy sunny day guess what my hive decided to do.

I went home for a lunch break and walked down to the hive to say hello to my bees. Hmm, something wasn’t right. Little clumps of bees were scattered on the ground near the hive, which I’ve never seen before. I touched the clumped up bees and they didn’t fly, they just kind of scootched out of the way still holding on to each other. And, strangely, in spite of the nice weather, there weren’t many bees flying in and out of the hive.

I wondered, “Are they sick? Did someone spray chemicals nearby?” I started to go back to work, but something was really nagging me. I looked at the clover near the hive and there were no bees working the flowers. Walked down to the swamp to look at the blackberry blooms, again no bees. Really odd!

As I was making my way back to the hive I heard buzzing, a lot of buzzing, and, really, because I have been so exhausted lately I thought, “Wow I’m losing it. Now I’m hearing bees buzzing in my head!” I stopped and looked towards the swamp. Holy S**!

My bees?!

My bees?!

There was a swarm clustered on a branch hanging over the water and it was bigger than I could’ve imagined. Lots of bees — too many. Were they from my hive? Denial briefly took hold, “It can’t be. Bees usually don’t swarm the first year.”  Then panic seized me, the adrenaline started pumping, and my only thought was, “I’ve got to get my bees back!”

Even though I’ve read a lot about catching swarms, let me assure you the theoretical situation is WAY different from being confronted with a boiling mass of bees. Every bit of information I’d stored away was lost in my panic. That panic ramped up as my Internet connection crawled and then I was too worked up to read through any information.

I tore into the shop, running in circles and smashing into stuff. I took a few breaths to compose myself. (What I really needed was someone to slap me like you see in the movies.) I grabbed a super and attached some strips of wood saying a little prayer that Ray wasn’t planning on using that wood for a project. (Of course, he was. Sorry, Honey.) I added a piece of plywood for a bottom, then made a top with screen-covered holes.

My "in a hurry" hive.

My "in a hurry" hive.

I grabbed my suit, muck boots, gloves, loppers and ran down to the swamp. Stared at the swarm. Damn! I needed something to put the supers on. Back to the shop. Ran around in circles a few more times. This time my dogs joined in. “Look, Mom’s playing a new game, let’s chase her!” Grabbed a garbage can and a pruning saw. Ran back down to the swamp, dogs chasing me. Ugh, poison ivy was everywhere and the bees were attached to some of it. Sh**, sh**, sh**!

I pulled on my suit and my muck boots and splashed into the swamp. Splashed back out of the swamp and dragged the dogs into the cottage. (The last thing I needed was for them to get stung.) Barreled back down to the swamp. Turned the garbage can over, dropped the super on top and tried to shake the bees into the box. Didn’t work so well and things got a bit wild with the bees flying and crawling all over me. (Breathe! Remember to breathe!)

I sawed through the poison ivy and bayberry branches and carried everything onto dry ground. Wrangled the bees into the box and put a super with frames of foundation on top of that. Next I drilled a hole in the bottom and attached a feeder on top. A little overboard I know, but I wasn’t thinking clearly. So far so good, but then I remembered the poison ivy. I stripped down and took a shower. I hate poison ivy!

I called Ray, “Um, Sweetie, what time do you think you’ll be home tonight?”  Ray asked, “Why?” “We need to build a hive.” Silence. “What?!” I told him the story and it was painfully obvious that he wasn’t happy about coming home after work to do more work.

Coming in for lunch, Ray took one look at me and said, “What’s up with your eyes?”  “Oh no,” I thought, “poison ivy rash already?!” “They’re the craziest green I’ve ever seen!”  “Adrenaline, I think.” And we started to laugh about our crazy day.

Ray asked me how much it would cost to just buy a hive. “Too much.” I sighed. I told him it would be easier for me if he’d build a brood box so I could just slip the bees onto the new hive. But no, he told me he only had time to build me a Top Bar Hive. Ohh. Hmm. Okay…

Ray building the Top Bar Hive.

Ray building the Top Bar Hive.

Two nights later, it’s pretty much done. I need to make more bars, but this will do very nicely for now. It’s beautiful and Ray wondered why we didn’t we do it this way the first time. Compared to the Langstroth Beehive, the Top Bar Hive was fast, easy, and no expense because he made it from scrap wood. Let me say this, if you’re thinking about getting a new hive, make a Top Bar. It even has a little window to so you can look inside and watch your bees. Aside from it being one more thing to distract me from work, it’s brilliant!

The new Top Bar Hive that Ray built is a beauty.

The new Top Bar Hive that Ray built is a beauty.

Peeking into my contraption of a holding box, I saw that the bees had built some comb and that feisty little queen had started laying eggs less than 48 hours after swarming. Amazing! I shook each frame in to the new TBH and filled the cool little feeder we made, copying a clever design we’d found on the Internet.

Cleverly designed feeder for Top Bar Hive.

Cleverly designed feeder for Top Bar Hive.

Now I have two hives just as I’d hoped when I started out. A word of warning here, be careful what you wish for because it may come at an inconvenient time! I was planning all along to have a Langstroth Hive and, eventually, a Top Bar Hive. Just not this way.

My bees seem happy with their new home.

My bees seem happy with their new home.

Looking through the window the next day it seemed like the swarm was planning to stay. I saw lots of flecks of wax on the floor of the hive and the bees have spread out over the bars. I’m crossing my fingers and hoping they stay put.

Oh, and the old hive? Stay tuned.

Two Hives!

Two Hives!

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