That’s One Way to Catch a Swarm…

catching a swarm in a log

About a month or two ago, I got a call from a friend (we’ll call him Shawn) who said he was sitting on his deck and realized there were bees swarming overhead. He sent me a video and the activity definitely looked like honey bees, so we headed over to see if we could find where the swarm landed.

After a few minutes of scanning the trees, we found it:

swarm in tree

Unfortunately, this is the swarm in relation to the ground!

swarm from ground

We weren’t desperate enough to rent a lift (yes, we’ve done this before), so we put two hives (one on the garage roof and one on the house roof). We put some drawn comb and honey in the boxes and a little lemon grass oil to sweeten the deal. The next day Shawn told us that the swarm was gone from the tree and he had seen a bit of activity in the hive above the garage.  We were so excited and I’m sure I prematurely celebrated on Facebook. When we went to retrieve said swarm, we found the box empty. Oh there had been activity alright, they robbed out all the honey!

So fast-forward to last Wednesday evening when Shawn messages me again to say, “I think I found your bees.”  The tree in the photo had been cut down by the neighbors and, currently lying in Shawn’s yard, was a log that seemed to be full of honey bees. I was in a meeting all evening, so I texted my husband who said he literally stopped what he was doing (dinner prep), threw the kids in the car and headed out.

It seemed like most of the traffic was coming in and out of the hole on the side of the log…

swarm log

In fact, this was the view when my husband looked closely inside, so he knew for sure they were living here!

inside swarm log

Once my husband figured out which part of the hive contained the actual hive, he used a chainsaw the cut the log a bit smaller so that it could be moved. He also nailed some mesh screen around both openings to keep the bees inside while in transit:

log ready to move

Then the tough part was getting the thing into my husband’s truck. I wasn’t there, so the men were left to do this without my incredible strength (ha!). They use a dolly to get it to the truck, then old-fashioned elbow grease to hoist it inside. (Hernia while beekeeping, anyone?)

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They managed it, somehow. If you look at the picture above, you can see how thick the tree trunk is. I’m not sure there would be any way to move the comb out of the trunk without damaging all of it and we are currently out of unused drawn comb to help sustain them, so, since it’s so close to winter, we decided to leave the bees in the tree trunk and attempt to overwinter them that way. We’ll fill in all the holes except one for extra insulation.

For now, all entrances are still screened except for a small one in the side hole. We also used a piece of lumber underneath to level it as best we could.  Bees will build comb perpendicular to the horizon line, so a crooked hive yields crooked comb!

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Things brings our apiary up to 11 hives!

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New Additions to the Apiary!

Transporting Honeybees

On one of the many beekeeping forums I’m a part of on facebook, I happened to stumble across a post from a woman who was having to sell off all of her beekeeping supplies and two hives due to a severe allergy she had developed.  She and I touched base and almost exactly 24 hours later, my husband and I were on a two hour road trip to collect our new hives!

It worked out because it happened to be our wedding anniversary (9 years!), so the grandparents were already planning to babysit. We just finagled an overnight for the boys, threw our equipment in the car, and were on our way!

Now, you have maybe never wondered about when the best time of day is to pick up a beehive and move it, so I’ll tell you! During the day, many of to the bees are out foraging, so it is ideal to wait until dark, then seal up the entrance. This way you gain the maximum number of bees. With the entrance sealed you can transport without fear of losing any. The owner of these bees did not feel comfortable closing them up due to her allergy (and I don’t blame her), so our plan was to arrive at hive #1 around dusk. We knew there may still be a few bees hanging out on the outside of the hive, but most would be inside. The second hive was about 40 minutes from the owner’s home, so we’d grab that one last.

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I happen to know that bees are kind of cranky around dusk. I know this because I have two small children and sometimes beekeeping needs to happen after they go to bed: around 8:30. We have often joked about hives becoming Africanized after dinnertime (Africanized honeybees are incredibly aggressive).

As suspected, there were many bees hanging out on the outside of the hive. We smoked many in, but we had to just resign to the fact that a few would be outside. The problem with these bees outside of the hive was that they were the first ones to be severely annoyed by our presence. My husband was wearing only jeans, boots, his bee jacket, veil, and gloves and was lucky enough to sustain (earned?) about 15 stings over the course of moving the first hive (mostly through his jeans). I only sustained one sting because, well, I wasn’t the one drilling into the hive! In addition to the time of day, a couple other things ticked them off: (1) the entrance reducer was stuck kind of half in and half out and we really had to yank and pry and jostle to get that out. That seemed to be the first offense (in their opinion). (2) Drilling a covering over the entrance also ticked those few exterior bees off.

hive entrance

Once we got our hands on a bottle of sugar water, and were able to spray them, things calmed down considerably. When misted with sugar water, the bees become much more interested in licking that up than stinging my husband.

We then used ratchet straps to secure the three boxes together:

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And then we just lifted it up and carried it to the truck…

Moving Hive

We then we headed out to hive #2. This one was in a field and we used our headlamps (set on red light) and the light of car headlights to make the move, so I don’t have pictures.

I can tell you that my husband did include a special anniversary “gift” while we were preparing hive #2. Inside the hive on top of the frames the owner had a feeder. We lifted the top of the feeder off (the jug that contained the sugar water), but the tray that the water drips into was stuck to the hive because bees cover everything with propolis. My husband scooted his hive tool underneath to pry it up and the whole thing flung up, out of the hive, and hit me right in the face. I mean, not really because I had my veil on, but it was full of bees and then my veil was full of bees. That’s what 9 years of marriage will get ya… a face full of bees! haha!

Anyway, in addition, we added additional boxes, frames, feeders, a smoker and many other beekeeping odds and ends to our collection! It was a late night, but definitely a great addition to our growing business.  The apiary is now up to 9 hives in total: 5 complete hives and 4 nucs (mini-hives).

State of the Apiary

State of the Apiary

It’s the beginning of August and this has been a pretty good summer for beekeeping around here. We’ve been busy in the bee yard and here is an overview of our current hives.

(click to enlarge:)

Mini-Hive

Package #1

Mega Hive

Split #1

Queen Rearing Hive

Green Lid

Walk-Away Split

What’s next?

Well, we will probably make another split today. We need to get those eggs out of the queen-rearing box. More splits might come in the future if our queen-rearing experiment is successful. It looks like we will have enough honey to extract one more round in the fall.  We also have a back log of boxes and frames to build. Lots of work to do!

We are also reading and reading about the many different overwintering approaches. Our plan was initially to overwinter several nucs, but now we are considering some different options. More on this to come and also an overview of the queen-rearing, once I get some pictures of how it worked out (IF it works out!)

Backyard Weeds Honey Bees Love

Weeds for Bees

American author and poet, Ella Wheeler Wilcox, described a weed as “but an unloved flower.” I have always loved weeds and wildflowers. Sure I can appreciate the hard work that goes into a beautiful, man-made garden, but I absolutely love wild fields and meadows where nature’s work is on display.

My husband and I own 2.5 acres and almost two of it is natural meadow (with some trees around the edges). This year, the meadow has filled with these tall, leggy, fuzzy purple flowers. I don’t remember nearly this much of it last year. When you go out and stand at the edge of the field, if you let your eyes adjust for a few minutes, you can begin to see that the flowers are absolutely filled with pollinators; and not just honey bees, but pollinators of all sorts. We have not seen many bumblebees in general this year, but they are certainly busy in the back field. This got me interested in just what this weed is. Interestingly, it’s an invasive plant and one with a bit of controversy.

I’d like to introduce you to Knapweed:

Knapweed

Apparently Knapweed is native to Southeastern Europe. It’s incredibly invasive (which I can attest to, since it has literally covered our back field). It is so invasive that it can smother native plants. Here’s where it gets dicey. It is a incredible pollen and nectar source for honey bees, so there is some contention as to the best course of action for its removal.  Michigan State University recommends replacing it with pollen and nectar-rich native species upon its removal, however, many beekeepers want to just leave it alone. Five different types of insects (flies and weevils) have been released to help control the spread.  Who knew? Here I just figured it was a pretty purple flower. The flower doesn’t look very substantial, but as I said, it seems to attract a vast array of pollinators (bees and butterflies alike), which is pretty interesting.

This brings us to Milkweed:

Milkweed

Two years ago my family was at a fourth of July festival that included a butterfly house for the kids to walk through. The local nature center was selling Monarch caterpillars as a fundraiser and to raise awareness of the declining Monarch population. We bought two (more for myself, than for the little one). We were given two pages of information and directions for how to raise this little thing. This was when I first learned about the importance of Milkweed. For caterpillars, Milkweed leaves provide food and nutrition (this is what we fed ours, in fact). Then, just as the caterpillar emerges as a butterfly, the Milkweed comes into bloom and the butterfly feeds on the nectar in the flowers. Seriously. Isn’t nature amazing? Once I learned to recognize Milkweed I noticed it popping up in my garden. I did pull it out, but only if it was impeding on one of my vegetable plants.

This year, a large section of it sprung up in one patch in an area that didn’t bother us to leave alone. It turned into about a six by eight foot section.  And I’ll tell you, I’ve never seen so many Monarchs in our yard in all of the five years we’ve lived here. Almost every time I look out the back window, one is flitting by. It could be a good year for Monarchs, it could be the Knapweed, but I tell myself the Milkweed can’t hurt! We have to pass the patch of it to collect eggs from the chicken coop each day and I also didn’t know that Milkweed was so fragrant!

So I was out wandering around a week ago and stopped to snap a picture of the Milkweed. As I leaned in to get a picture, I heard a buzzing. Now if you keep bees, it’s a buzzing you’d recognize. Not the buzzing of a singular bee, flying around your head, but the buzzing of many bees. As I let my eyes focus I realized the flowers were absolutely covered with honey bees.  I was so excited that the plants served a dual purpose!  Also, when honey bees work Milkweed, they shake each flower, so that was pretty cool to watch. I couldn’t get many great pictures because of this shaking (well, and because I don’t have a fancy camera), but I did get this one. Finding the bee is kind of like a Where’s Waldo? excercise:

Milkweed with BeeAnyway, I know this is only two weeds in the immensely diverse world of weeds, but they are two that have played a pretty significant role in the make-up of our yard. Currently, the plants are forming seedpods. These will eventually dry out and burst, thus propagating more Milkweed for next year. We are thinking of saving some so that we can start another patch closer to the hives.]

I suggest you find yourself a spare moment around 7:00 or 8:00 at night and a spare field where you can wander quietly and notice the bugs as well as the weeds. It’s really quite relaxing.

A Look Inside the Hive: A Visual Guide

Inside the Beehive

Last week I was out in the apiary giving a future beekeeper a “hive tour” when I thought I saw the beginnings of queen cells in Mega Hive. During that trip to the hives I was really just showing this new person some basics, so I couldn’t really explore any further at the time. For two days I stewed and worried about these cells. We had seen eggs in this hive, but had never actually found the queen, so I wondered if she maybe died. Then I thought about how enormous that hive is and, despite our constant efforts to stay ahead of it, the bees are building like crazy, so I started to worry about a swarm. We had two days of rain, so I was just twiddling my thumbs, convincing myself that by the time we got out there again, the hive would be empty (dramatic, I know). We finally had a chance to get out to Mega Hive today and really take the time to look through each box. Here are some things we found…. Mega Hive Title

First of all, one of my favorite things to spot while working the hive is a young bee emerging from the brood chamber for the first time. In just a matter of seconds you can watch a brand new bee crawl out and begin her life in this world. It NEVER gets old. Today is the first one I’ve seen of the season!

Emerging Brood

We did find a lot of queen cells, but before we get to that, I wanted to include some pictures I took.  When I was showing the hive to the newbie I mentioned earlier, I realized (based on her questions) that I totally take for granted that everyone sees what I see when I look into a hive. So here is a quick overview of what a hive is made up of.

Frame AnatomyOk, so now that we have the basics out of the way, let’s get back to the queen and these elusive queen cells.  We did find the queen in Mega Hive and were able to catch her and mark her, so now we’ll know if they replace her and she’ll also be easier to spot.

Marking the Queen

We were able to successfully cut-out most of the queen cells shown below. We are still debating what to do with them, but at least two will be used to make splits. More on this in future blogs, I imagine. In the meantime, here is a collage of queen cells – the very things that kept me awake for two nights in a row!

Queen CellsIn our case, we are pretty sure that the bees were creating these cells in preparation of swarming. The hive is big and despite our best efforts, the bees appear to be feeling crowded. We’ll be splitting in the next day or two and I’ll share some of that when we get to it.