100% Pure Love and Apology

Reader, yesterday I was a clutz.

Yesterday marks an all-time low on the clumsy beekeeper scale, and I still get a little sick thinking about it.

As I was trying to deal with the issue of yellow jackets at site of the August Boatwright hive, I accidently lifted a hive box full of bee upside down and dumped all the frames on the ground. I swear, if bees can feel energy from humans, then they felt from me 100% pure love and apology.

As I worked to put things back together, I talked to the bees—I told them how I hated to keep putting them through such trauma. I told them that I don’t know why the universe had placed them in my care. I told them I was doing my best.

I told them all of this as I lifted the frames one by one and put them back into the box and as I scooped up handfuls of bees and placed them back in their home and as I watched those too scattered about to collect wandering around in the sticks and the grass. Then I figured it was probably best if I just left the scene and let them take care of themselves.

Douse the Suckers with Soapy Water

Kill the Yellow Jackets

Grrrrr.

I kept seeing all these little yellow jackets as I was feeding the August Boatwright hive yesterday. I squished a lot of them with my hive tool, but they just kept coming, so I investigated. Hundreds of them were coming up from beneath the cinder block on which I’d placed my new bee-tree hive. Shit. Looks like there’s a nest beneath the beehive, and they went straight for the sugar water I fed the bees.

I swear, I’m not sure how to handle this one. The August Boatwright hive isn’t yet back on its own two feet after their removal from the bee tree. They’re still recovering, and their hopes for survival are slim even without this f*cking yellow-jacket invasion…they haven’t yet built up enough bees or the defenses to fight off yellow jackets or other threats.

I immediately reduced the size of the hive entrance—I would move the hive to another spot altogether if I thought they could take another relocation, but I hate to mess with them just as they’re getting their legs back under them.

Treatment for yellow jacket nests? Douse them with gasoline and let the fumes kill them.

Problem with that? Their nest is just beneath the bee colony, so the fumes would kill the bees, too.

JP, my new friend on Beemaster.com, suggested I soak them with hot soapy water—the soap suffocates them. I have to do this at night when all the yellow jackets are in their nest. So, last night I mixed up two five-gallon buckets of hot, soapy water, put on my full-fledged bee suit, stumbled out to the beeyard in the dark, and dumped all the water and soap where I think the nest is.

The sun isn’t yet up this morning, so I can’t assess how this worked. I’ll let you know, though.

Douse the Suckers with Soapy Water
Douse the Suckers with Soapy Water
Nighttime Beekeeper
Nighttime Beekeeper
Good Bye, Yellow Jackets
Good Bye, Yellow Jackets

Bees Are Bumping against the Screens

Last night I whipped up today’s sugar water for the bees. It’s sort of a messy process.

I mix a 3:5 water-to-sugar ratio. In other words, I heat 3 cups of water and add 5 cups of granulated sugar to it…actually, I quadruple this recipe. If I had a good place to store the stuff, I’d multiply it even further. We’re going through a hell of a lot of sugar…and, let me tell you, sugar gets everywhere. And then sugar water gets everywhere. And then Deb goes a little nutty with cleaning it all up. I try to clean it, and I think I do a pretty good job of it, but inevitably some sugar finds its way under the coffee maker or in some corner, and we can’t have that. You should see Deb with a sink full of soapy water and a rag. It’s a sight.

What amazes me, though, is that when I mix this stuff during the day with the windows open, bees immediately begin bumping against the screens. And they’re incredibly insistent. After I add the sugar to the water, they will bump against the screen alllll daaaaay looong. Until dark. We can’t even eat on the deck because of them. It’s sort of inspiring…they don’t appear angry, they simply appear determined. I should learn from them.

So now I mix the stuff at night. Then I put about 12-15 bottles of sugar water in big 5 gallon buckets with lids and move it all down to the basement where I store it overnight…trying to fake the bees out.

P.S. My neighbor said my bees were really going for his hummingbird feeders. I’ll bet they are! But I’ll bet the yellow jackets and the bumblebees and the hornets are going for it too these days…we’ve not had any rain, so all the flowers and nectar are dried up. I’ve never seen it so dry.

The End

The Bee Tree Adventure: Conclusion (due to Boredom)

Aren’t you getting tired of this? I am. Let’s just cut to the chase. We got the bees home, and the next morning they were crazy busy…and busy loooong before my other bees. The air and the garden and the woods were full of them checking out their new surroundings.

When I went to feed them, they were already festooning like a new swarm. It was delightful to see.

Then we went on vacation.

When we came back, they were less vigorous, though they’d eaten all the sugar water I’d left them.

I fed them again, and though their activity has slowed, there are still new bees orienting out there this afternoon.

I’ll bet they die. Everyone tells me that this rescue was too late in the season for them to have much chance of survival. Which is a major bummer. But we’ll see. I’ll keep you updated.

The End

The End
The End

The Bee Tree Adventure: Part Three

Once we had all the comb out of the tree and banded into frames, though, the bees didn’t want to move into their new boxes with their comb. They clung to the tree trunk or flew around aimlessly. I started to look a little aimless myself. I mean, what the heck do you do now? How do you encourage thousands of bees to go into a box? Dave and Kyle sort of looked to me like, “What now?” And I remember saying to them, “I have no idea. I’ve never done this before, you know.” I like that we were all in this together.

We were looking for the queen, of course, but that’s hilarious. I mean, this was not a very stable environment for spotting the queen…and I’m not so great at spotting the queen, anyway…especially if I’m actually looking for her.  So, we started taking handfuls of bees from the tree and putting them into the box. That’s a very very very very cool feeling—to have that many bees vibrating in the palms of your hands. For some reason, I think of it as a very sweet thing that they trust you. Of course, they didn’t stay where I wanted them, though. They flew around instead. I just kept hoping to plop the queen down in the new hive boxes so I could watch the other bees happily following her in there. Didn’t happen.

Fortunately, Dave remembered that we had his neighbor’s home-rigged bee vacuum with us, and Dave had brought a generator with him so we could use the vac in the field. I was so relieved that we had a next-step plan.

Dave started vacuuming bees from the log…the vacuum gently sucks up the bees and then deposits them in a special box built by his neighbor. After only a couple of minutes, we began to see some different behavior from the bees.

It was almost unbelievable…I’m like, “Are those bees all trying to get in the box?”

Suddenly those bees we hadn’t yet vacuumed were going from the log to the box and trying to crawl into a little hole on the side. And, I swear, they started pointing to the hole and fanning their wings as if to say, “She’s in here! Go in here! This is our new home!”

We have no pictures of this. Deb had left us already, and I haven’t yet received a video from Dave including this part. But it happened.

Bee tree cut at the base of the bee nest

The Bee Tree Adventure: Part Two

Sorry to have left you hanging there, Reader. I went on a little vacation into the north woods. You can thank me for bringing all this nice weather home.

So, Dave and Kyle strung some rope to give tension and guide the tree as it fell; then Dave cut a notch from the tree trunk. As he did his opposite-side cut, the tree fell perfectly into the field.

David Shaw cuts the bee tree
David Shaw cuts the bee tree
Bee tree cut at the base of the bee nest
Bee tree cut at the base of the bee nest

Fortunately, we guessed correctly and cut the tree just at the base of the nest (funny…I say “we.” I don’t think I had a thing to do with this decision). Then, Dave and Kyle used their truck to pull the downed tree out into the open field where we could work. Before we got to the bees, though, the guys cut and hauled away the rest of the tree. That gave us plenty of clear room in which to work. Next, Dave and Kyle cut away at the tree trunk (and hauled away the pieces) until we exposed the top of the nest. So, all we were left with in the field was the section of trunk containing the bees.

At first, the bees were calm, but soon they began to pour from the tree…they weren’t flying so much as they were simply coating the interior and the exterior of the exposed log.

Bees leave the hive
Bees leave the hive
Bees leave the hive
Bees leave the hive

Deb was using my camera to snap these shots, but she didn’t have a bit of gear on other than my hat, so she didn’t feel comfortable getting too close at this point…which means we have no pictures of the comb as we cut it and placed it into frames. I think Dave is making a video (see the helmet cam he’s rigged up?), and I think that’ll show things up close. We’re just waiting for him to figure out how to use his new editing software.

We filled 15 medium frames with comb containing larvae and capped brood…there was absolutely zero honey…my theory is that when we first began cutting into the tree, the bees engorged themselves with whatever honey was stored in their comb. This is their behavior when they sense trouble or before they swarm—they immediately begin preparations for having to leave their hive behind, which means filling up with food enough to get them settled into a new home.

We used rubber bands to secure the comb into the frames. But once all the frames were in their new hive boxes, the bees didn’t want to follow them. Instead, the bees absolutely coated the inside and the outside of the open log. And once the comb had been removed from their home, they began to fill the air.

Here’s Dave’s first video: