Wax moths on comb collected from the bee tree

The Bad News

I have good news, and I have bad news, Reader. Let’s go with the bad news first and get it over with. It’s not the worst news in the world, and we all sort of knew it was coming anyway. And better that it came early rather than late. Everyone said it would happen, and they are 100% correct.

First and worst bad news: The August Boatwright hive—the bees we collected from the tree—is a goner. I’m gonna recycle the comb, and I’m gonna recycle the wonderful colony name, but as of yesterday, the bee-tree colony is a thing of the past. But it was a wonderful experience, wasn’t it?

I inspected all the hives yesterday, and when I got to the August Boatwright colony, I discovered no eggs, no brood, no queen, no stores, no pollen, and only a very very few bees. And the comb I collected from the tree was quickly filling with wax moths…it’s like peering into a home that’s been vacated…you know how the thing goes to pot right off the bat without people to care for it…how grass grows where it isn’t welcomed, etc. I’ll go into the reasons for this some other time…for now, all you really need to know is that I dismantled their hive, and I scooted another colony over near the spot previously occupied by the tree bees so the returning bee-tree foragers (if there were any) had a place to call home when they returned.

The second other bad news (which isn’t too bad…see how things are already looking up?): The little swarm I spent an afternoon capturing from our tree last Tuesday absconded. That means that every single one of them flew the coop. They’ve sought greener pastures. I hadn’t yet grown to love these bees. I hadn’t set them on their permanent site. I hadn’t named them. I hadn’t even peeked into their box to see how they were doing. But with no drawn comb and no food and nothing to make the place feel lovely, they left. I would have made it wonderful for them, Reader, but I don’t have any more comb to give them. All my other hives need everything I’ve got, and that late-season swarm had little chance of survival to begin with.

So, that’s all my bad news. Two late-seasoned bee experiences are a bust. I do feel awful about the tree bees. The triple traumas were just tooo much for them: their removal from the tree and their relocation; their getting dumped on the ground when I accidentally turned their box upside down (still cringing when I think of it); and their being robbed of all their nectar and sugar water by other bees who sensed their weakened state.

Tomorrow…I report better news (not earth shattering, just better).

Wax moths on comb collected from the bee tree
Wax moths on comb collected from the bee tree
Wax-moth larva weaving through the comb cells
Wax-moth larva weaving through the comb cells
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:

Dotting the I's and Crossing the T's

We’re sort of waiting in limbo here about removing the bees from their tree.

Our wonderful arborist, David Shaw (whom I adore), is busy securing permission to access the tree via property owned by whoever owns the big field next to the tree. We’ll need to access the tree via this big field; and then, the tree needs to fall into the field, and then we’ll need to work on the tree in the field…we’re just not yet entirely sure who owns the all-important field, and we’re not sure we’ll get their permission to drive all that equipment in there. So, we’re on hold.

Dave-the-arborist emailed me yesterday to say that he’s already borrowed a bee suit from his beekeeping neighbor…and, to top it off, his neighbor also lent Dave a bee vac—it’s like a shop vac but with less power…so it’s more gentle…it vaccuums the bees out of tight spaces without killing them. Well, sure, some of them die, but it’s designed to be less traumatic on the bees, and it’s a real score for us.

However, I’m pretty sure the bee-tree adventure may not occur as we had hoped tomorrow. It all sort of depends on securing permission to run a few trucks through someone else’s property…we can’t just go in there as if we own the place.

Oh, but I ordered and finally received that awesome-looking bee suit from Golden Bee. It’s got that zippered-on veil and hood combo so bees can’t visit me inside my veil; and though it’s a still a little blindingly white…like new tennis shoes…I have to say I look pretty great in it.

Let the Bees Lead You

Crap. Yesterday I dropped my brand new iPhone and busted the screen. Not to worry…the wonderful folks at the Apple store replaced it right away with no questions asked. (But if you’ve got the iPhone 4, beware: That danged screen will crack at the drop of a hat. I’m thinking of getting a case for it.)

Anyway, I tell you this because I took pictures as I fed the bees yesterday…but I hadn’t yet backed up the iPhone (including those pictures) before Apple replaced it, so I lost yesterday’s photos.

ALSO, Deb and I drove out to the bee tree yesterday and met the arborist I’d lined up for the job. He was already on site when we arrived…and he’d checked out the tree by the time we got there. Once you know the vicinity of the tree, the bees will simply lead you to it. We really like our guy because he’s sort of embraced this adventure. He’s a softspoken Vietnam vet with a really calm presence about him. Cool that he got there early, and cool that he rode his Triumph motorcycle.

If this thing all goes down (literally) as we expect at the end of this week, you’ll see a lot of pictures of David Shaw, Tree Surgeon. And if you live in Cincinnati, call him for an estimate on your tree work. You’ll really like him.

This Bee-Tree Thing Is Following Me Around

You know I went to check out the bee tree, right? Well, for some reason, I thought I was heading to some guy’s house. I thought he had a tree on his property near some field he’d mown down to serve as a picnic area he’d planned on renting out.

Instead, I drove up to a HUGE company in Batavia. I was flabbergasted that I’d envisioned it so wrong. The chief engineer walks out to meet me and takes me back to the very very nice employee picnic area…off of which is a big old tree full of bees.

I told the guy that I couldn’t solve his problem unless they took the (almost dead) tree down…it’s dropping big branches around the picnic area anyway. So, the guy says, “Well, are you willing to get with an arborist and work up a proposal to take the tree down and remove the bees?” I thought about it for a minute. I realized that this thing just keeps opening up more opportunities for me, so I said, “Sure.” And now I’ve got a project.

My beekeeping friends say that this is a bad time to be taking bees from a tree. But this guy wants these bees gone right now…his employees can’t really enjoy their picnic area with all the bees visiting their soda cans and sandwiches.

I could try to talk him into doing all of this in the spring; then again, what do I have to lose by trying my hand at it now? Yes, I could lose the bees. But I lose bees anyway.

Diagram of How to Remove Bees from a Tree or a Structure

Reasons to Let the Bee Tree Be

Good morning, Reader. Amazing that a week can fly by as this one has.

Today I go to look at the bees in the tree. However, I’ve decided not to attempt removing them…unless I can convince the guy who owns it to cut the tree down. He says it’s pretty much dead anyway, and without access to the comb and queen and eggs and larvae, there’s little reason for me to attempt to collect the bees. Why? Well, all I would have at the end of the process is a single generation of bees.

Without the queen I have no egg layer, so the hive can’t propagate. Even if I couldn’t get to the queen for some reason, I’d like to get my hands on the comb because the comb contains all the eggs and larvae with which the bees could raise a new queen. But without access to the eggs or larvae (which is all in the comb, which is all inaccessible in the tree), the other bees have nothing with which to make a new queen, and they will all die out in a couple of months.

I could use the single generation of bees if I needed workers to beef up one of my already-existing weak colonies (and I don’t have any weak colonies…small, yes…weak, no), but in this current dearth there’s nothing for worker bees to do…no foraging, no comb building, etc. They’re all washboarding on the hives right now, and they only washboard when there’s no work to do. Additional workers would simply suck up the nectar and the honey from the hive, and I need that for the bees already living there.

So, if my goal is to build up a weak colony of my own, then collecting the bees from the tree works fine. But I don’t want to do that at this time of year.

All this thinking is good exercise.

Here’s a picture from The ABC and XYZ of Bee Culture. If I wanted to collect only the bees and not the queen or the comb or the eggs or the larvae from either a tree or a structure, this is how I’d rig it up.

Diagram of How to Remove Bees from a Tree or a Structure

Bee Tree

I Can Learn, Can't I?

Every day lately, Reader, I get a call about bees. People call me to say they have a swarm of bees in their attic or in their doorframe or in a tree trunk.

They don’t really mean “a swarm.” A swarm is a mass of bees that hasn’t yet found its next home. The people who call me mean that they have a lot of bees flying around…a “swarm” is a technical term, but these folks are using it as a description of many bees flying. There’s a difference. I totally get the mixup and am happy to decipher the terms. What my callers want is someone to cut or trap the bees out of their home or tree.

At first I responded that I don’t do cut outs. I’ll collect swarms, but I’m not in the business of tearing homes and buildings apart to get the bees out. But the calls persist. So now I’m thinking that maybe I should try collecting those bees happily living in people’s homes or in other buildings. Why not? So I don’t have a good saw. Or a great ladder. So I don’t know what the hell I’m doing. I can learn, can’t I?

Don’t worry, Reader, I’ll start small. I’ll take the advice of those nice people on Beemaster.com and start with easy jobs…out buildings…waist-high things…etc.

Yesterday I received a call about bees in a tree. I called my bee buddy, Chris, and he’s game to go see it with me. The guy who owns the tree sent me this picture from his phone.

Bee Tree
Bee Tree

I mean, sometimes I start thinking that my days are getting routine…that I’m getting old and that my life is growing dull. Yes, sometimes I think that way. And then these calls start coming in, and I think…Hey! Why not jump in and try some new things that’ll add some spice? So tomorrow I’m going to get Chris, and we’re heading out to see if we can’t get us some bees from this tree. What the hell.