A Scatterbrained Beekeeper

Some days I move around a lot with little to show for it. Yesterday was one of those days.

I put the finishing touches on the three remaining swarm-lure boxes: I added frames of drawn comb, and I drilled holes in the lids of three used plastic medicine bottles into each of which I put two cotton balls—I sprinkled three to five drops of lemongrass oil on one cotton ball; with the other cotton ball, I  soaked up my melted swarm lure…a mix of beeswax, almond oil, and lemongrass oil. I smeared the swarm lure mixture on the outside of each box and at the entrances. Then I added the used-up cotton to the vials, closed them up with their lids, and tucked the vials inside the boxes (the holes in the vial lids allows the smell of lemongrass to waft out of the box and attract the bees).

I still haven’t hung the things, though. It’s raining.

Then, I got the top-bar hives ready for bees…which means I added all the bars. Then I knocked the bars off because I wasn’t careful with the lid. So I replaced the bars. I immediately knocked them askew again. You see how it goes.

All of these little chores meant a lot of walking around the yard carrying stuff into the basement and out of the basement and into the kitchen and out to the garage and back to the yard. Then I’d forget something and have to go find it somewhere. It was tiring. Some days I’m unbelievably disorganized.

I had to take a nap.

Then, last night as the rain began and the wind whipped up, I realized I’d not replaced the large rock that anchors the Amazons’ hive cover, so I hauled out there in the rain and put that rock on top.

Bees arrive on Friday. If I don’t get more focused soon, they’re gonna wear me out.

Swarm-Bait Box (fit with top bars for a Kenya Top-Bar Hive)

My First Swarm-Bait Box Is Now Hung in a Tree

You know, I wait all winter long…think all winter long…plan and build all winter long…and still I am late when it comes to execution. Well, maybe not late, but certainly not early.

I think it’s swarm season, and as of yesterday I still hadn’t hung my home-built swarm boxes in their trees.

So, yesterday I hung one box in a tree in my beeyard. I’m not sure it’s high enough, and I may have put a bit too much lemongrass oil in the little container, but it’s hung. And even though I painted it camouflage, Deb spotted it immediately when she got out of her car. “What’s hanging in that tree?” she said. Bummer.

Come on, my little swarmies.

 

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Swarm-Bait Box (fit with top bars for a Kenya Top-Bar Hive)
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Swarm bait box decked out with camouflage and duct tape!
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Swarm-bait box hung in the beeyard
Making Swarm Lure

Recipe for Swarm Lure

Those bee colonies that swarm are strong, and I want strong bees. I hated that one of my hives died last year…the hive that died was always kind of slow compared to the Amazons (which I got as a result of a swarm from Chris’s hive). It makes sense that it you’ve got strong colonies, you’d want to propogate them. And there are several ways to do that, though I haven’t done it yet.

Last night I mixed up a batch of swarm lure—I have to give credit to Linda over at Linda’s Bees. She posted this recipe several years ago.

I mixed 1/4 cup olive oil, a wad of beeswax (1/2 of a sheet of foundation), and about 20 drops of lemongrass oil. I heated the mixture together in a glass measuring cup that I placed in a pan of boiling water. Once it was all melted together, I poured it into a small foil bread mold we had in the cabinet. It solidified into a smearable paste in about 5 minutes. I wish I’d had a nice little jar with a lid, but all the jars I have are too deep to keep shoving my hands into.

Today I’ll head out to an unused brood box I’ve set up near my hives and smear it with this swarm lure. It’s supposed to attract bees…apparently the lemongrass oil smells like the queen pheremone; the oil and wax keep the lemongrass oil from dissipating and make the mixture workable.

In the swarm-lure box are 10 frames with beeswax foundation (I’m supposed to have some frames of drawn comb in there, too, but I don’t have any. All my combs are with the bees), so once the scout bees from a swarm come to check out the smell in my brood box, they should find a nice home in a good neighborhood all ready for them to move into.

Later today, I plan to call the police and fire departments in my area and add my name to their swarm capture list…then, if anyone calls to report a swarm of bees, I’m on the list of people who will go and capture it. It’s a great way to increase the number of robust bees.

Making Swarm Lure
Liquid Swarm Lure
Solidified Swarm Lure

Happy, Sad, Happy, Sad, Happy, Sad

I go from being happy to being sad about the Amazon swarm. Happy because some mighty fine and robust and healthy bees have propagated, and they live near me. Sad because half my Amazon hive is gone. Happy because half my Amazon hive remains. Sad because I just read in Bee Culture magazine that there could certainly be “afterswarms.” Happy that I’ve now learned a hell of a lot about swarm lures and can set up my lure box to hopefully attract any afterswarms. Sad that honey production is reduced in Amazons. Etc.

See how my mind works?

The article about swarming in Bee Culture sort of got me down. It documented how long it will take my new queen to emerge, learn the ropes, take her mating flight, lay eggs; then it documented how long it will take those larvae and pupae to develop into bees and get to work foraging. I already sort of knew all of this, but when someone lays the numbers out for you, and when those numbers now relate directly to your hive and your honey, your heart sinks. Grand total of at least 65 days. Shit. There goes the spring. Oh well, there’s not much to forage on around here in the summer time, so we might as well use that time to let the new queen do her good work.

On a happier note: upon yesterday’s inspection, Tomboys and Girls of Summer each look very robust. We saw larvae and capped honey and pollen, etc. in each brood box. It’s not entirely out of the question that we could harvest honey from those colonies even though it’s their first year…we’ve had great weather and lots of blooming stuff. They are each healthier than the hive we lost over the winter ever was.

I’m thinking of taking a frame or two of capped brood from Amazons and putting it in Tomboys and Girls of Summer to give them some extra workers. That may give them a boost and increase the likelihood of harvesting honey from those colonies this year.

Amazon Swarm, May 2010

And There Was The SWARM

We’d just settled down in the Adirondack chairs when I looked up into the tree. And there was something just not right about something up there…it looked odd. And then I saw it—the SWARM.

My Amazons had swarmed and the swarm was drooping from the lowest branch of a tall tall tree. Too high to reach by any ladder other than one belonging to the the fire department.

Oh my gosh, did I jump to action. I ran into the basement and yanked all the leftover equipment stored down there and I ran it all out and set it up under the swarm…then I jumped in the car and drove like a crazy person to the Natural Food Store to buy lemongrass oil because it’s said to be a swarm lure. We smeared lemongrass oil and honey all over the super and frames set beneath the swarm, and we hoped the girls would decide it looked like a great home.

To make a long story short…we set the bottle of lemongrass oil on the lure box; we took the stopper out of it; we put the stopper into it again; we moved the lemongrass oil inside the lure box; we moved it out again; we set the lure box up on a ladder; we tried to throw a long rope over the branch the swarm was attached to; we couldn’t reach it with the rope; we tied a wrench to the end of the rope as a weight to help us reach the branch and tried it several more times again; we succeeded only in throwing the wrench and rope into the garden; we spread a sheet beneath the swarm in case the swarm dropped from the tree—we did everything we knew to do, and then we undid it. We have no idea what we’re doing. How on earth can you seduce a swarm of bees?

I went out there in the night with a flashlight to check on them.

They were still there this morning.

I turned my back on them for 10 minutes and they disappeared. They now live in some unknown hollow tree trunk in the woods behind our house. Deb’s been out there searching for them.

I was so disappointed.

I guess the good news is that now we’ll have a new queen in the Amazon hive because the older queen should have left with half the bees. God speed, bees.

It helped that I later discovered two frames of capped honey ready for harvest…and we collected about 2 pounds of gorgeous, almost-clear honey from our Amazon girls.

Amazon Swarm, May 2010
Amazon Swarm, May 2010

Swarm Lure, May 2010
Amazon honey, May 2010