Swarm in a pear tree

Like a Pro, Amy Captures Her First Swarm

I’m bursting with pride for Amy.

When I first met Amy, she had sort of an inferiority complex about her beekeeping skills. I tried to convince her that she could learn to be a good beekeeper…it’s just that no one had taken the time to teach her what to do.

So, I placed a few hives in her yard and we began working with the bees together.

Before I added my bees to her yard, Amy already had a single hive that had survived the winter, and we nurtured it along…perhaps we didn’t anticipate the strength of the flow this spring, because yesterday, when I was out of town at Deb’s mom’s burial, Amy text me with this image and said rather matter-of-factly, “There’s a swarm in my pear tree.”

Swarm in Amy's pear tree

Holy Smokes! I about fell off my chair when I saw this attached image. There sure as hell is a swarm in the tree. I text Amy back to tell her I was out of town but that I’d be back in the afternoon and could help her collect her swarm then. Or, I told her, she could call me, and I could talk her through how to do it on her own.

But before I knew it, Amy had sent me the following images. Without any suggestion from me, she had already climbed on a ladder, cut the swarm-containing branch from the tree, dropped the branch into a bucket, and then dumped the bees from the bucket into an empty hive we’d set in her yard for this very occasion. AMY DID ALL OF THIS ON HER OWN WITH NO INSTRUCTION FROM ANYONE. She operated solely on instinct. I love that. Love it love it love it love it.

(By the way, Amy’s life is not limited to bees. She has a helluva lot going on over at her place, and you can keep up with her over at her blog).

Amy's swarm on the ladder and in its hive

 

Amy's bees in their new hive
Swarm of honeybees. We love swarms!

We Collect Honeybee Swarms in (and near) Cincinnati, Ohio

Reader, this is a reminder that we LOVE to collect swarms of honeybees.

If you’re lucky enough to find a swarm of bees hanging in a beautiful (some say “terrifying”), morphing, humming weight—from a tree branch or from some other structure—please contact us at 513.675.9897 or liz@twohoneys.com.

We’ll collect the swarm, introduce it to a wonderful new home, and place it where it will pollinate your local gardens and forests.

Swarm of honeybees. We love swarms!

 

Honeybee swarm

From "Colony" to "Swarm" to "Colony"

I don’t love the telephone. However, these past few months I get a lot of calls about bees, and I like those calls a lot. Why? I don’t know…maybe because I’m never sure what situation will present itself, and that’s fun. These past couple of weeks, I’ll bet I get 2 or 3 calls each week about “swarms of bees” somewhere. A couple of months ago, this number was higher.

But what the callers usually describe are not swarms of bees. You see, Reader, a swarm is a very specific term used for bees in the midst of migrating from one home to another. Before they swarm, they’re part of a colony of bees. When they leave that colony and set up a new home, they’ll once again be a colony of bees. While they’re between the two—while migrating—they’re considered a swarm. They move from “colony” to “swarm” to “colony.”

A swarm is usually spotted hanging in a big, droopy, living, breathing blob on a tree branch or a light post or some other structure on which it’s easy to hang together. The swarm waits there for about 12-48 hours until the scout bees decide on a new home; once the new home is found…poof!…the swarm is gone in a blink of an eye. While it hangs there, however, a swarm of bees seems both awesome and scary (I call it “sublime”), so people call a beekeeper about it.

Honeybee swarm
Honeybee swarm

There’s a swarm season, Reader. Bees in Ohio usually swarm during our spring months…April through June.

I’ve discovered that people who call me about “a swarm” (when we’re not in swarm season) really mean to report “a lot of bees swarming around” their roofline or their doorframe or their soffit; the bees have been “swarming” for a while, and the caller is worried. Well, Reader, this is not a swarm…remember, a swarm doesn’t yet have a home of its own. The good news is this: The bees these callers call about already have a nice home. The bad news for the caller is this: The bees’ home is also the caller’s home.

This post is getting too long, so I’ll finish it tomorrow.

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
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.

Two shallow boxes fashioned with medium-depth, foundationless frames---to be used as a single box.

More Space Has Stopped the Bearding

Success!

Yesterday I inserted a box I fashioned from two shallows between my two brood boxes in Girls of Summer. They’re the most robust of our colonies, and they’ve been mighty crowded and hot and bearding like crazy.

So, I pulled deep frames of brood up from the bottom box and into the center of the new box; I interspersed medium, undrawn foundationless frames among all the fully drawn comb in the bottom two boxes. Then, I restacked them. This should give them the room they need to operate.

Yep, I’ve got a real mishmash of frames going on in there now, and there’s quite a bit of empty space that the bees will surely fill up with wild comb, but I guess I can figure out how to deal with all of it later.

My goals:

  1. Keep these bees from swarming before winter.
  2. Keep these bees alive over the winter.
  3. Switch from deep boxes to medium-depth boxes.
  4. Harvest some honey next year.
  5. And do all of this without introducing any chemicals.

So, now that I know this addition of space and new frames has stopped the bearding in Girls of Summer, I need to do the same thing for Amazons and Tomboys. Which means I’ve got to head down into the basement and make 20 frames today.

Here are some pictures. They don’t show you much other than what it looks like to rearrange a bee colony.

Two shallow boxes fashioned with medium-depth, foundationless frames---to be used as a single box.
Rearranging a bee colony. (The lighter colored frames are foundationless and are interspersed among frames already drawn)
Rebuilt Girls of Summer (including the two-shallow box in the center)
Honeybee Swarm

Face It. The Days Are Getting Shorter.

The minute I put that wax melter out in the sun, the sun disappeared. Then the temperatures dropped. And no wax on earth will melt at 70 degrees and under cloudy skies. So, we’ll try when the weather heats up again.

But doesn’t it feel great out there? Every single one of our windows is open, and I’m sitting here in a flannel shirt.

Which brings me to the solstice. Once the days begin to get shorter, the queen’s egg laying begins to slow, too. Which means that—even though it’ll still feel like summer around here for a few months—the hive begins to prepare for fall and winter. Conservation begins. Then, in January, when the winter solstice arrives and the days begin to be imperceptibly longer, and even though it feels as if the cold will never end and the earth will never thaw, the queen begins to gear up for egg laying again. She beings laying in earnest in February. The cycle of the hive is perfectly synced with the cycle of the sun.

No matter where you live or what your temperatures are like, your hive cycle depends not on temperature but on the length of the day.

And here’s what it feels like when your hive swarms in April, May, or June.

Honeybee Swarm
Honeybee Swarm

At first, I had this image filed under “Telling the Bees” because the beekeeper looks so distraught. Maybe that’s one reason I really love this piece…it fits many emotions.

Why Does Everyone Tell Me, "Patience, Grasshopper?"

Reader, I know I got your hopes up for some honey. But I think our hopes may have flown off with the Amazon swarm.

Yesterday’s inspection shows that all honey production has ground to a halt in Amazons. Because they swarmed, the remaining Amazons aren’t drawing comb or storing honey until their new queen gets busy…and that’ll take a month or so. And by the time she gets busy, there won’t be much blooming. All of this is to say that we won’t get more honey this spring. Who knows about the fall…there’s often a fall honey flow, but not always. We didn’t have one last year.

Though Tomboys and Girls of Summer remain very healthy and very active, they aren’t drawing comb or storing honey in the honey supers. They’re loaded with brood about to be born, though, so if there’s a good fall honey flow, we may get some honey from them. In a few months. This is killing me.

To keep my mind off this disappointment, I think I’ll consider experimenting a little bit. I think I’ll try to take two frames of brood and a frame or two of honey from the deep brood boxes (I haven’t decided which combination of colonies to take this from) and form a new colony. That should be fun, and I’m sure to learn new stuff.

Here are Jay and Jackie who visited the hives with me yesterday. I rewarded their interest with a 5 oz. jar of honey. I hope they treasure it. I’m not giving any more to anyone until I harvest more. And that’s not looking great.