Beekeeping Again

Wow! A second sunny beautiful day in June! That is supposed to be the norm but this June was more like April with many cold days of rain, mist or fog.
Another weird weather spring happened upon us: March was like May; it was warm and beautiful. People were swimming in the ocean last March. Now April was like June in the beginning then it was maybe like March toward the middle but then reminded me of second grade…oh, sorry…I was getting a little batty there.
Anyhoo, it has been a very dank, cold June with a lot of rainy days and it is funny how quickly I forgot about the early beautiful spring and became a real grump. Until yesterday when the sun came out. Everything is wonderful, amazing and awesome with a little sunshine.
Well the bees feel the same way in bed weather. The get cramped and waspish instead of bee-ish because they’re all crammed in the hive. To make matters worse, the queen, who has been laying thousands of eggs, keeps laying thousands of eggs because that’s what queen bees do, rain or shine.

A cranking hive has about 50,000 bees. During the day, thousands of those bees are out flying, scouting, bringing in food. Hundreds are buzzing in the vicinity of the hive and there’s usually about twenty-five fanning on the landing board to keep things cool. When it rains, all the outdoor bees are on top of the workers who clean, tend to the queen, take care of the babies and keep order. Crowded, bored bees kind of disrupt the harmony of a hive. I think all the mothers know what I’m talking about here.
Bees are like people, being stuck inside is a real drag. After a week of rain, you can be sure you have a hive full of cranky bees. To challenge the situation further, the longer they’re stuck in the hive, the more crowded it gets because a good queen can lay up to 2,000 eggs per day.

Which brings us to the Swarm. Mid to late spring is the prime swarm time of year. A week of rain during that prime swarm time makes the swarm possibility almost a guarantee. From the bee point-of-view, swarming is the natural part of continuing the bees. From the keepers point-of-view, it can be disaster.
I had three swarms last year. I never thought a beehive could swarm more than once and three swarms were a particular curse because I lived next to neighbors who really, really, really hated the idea that I kept bees. Of course every single swarm went directly to their tree. Three swarms in their tree squashed any hope that they might learn to love my bees so after much agonizing and a week of no sleep I gave away my bees. The tension and worry they created over the fence wasn’t worth it.

I didn’t want to write about beekeeping anymore after the bees were gone.

Then the neighbors astonished me by selling selling their house a month later. I never saw that coming.
We met the new neighbors, who are very friendly but I kept a lid on the “I’m a beekeeper” conversation because I was pretty sad without the bees and was afraid the new neighbors would announce bee allergies or a just general dislike of anything to do with bees.
Imagine how happy I was to see this on their back porch last March:

Unpainted beehive on neighbors back porch

Jackpot. My new neighbor is a beekeeper.

We both started with new hives this spring. We talked of the possibility of swarms but felt it unlikely with new hives because 1. there just aren’t as many bees and 2. they’re so busy building up the hive that a stretch of bad weather doesn’t have the same claustrophobic effect.
And yet this is what I saw this afternoon:

Small apple tree bent over due to a swarm. Yes, this is my backyard.

To the Bee Mobile! Someday….
I called my neighbor and we captured the swarm. What a difference a year makes.

A recycle bin to held a hive frame sprayed with sugar water.

Getting the bees out of the tree takes firm shake of the tree to knock the queen down. The bees will go where she is. Yes it is really scary to knock a huge ball of bees into a recycle bin but you have to do it like you mean it otherwise the queen doesn’t move and the bees get angry.

Once they know where the queen is, they all gather on top of her and the swarm calms down completely.

A swarm is very gentle. It is easy to handle as long as you don’t annoy the bees. A swarm will hang out in one spot for a couple of hours to a couple of days because scout bees are looking for a new place to live and when they find it, the swarm will take off. It is vital to get a swarm into a new hive or they’ll go find their own place to live.

The bare necessities for a captured swarm.

I made a mad run to the local bee supply store–yes thank goodness there is one about 20 minutes away–for the basics: A deep box, 10 frames, bottom board, inner and outer covers. Then I went to Home Depot for cinder blocks. Then I painted the outside of the hive with 2 coats of primer. In the meantime, the bees were just hanging out in a recycle bin while the scouts were on the loose.

Swarm bin next to new hive

Getting the bees into the new hive is the most nerve wracking step…unless you’ve got to get a swarm off a transformer. They have to be dumped onto the frames with the hope that queen goes in without killing her. They don’t like to be dumped so they get pretty mad pretty quick.

Dumped bees with (hope, hope, hope) queen.

If the queen is in the new hive, most of the bees quickly follow. My dump move was a bit lame but I got the queen in on the first try so I had to scoop several handful of bees onto the hive. They did not like that at all. What amazed me was how quickly they settled despite my blundering ministrations.
Within twenty minutes, a bunch of bees were fanning on the landing board to let the scouts and stray bees know they had found a new home.

Bees fanning to call the rest of the hive.

And there you have it. A new season, two new hives and I can write about bees again.

About EF Sweetman

writing, reading, pretty much everything noir
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6 Responses to Beekeeping Again

  1. chlost says:

    It is fascinating, but I can’t imagine doing this. That swarm made my eyes pop just looking at the photo. Yikes! I am assuming that you are wearing your protective clothing as you do all of this? It is wonderful that you and your neighbor can help each other out. The university near us will help people who are willing to have boxes on their land but who don’t want to do the beekeeping duties. The university will act as the keepers. I think that is a great idea. I don’t think we are allowed to have the hives in our subdivision, though.Have a great bee summer!

    • EF Sweetman says:

      Hi Chlost, you wouldn’t believe how gentle a swarm is if they’re handled well–and even when they’re knocked around, they just settle back to the queen as soon as they can. There are some farms in this area that like bee hives and that was a thought when I had to get rid of them but I just lucked out with my neighbor. Whew!
      You have a great summer too and you’re welcome to come see them in person if you ever want to get close to a bee.

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  4. GrayFoxDown says:

    Here in New York City, beekeeping is a rather unique and strange phenomenon. It’s currently gaining in popularity but will take more than a little time to get used to; after all, we’re far from the country amidst asphalt and skyscrapers.

    • EF Sweetman says:

      I love reading about NYC beekeeping and the adaptations that beekeepers make. I live in a small city, close to open areas and plenty of forage in small gardens, weedy lots. Yet even with the ideal, the bees manage to surprise me.

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