There are certain pursuits which, if not wholly poetic and true, do at least suggest a nobler and finer relation to nature than we know. The keeping of bees, for instance. --- Henry David Thoreau

"Well," said Pooh, "what I like best -- " and then he had to stop and think. Because although Eating Honey was a very good thing to do,
there was a moment just before you began to eat it which was better than when you were, but he didn't know what it was called. -- The House at Pooh Corner

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Easier Yet (almost)

In the last post I said, "But I doubt I'll soon get any more already boxed up and ready to go ... for free!"

Ya know, it's hubris to think you can predict the future with that kinda certainty. My friend Julie, sometimes known as 'the mentor bee lady who lives down the road', delivered a swarm to me, all boxed up and ready to go! What's better than that???

It was from the same farmer who had called me for the last swarm. He was working off the swarm list, I guess, to give away this second swarm too. Julie is the chief honeybee swarm rescuer in this part of our whereabouts. Normally she has every hive of her own populated, but she loves to save the swarms and to collect them for others. She knew I still needed to populate my last two hives, so she brought them to me. (A couple of long-time beeks have adopted the label "Lazy Beekeeper" on the 'Net, but with this delivery, I may be in the running for the title.)

Anyway, it was the same kind of big box o' bees, perfectly taped-up, with more little windows and everything. I figured, "Hey it's gonna be a snap! I'll just put 'em in the Biodynamic Lang the same way I did the others and let 'em settle in next to the Hard Luck Warré."


Hubris, overconfidence, too easily thinking I'd graduated past "newbie"? It was a big unwieldy box and I was a little too careless in shaking them into the Lang hive. About half of them stuck to the side of the box and didn't quite slide out with the rest. I didn't notice this since I couldn't see over the side of the big box well enough. As I was pulling the box away the rest of them fell out onto the deck next to the hive. I had soaked them down pretty good with my water spray bottle, but still ... lots of them flew up, or they were all scurrying to find the rest of the colony. Next thing you know I am down on my hands and knees trying to grab them all in big handfuls and toss 'em into the Lang. (You would have laughed your ass off at the sight of me in my veil and helmet trying to see well enough to determine where they were crawling.)

Yes, I did have my gloves on, and that made it worse actually. First it was hard to feel them well enough to grab properly; and either I held 'em too tight or the bees just slipped out of my fingers. Second, about this time some of the honeybees decided they were through being Miss Nice Bee and crawled down in my gloves to sting some sense back into me. Owwww! Ow, ow, ow!

{Sigh} Eventually I got them all into the Lang, although I was a bit worried that the bees I had spilled included the queen - Julie had said she was a marked Golden Bee queen, two years old. I haven't seen her yet. I set up the entrance reducer, along with a piece of queen excluder I stapled over the hole to keep them from absconding and let them be for the night.

The next morning I went out early. The Hard Luck Warré had their bees out and foraging, lots of activity even though it was cool weather. The Biodynamic Hive had a few straggler bees wandering across the landing board but not much else happening. I snuck a peek inside and was at first pretty disheartened. There was a smallish cluster in the super, not nearly half of the about 5 pounds of bees I had put in there last night. Oh no! The queen hadn't made it into the hive! -- and the rest of the bees had struggled out of the entrance reducer/excluder barrier and had absconded in the night! I was an idiot! The queen had fled under the deck as soon as I spilt everybody!

I tilted the super up and looked in the bottom brood box inside the foundationless frames. Sure enough there was a half dome of sleepy bees covering the whole underside of the top bars, about the size of a basketball. Whew! Everything was copacetic!

I noticed that the bees that were moving in and out seemed to stack up for a long time at my makeshift reduced entrance, and I kind of don't trust that piece of excluder. In K&M's hive the bees just about refused to go through it. I headed off to Glorybee and bought another new plastic excluder and some frames for the western supers. When I returned, the sun had warmed up the Lang enough that the bees were moving in and out, albeit sluggishly. I removed the entrance reducer and slid the new excluder in, figuring a whole sheet of it on the bottom would be enough for them to comfortably get in and out and still leave the queen inside. Hey, there is something to this Langstroth standardization thing! The queen excluder fits perfectly on the rim of the bottom board, right under the brood box. I'd had to do surgery on the piece sitting under the Warré. This evening the Hard Luck Warré has foragers bringing in lots of bright orange pollen, some of it prolly from the California poppies on the roadside. Since this indicates the bee ladies seem to be occupying both hives permanently, I will slip both excluders out in a day or two.

Well, I learned what I learned from this; and tonight as the sunlight fades both the new swarms are active, bringing in pollen and sucking up the sugar syrup from the Boardman feeders I set up to keep them fed until they get some comb built and are viable on their own.

I said up above, "Normally [Julie] has every hive of her own populated." But she called me that night after she delivered the swarm, wondering  if I had hived it yet.

"Absolutely," I said, like it was no big deal at all.

Oh that was too bad, since when she got home one of her hives turned out to be queenless all of a sudden; and if I still had them in the big box she would have liked the swarm for herself to put in that hive with the queenless colony.  She regretted a little bit that she had given them to me. I offered to shake them back into the box, quietly rubbing my wrist where the stings were beginning to throb and itch. No no, that's okay, we'll just get another swarm. Am I still on the swarm list? Yep, and I am expecting the bee tree grove to swarm any minute. Although there were major swarm days in May, the timing here has been all over the place for bees this year. Every action, including the main nectar flow, is late in Oregon this year because of the rain. Some swarms are still bound to happen.

I will make no more predictions about how hard or easy the next swarms will be.

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