Bee hive management

Dandelions in bloom mean a strong, crowded hive is planning to swarm. One of my hives seemed particularly strong. But the weather has been cool — too cool in my estimation — to open the hives for a sufficient inspection to determine that I need to add space/supers.

Three weeks ago I built 10 new frames and changed the foundation on another 10 in preparation. In a quick check of the hives then, I decided not to add more space.

I was wrong. Today the stronger hive swarmed thousands of beautiful, golden, small but healthy bees. They choose a rail in the veggie garden fence as a first landing spot. Their queen must be too old to take good flight to the top of a tree say. But the spot they chose was almost good for me. There were only two problems. First, I was on my way to swim when they swarmed. Second, the rail they choose had lots of crevices in which bees and the queen could hide. I swept as many bees as I could into an empty box above a hive with 10 new frames of foundation. I did not find the queen. Then I went swimming.

You can watch the swarm in the video. You will hear that the narrator cum beekeeper is depressed by her bad luck and ineptitude when it comes to recapturing swarms.

When I got home, the bees had left the hive I’d put them in and the fence rail for the metal pole supporting a bird nesting box that a pair of Tree swallows have been guarding. The swarm seemed substantially smaller. Lots of bees were in the grass. Did that mean the queen was also in the grass?

I still had two problems, just different ones. First, I did not want to disturb any eggs that the Tree swallows who were staying clear now that their house was covered with bees might have laid. Second, finding the queen if she was in the grass would be an even greater challenge than finding her at the center of the swarm. Capture the queen, and the bees likely will follow wherever you put her. Without the queen, it is well nigh impossible to collect a swarm.

A more experienced swarm catcher might have come up with a better plan. Shaking the bees into a box will not work when they line a pole and lodged in the grass. I made a tent out of agricultural cover material, swept as many bees as I could from the pole into the fabric using a wall papering brush while also smoking the bees out of the grass. Two more hands and another brain would have been helpful.

So here’s how things stood as evening fell. A lot of bees have died. I might have found the queen. One bee with a long abdomen and possibly a bad leg appeared on the tent. Another bee was attending to her leg as I picked her up by the wings. She did not exude royalty but she did look different. I put her as gently as the chaotic situation allowed into the hive. A few bees were still down in the grass. Some were flying around. One got in my bee suit headdress.

Bees on the pole

Bees on the pole

Bees in the tent

Bees in the tent

In the morning, they may well be gone. If they’re queenless, I don’t know where the surviving workers will be. The beekeeper is already depressed in anticipation.

With the temperature in the 50s on the afternoon I returned from Belize via Boston, it would have been an OK time to remove the cover to check for bee life. But the hives were already in the shade of the evergreen hedgerow. I put a juice glass between my ear and the side of the hive. Definite buzzing in both hives.

Now that’s again cold — we even had a dusting of snow the first morning I was back — I can’t provide any sustenance until it warms up. We’ve had half a month of lion. I’m more than ready for the proverbial lamb portion.

Monarch, after seeasonSome insect population is always a wings’ thickness away from annihilation. The Times reported a couple of days ago on the severe loss of habitat for the Monarch butterfly. Where’s Monsanto in this tale? Front and center, as you might imagine. But habitat destruction, drought and abnormally high temperatures also play a role. It seems the forest the butterflies use in Mexico to rest before turning around to migrate north has been reduced to 2.94 acres, just a bit bigger than my meadow!

My Monarchs made a very long season out of 2012. I thought they might have had a plan to skip the migration last year. The photo is from October 22.

What does the coming season hold for the bees and the butterflies?

Both beehives burst into activity once our mini ice age ended this morning. Promptly, the bees began dragging the dead from the hive and pushing them off the landing platform.  The bee keeper, in contrast, was not so well prepared and missed the opportunity to open the hives to check for honey and pollen stores. She did make a video.

The bees and their amateur keeper will now try to manage our way through the most treacherous part of the year: from one warm winter day until spring. Anyone hoping for Kennel House honey must wish us well.