Thursday, May 10, 2012

I'm a Beekeeper: The Real Deal

Today, I feel like a genuine beekeeper.  I captured my first swarm and set up the newbees next to my other hives.  Here's how it happened.

I was working the hotline for the Ohio Wildlife Center this morning when I picked up a message from someone who had a swarm in his yard.  I called him and he told me bees swarmed into his yard this past Friday and had moved into a cardboard box on his porch.  He had been unsuccessful at finding a beekeeper to collect them and he tried our hotline.  It was his lucky day!  Mine, too!

Bees swarm when they are crowded in their hives.  They fly around in a big mass and land someplace with their queen while scout bees look for a suitable new home.  Murphy is often hard at work when it comes to where swarms land while awaiting their new digs.  We find bees in walls, cascading over eaves, WAY high up in trees, in barbecue grills, under the hoods of cars.  The lucky beekeeper has to figure out how to capture the swarm from frequently precarious locations.  That the hotline volunteer is a beekeeper, that she was taking calls NOT on her regular day and that a swarm would MOVE INTO A CARDBOARD BOX is a perfect storm of great bee karma.  I scrambled to make arrangements to get this swarm.

I have lots of empty hive boxes and frames to go in them but I was missing a few important pieces: screened bottom board, inside cover and telescoping cover.  I called my mentor, John, from whom I had bought my nucs.  After he recovered from the stunning news of the whereabouts of these bees (really, the only swarm easier to catch would be one that moved into an abandoned hive) he kindly offered me some loaner equipment.  I was in business!  I raced to Plain City, picked up the pieces and parts and staged them in my meadow.  My landscape architect was coming to work on the steps into the ravine so I asked him sweetly to level a cement paver for a new hive.  Thank you, Bud!

Several hours of unexpected beekeeping really didn't fit well into my plans today. Swarms happen often in the spring, but they don't care about anyone's schedule. I decided to wait until evening to go for the bees, which were on the west side of town. By waiting, the scout bees would be home and fewer bees would be left behind as doomed, homeless, lost souls.

I packed my car with my bee suit, boots, smoker, tools, tape and a spray bottle of sugar water with Honey B Healthy, a deliciously fragrant minty liquid that, when sprayed on bees, calms them and renders them drunk with happiness as they groom the sticky stuff off of each other.  I found my way to the west side address and took a look at the situation.

The brown box is where the bees are.  That's a roll of carpet on top.  I needed to get that carpet off the box without upsetting the box (and thousands of bees).  The homeowner was keeping a healthy distance and I knew I'd have to wrestle with the carpet by myself.  Bees were flying all over the place.  I suited up and took a closer look.  The box had a four inch slotted opening, a hand hold, that the bees were using as their entry.  These are some smart bees!  The scouts had found a new home that couldn't have been more like a traditional hive box.  I made my plan, very carefully slid the rug off the box and sprayed joy juice into the hand hold/front door.  I slid the box onto the table in the forefront and found the back door on the opposite side.  Out came the masking tape.

The tape is covering the slot and drips from the sweet spray are staining the cardboard.  I taped and taped. Then I taped some more. And I turned the box and continued to tape until every opening and flap was safely sealed.  Then I gingerly slid the box so I could peek underneath to see if the bottom was secure, or even if there was a bottom!  There was.

Did I mention that it had started to rain?

This box is bigger than it looks, a good three feet long, and it wouldn't fit in my trunk.  I was glad I had used generous amounts of tape because that box would have to travel in the car with me.  The drive home was, thank you God, uneventful. As I drove home I could see clear skies and decided to shake the bees into their new digs tonight rather than wait until morning.  A quick phone call to my mentor helped me decide how to move the bees out of cardboard and into wood.

Since the bees had been in their cardboard hive since Friday, I expected to find burr comb.  Bees hate empty spaces and fill them with beautiful white come.  The plan was to take frames out of the bottom brood box and transfer any comb I found in the cardboard box into the hive body.  I sawed into the top of the box and met resistance.  Was there that much comb?  I cut a long flap in the top and pried it open, spraying sugary liquid on the bees.  Inside...more cardboard.  The box was double boxed.  Inside were two more boxes.  More cutting, more prying and the work inside the hive was revealed.  There were 6-8 exquisite ovals of white wax, all larger than my hand, attached to the inside top of the box in perfect parallels, like multiple sets of curtains in a theater.  I slipped the comb into the empty space in the hive body and started shaking bees into the same cavity.  I wish I had photos of the comb before I scraped it out.  This was not a good time to be a photographer.

There was a whole lot of shaking going on.  I kept spraying sweets to keep the girls on their happy sugar high. I shook bees out of both inner boxes and I shook bees out of the larger box where they had reconvened. There were lots of bees on the ground.  I had no way to know where the queen was and can only hope I didn't crush her and that I shook her into the wooden box.

Bees were zooming everywhere by now.  I felt that familiar sharp pain on the middle bone of the middle finger of my right hand.  Stung, right through my leather glove.

The bees were bearding on the front of the new hive.  The bees on the ground are not apparent, but they are there.  I left the extra frames and the cut up carton out by the hive.  The smell of their own burr comb would lure the bees inside, even the queen if she happened to fall to the ground.  In the morning I will gather up the cardboard and the unused frames and hope for the best.  I will see if bees are coming and going to their new hive but I won't open it until next week.  If the queen survived the move, I will see brood.  If there is no brood, I will requeen the hive.

2012  1 (teeny tiny, no stinger, inconsequential)
2011  13

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