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This morning I discovered this open-comb, free-hanging, feral honey bee nest in my backyard at Medford. Naturally I'm wondering where this colony came from and how long they've been in the tree. It's not likely that either of the Easter colonies had the time/resources to swarm again so early in the season. They could be another random product of 2012 Swarmapalooza season, or my theory is that these are the survivors of a colony, Isis, that I kept at this location last year which I thought had succumbed early after I attempted to transition the summer cluster into a framed hive body, but I never did find the queen among the too few dead bees left behind in the hive. I remember being suspicious at the time that they might have absconded. The colonies that I have situated at this location presently were both acquired this season on Easter day, one as an early swarm from my own hive on Easter morning in Strasburg, and the other inhabited a bait box later that afternoon in nearby Bentonville. Hence the name the Easter Apiary at Medford

There are four large distinct combs, ranging in size from a Whamo Frisbee Flying Disc up to that of a standard toilet seat lid. I was hanging out this morning having coffee with the bees and they've been testy for days. Quite out of the blue I was stung on the head for standing there minding their business. I decided it was time to head to work after that and from the driveway, thinking about the sting on the top of my head, I looked up where the large nest apparent. I wonder how I didn't see it sooner.

Had they been there all winter? If this colony is Isis it means that they would've had to overwinter in the open, and for me not to notice them especially without the coverage of summer leaves the cluster would have to have been a lot smaller. Is overwintering like that feasible? Or are they just a random wild swarm? If so, when did they arrive and why there? They would've likely had to have developed that location before I moved the Easter swarms, in that I find it an unlikely choice for a feral colony to take up in such a close proximity to established colonies.

The nest is about fifty feet up in the storm-torn maple tree that hangs over the tiny Easter apiary. Can you see it there? (just left of top dead center) Last year Isis sat in the little shady cloister behind the chair.
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an attempt to trap-out a colony of honeybees ensconced within a brick wall The idea behind the trap-out is to engineer a method by which foraging bees of a colony ensconced within a wall or other structure where their presence is unwelcome are able to exit their nest but aren't able to return. Within eight to ten weeks the economy of the feral colony is gradually interrupted to point where the ensconced queen will eventually cease egg-laying and vacate the occupied structure. In the mean time, the beekeeper provides an empty hive body that holds a frame of day-old eggs and is otherwise filled with drawn comb so that the returning foragers that are at that point "trapped-out" have a place to shelter and the motivation and means to rebuild via the frame of fresh (queen-worthy) eggs. The cone is fabricated from a piece of 1/8" mesh hardware cloth and installed over the original entrance by means of a makeshift flange. This is usually a piece of plywood drilled to allow the mesh cone to slip through the front and then be stapled and caulked on the back. The flange or adapter is then caulked or otherwise sealed around the edges so that bees aren't able to push their way back in through the original entrance. Because of the optical illusion of many, many holes created by the mesh cone and because of the force of habit to return the location of the original entrance the returning bees are unable to navigate their way back into their nest and are instead prompted by the smell of brood and eventually queen-rightness of the surrogate hive body. For this reason the "empty" hive body or bait box should be placed as close to the entrance of the ensconced colony as possible, preferably touching so that returning foragers can walk, and not fly, into the replacement hive.

On a recent visit to his parents my brother-in-law noticed the activity of this colony of bees at the top of an eight foot exterior brick wall right beneath the soffit of their split-level home in Colonial Heights, VA just outside of Richmond. Only a couple days after he and I had installed this boondoggle in front of the house he reported that the bees had already pushed a hole through the thick layer of caulk I sealed the edge of the 2x4 I used to mount the mesh cone over the entrance. I might employ a thick clay for this step in future applications. It's worth mentioning, as well, that the mesh really ought to be made from 1/8" mesh hardware cloth and not aluminum screen, or any other woven mesh as it is wont to unravel when being scrunched into the tiny end of the cone, the opening of which should only be large enough for two drones to exit simultaneously.
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a swarm of honeybees alighting on a fence rail between two bushes in the dark It was the evening of March 28th, 2012 when Mrs. called through a network of people (mostly, my brother) who have access to me on weeknights because I stubbornly refuse to carry a cell phone. She wanted to tell me that Brigid had swarmed earlier that day causing a ruckus at the neighbors and the bees were last seen clustered on the rail fence between us and the Yates' house. I asked her to check for me if they were still there, as it was near 9:30 at night and I was just turning in. Sure, enough! they hadn't moved on yet and would stay put throughout the night time. I dropped everything a drove back the 70 miles to Strasburg and this is what it looked like when I found them an hour and half later.

the beekeeper proudly displays the hive where he housed his first swarm. I spent a couple hours and never seemed to have enough hands to scoop up a swarm in the dark, otherwise a low-hanging fruit because I didn't have to go up on a ladder in the dark trying to manage a brush, a bucket and flashlight at he same time. Even after getting the majority of the cluster into a hive, and relatively certain of having captured the queen it was difficult to sleep that night for all the excitement. I was up early and unplugged the bung at the entrance of the hive releasing the cluster into the warm day to forage. As the sun exposed the front door of their new home the bees gathered and started fanning their Nasonov glands into the air in the manner they do to attract any stragglers of the swarm to the new digs. According to my very limited experience of bee wrangling that was pretty much their approval of the terms of lease and the agreement was sealed. My wife took this picture of the victorious beekeeper and I went to my day job confident of having just expanded my apiary by 100%!

heavy bearding on a newly hived swarm is a sign that they plan to abscond No sooner than I arrive at work and Mrs. calls to inform me that the new colony were bearding at the entrance. I couldn't tell her whether this was normal or not and asked that she keep an eye on them as best she could. The behavior in this instance made me uneasy. A hour later she called again after having run an errand. The bearding had grown since and even she had the impression by then that they had no intention of staying. She described the cluster at the entrance in terms of a tub draining in reverse, and as she watched while on the phone with me the bees began leaving the hive in droves and filling the air! Time to beg out of work and stage an interception!

the beekeeper in a veil manages a severed branch clustered with bees with his bare hands. Seventy miles and another hour and half of gasoline and traffic I'm back in Strasburg. The bees have taken up in a bush very near where they were the night before. Sensible people, perhaps, might've allowed the swarm to escape at this point but I was galvanized in my resolve to catch them again by the fact that the queen in the initial swarm of the season - this queen - was my survivor stock, the queen that reared a colony so strong that they decided to expand; and second year queen at that (generally regarded as their most productive season). Daylight was a huge improvement over trying to determine any sense from the swarm within the beam of a flashlight. This time I had the foresight to make up a baggie feeder of sugar syrup to hold them over for the couple days they were to spend confined to hive before I was able to make it back to the valley again. The sugar gives workers the nutrition they need to start drawing comb and stimulates the queen to begin laying. Once there were some eggs for the house bees to watch after the swarm will stay pretty well put. I think the proximity to the mother hive is what prompted them to abscond.
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Pollination Agreement

I,(name, address)hereby provide(name, address),live honeybee colonies for the intention of crop pollination. The colonies are maintained on the property at the above address year-round as of __________. The provision and condition of all necessary equipment (the hives, any support structures or accessories, supplemental feed) and bees, including their management, any liability incurred in servicing the hives, and any damage to them resulting from wildlife, weather, etc. will remain my responsibility. I will occasionally require access to the hive site and will provide at least ______ advance notice by phone or email. At any time should they present a nuisance in any manner described by their hosts I agree to remove all hives and any related material within 10 days.

The honeybee colonies are provided in good faith that best land and watershed stewardship practices are upheld, however I would appreciate to be contacted in advance of the event that any known genetically manipulated crop, or pesticide proven or implicated in the destruction of honeybee habitat is planned for use on the property. It is at their behest (Farm Name) reserve a perennial location and safe forage for up to ______ conservation hives. The purpose and design of the hives, for restoring and localizing honeybee genetics, precludes that inspections are performed within the nest as with conventional hives managed for harvesting honey, relying instead on some minimal observations most of which can be performed at a safe distance from the entrance of each hive.
A healthy hive:
∙ has plenty of bees coming and going during daylight, beards on hot evenings
∙ remains free of any obvious infestation of moths, flies, ants, or marauding hornets
∙ has foraging bees returning with pollen, a good sign of a present laying queen
∙ breeds bees of a gentle and non-offensive temperament
∙ smells wonderful!
In times of drought or dearth it may become necessary to supplement a colony with a premixed sugar syrup and bottles of feed will need to be replaced often, sometimes daily. This normally being the exception; most often bees in conservation hives maintain themselves as would a feral colony. Regardless, I should be contacted immediately in any event of the following:
∙ any obvious damage to the hives, or equipment malfunction
∙ presence or evidence of pests
∙ no activity at the entrance of a hive on fair weather days (temps above upper 50’s °F)
∙ a swarm on the property

office (Business Name - weekdays 0:00am - 0:00am) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
home (weekends, message) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
urgent (cell). . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
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Conservation hives are places in the northwest corner of the yard behind an existing fence which serves as a windbreak. Lada, the hive pictures on the left is unoccupied.I've gotta make this quick because I've been trying to get around to an update for weeks! We've divested of the U.S. housing boondoggle and are in a rented 3 bedroom house in Strasburg, Virginia 10 miles west and over the Massanutten mountain. The move has been arduous and is still not entirely complete, but the good news - and this is what I've been holding off to report - is that Brigid has survived our very mild winter, where the top bar, then Isis, and finally Lada all succumbed. Moving the conservation hive wasn't nearly as difficult as I had anticipated. Although a two-man job, it took more time to figure out the ratcheting tie straps used to secure the roof, supers and base together with a couple of makeshift handles than it did to hoist the whole caboodle into the back of Pop's pickup truck, secure it and drive it over the mountain.

Now we're far into a early bee season here in the NSV with the quince, forsythia, Bradford pear, cherry, red buds and apple trees blooming thickly. Brigid has a beard of bees that are as thick now as the picture I posted back in June and has built up entirely more quickly that I ever anticipated, but then I need to consider also that I am for the first time in my life and after three years of trying a second year beekeeper!

There's a lot of other developments that have started happening since the move as well that I don't have the time now to elaborate on but one I'd like to touch on is that last week while organizing lumber for new hives I came across the bait boxes that I built and employed unsuccessfully (late) last season. I set one of those outside on my father's stone wall, still with the same old comb and lemongrass lure in it, as a reminder to make some time to mount it in a tree somewhere. The very next day got a picture from Pops in my email of multiple scouts congregating around the entrance. Observation over the following days has been inconclusive but it looks like I might just have a colony or two developing the box as a potential nest site! This is exciting to me beyond words. I'd love the opportunity to test the efficacy of my bait box design and this might be my chance and nothing's better than expanding the apiary using free local bees.

Nonetheless, the pragmatic and faithless part of me broke down and ordered three more packages of Russian bees from Kelley's on Saturday which are scheduled for May 12th delivery. I suspect that the flow this year and in this area will be pretty much over by then so this will really test the conservation hives and the ability of the Russian strain and their purported thriftiness when it comes to stores. I wouldn't mind, for once, having more bees than I know what to do with rather than fewer.


• Updated and (maybe even) improved hive designs

• Honeybees of Adama Farms of Winchester

• Local honeybees and local wood
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While observing the hives on a mild afternoon in early January I realized that Lada was being robbed by her sisters from Brigid. Brigid's bees were all returning to the nest with pollen (even in January, wtf?) while the bees from Lada were coming and going with barren pollen baskets and and some acting nervous at approaching the entrance, indicative of robbing bees. My suspicion was confirmed after watching a couple foragers fly directly back to their own nest just a few feet away. The hive garbage drawer in the back had also been remarkably clear of mites for a couple of months, which I had thereto interpreted as nestduftwärmebindung working its magic, but also clear of the normal debris and cappings from honey cells as the cluster should surely be eating into their stores at this time of year. I rapped the side of the hive with a stick to excite the cluster and listened with my stethoscope for the low rumble of a thousand shivering bees but could not determine a locus for it from any side of the hive. I knocked harder trying to instigate the bees to rush out from the entrance and attack me which, much to my disappointment, didn't happen.

Although I'm loathe to open the hive for all but the most drastic of scenarios, my concern got the better of me and I removed the lid and quilt only to free a couple of the robbing culprits where I was hoping for a full frontal assault. No doubts, there was not a living bee in the nest and I decided then that I'd need to tear her down to minimize exposure of my last remaining colony to any possible residual pesticide or pests that might still inhabit the "ghost hive" that was Lada. I divided the hive bodies into manageable pairs and, as I expected the upper most pair was heavy with stores while the lower sections were considerably lighter. What was unusual was that I wasn't seeing the cluster of dead bees starved or frozen in an upper corner of the comb as I was accustomed to finding in the dead-outs of previous seasons. The colony had abandoned their entire summer stores and absconded completely. The separated sections of hive bodies each fit into large trash bags and were sealed closed with tape to prevent corruption by moths and ants and stored on the porch out in the cold until I could gather the meager materials I needed and make some in my schedule time to extract the honey.

The grid, serving as an array of top bars, is fixed over the upper-most hive body, first just by gravity and later by the bees with propolis. Just as I expected, the bees began drawing comb here and raised their first batches of brood as a fledgling (artificial) swarm. After the young bees vacated their cells they were cleaned out and back-filled with foraged nectar. Large folds of honey filled comb can be seen through the bars. (click through for larger views, and here for a close-up)

A view of the drawn comb in the bottom most hive body. Comb acts as a baffle for the currents of air entering the hive from the bottom entrance giving natural comb this beautiful undulating pattern. At this point the boxes are still firmly connected to each other by the internal attachment of comb which extends uninterrupted through the depth of the space created by stacked boxes. The sections are easily separated with a length of cheese wire.A view of the drawn comb in the bottom most hive body.

Using the longest serrated knives I could find at the local thrift, I separated the combs from the inside perimeter of the hive body to which they are secured by the bees when drawing comb. The spale, the length of oak rod that extends diagonally, is put in place before the swarm was introduced to provide support for the fragile comb as it's drawn. Although this design precludes regular internal inspections of the brood nest the bees in a conservation hive are not discouraged from making attachments to any and all surfaces within the hive. Much like the honey badger, honey bees don't give a shit, either!

Once all the attachments along sides of the box are severed the spale can be cut free and combs are removed individually. Pictured are brood combs from third hive body from the top. This comb is newer than the comb from the top two boxes and bore a cycle of brood but was never filled with nectar, likely having been drawn toward the end of the summer flow. A closeup of the abandoned brood comb reveals a few cells of capped brood and probably contains residual evidence of what might possibly have destroyed this colony. Although the sparse, patchy brood pattern suggests that this (packaged) queen was probably failing. In hindsight I should've kept the size of the hive at four medium boxes for the first season encouraged them to swarm rather than providing new empty framed boxes underneath.

After all combs are inspected all of the salvageable honey is collected in a capping tank where it's crushed by hand and allowed to drain through a double sieve in order to strain out the majority of the solid bits. Wax is reserved for the solar melter next summer.

The conservation hive is designed around the concept of the honeybee colony as a superorganism, where the hive itself acts as the exoskeleton. Colonies raised in this style of hive are free to progress without human interaction just as a feral colony would except with easy access for a bee keeper to increase his apiary by splitting strong colonies or to collect honey. Contrary to conventional woodenware, its smaller capacity maximizes the retention of nest heat and scent which bolsters natural colony immunity to pathogens but at the expense of large honey harvests. This hive yielded about 14 lbs. of raw honey that will serve to make a couple small batches of mead.

Bittersweet. . .
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The long hives weren't quite ready for the surprise shake. The screen I used for the floor was kinda saggy rendering the follower board ineffective. I've been dragging my feet about replacing that with a few sheets of the plastic needle point backing hoping that I'd discover someone in the mean time who'd sell me and endless roll of the stuff. As well, there's been some debate about which side of a long hive is most beneficial to put the entrance on: the "sides", or the ends. The floor is still the saggy nylon screen that I installed there when I built them. I'll just have to reinforce the gap at the bottom of the follower board with a small bag of sand - it ought to serve in a pinch, and this is a pinch. After a lot of internal deliberation, it turns out that I don't really care which side the entrance(s) are made on, only because if I don't like where they are, or it becomes advantageous to move them, I'll just bung the old entrance closed: Problems dealt wit'. . .

. . . Mostly. I took for granted that Scotty had his electric drill at Medford, but discovered upon arriving that it was not in working order and I hadn't brought my tools with me from the Valley. I ended up using a crappy old hand cranked drill to make a ½" hole toward the bottom of one of the long sides. It took me a half hour to drill through the ¾" board. I'm thrilled with the large blister I developed on the palm of my hand in the process.

The installation was kind of text book or, at least, went well from there I guess, as I've never used this style of hive before. I ended up securing the queen cage by squeezing it between a couple of the top bars, like I did previously with Langs, which left enough of a gap toward the top that bees could come and go through. So, I covered that section of top bars with a suitable rag carpet to discourage the bees from using this as an entrance. To feed them and stimulate wax production I turned over the can of syrup that came in the package so it would seep slowly between the top bars at the far end, and covered that with a small plastic bucket. This is a temporary measure and precludes putting the proper roof on until they drain the syrup can and I can replace it with a baggie feeder. But a sheet of plywood and a series of rain free days in the forecast makes this less of a concern for me than the little gap in the top bars. . .

Which I discovered, upon checking on them this morning, they have adopted as their primary entrance. I decided that I was better off to break this habit sooner rather than later, after there's fragile comb in place. I understand that bees build their comb in relation to the entrance of the hive, but I don't understand what that relation is, exactly. Nonetheless I decided to remove the queen cage and drive a small nail into its side so to hang it from, thereby reducing the gap in the top bars. Upon removing it I noticed significantly more attendants inside the cage than I remember from last evening but I couldn't tell if any of them were the mother despite the fact she's marked with a very apparent blue dot. I tilted the small box to verify that the marshmallow plug had been removed (which it had, indeed) and that's the moment when the queen made a brief appearance at the opening and flew away, off into the sky. . . as my heart sank.

I stood there a moment letting my disappointment sink in, getting comfortable with a most uncomfortable burning feeling of failure. Although the queens tend not to wander far they will go high and I was starting to imagine myself sitting there all morning watching my hive slowly abscond and reincorporate at the top of a tall tree somewhere out of reach. How could I be so careless? I was scheduled to be at work in less than an hour and I started looking frantically through the single bees that had alighted here and there on nearby branches but none of them bore the telltale mark of this years royalty. Should I beg out of work? Will extra time do any good? I scanned the tree tops, I watched for an exodus at the entrance that I had spent so much time and effort establishing. I checked back again with the lone stragglers, over and over.

After more than the time allotted for worrying to no avail I began packing up the scattered tools and emptying my smoker. In my haste I had left my veil hanging over the rail of the front stoop. Working my way houseward, I gathered that last and, much to my joy and relief the queen had settled on the mesh and was waiting there with a few of her attendants for me to retrieve her and return her to the hive!

After righting all my errors I sat in front of the hive watching the bees clustering here flying wildly about there, slowly figuring out the corrections I had made, feeling proud of my resistance to the "Primal Response", basking in the feeling of relief that comes with "having my lesson without having to eat it too" and contemplating the details of what I'd learned in the process. As if to cement these lessons securely in my memory one of the froggier girls flew up stung me right on the edge of my right eyelid! POW!

Don't you forget it!
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[personal profile] doodlemaier
Surprise! Chuck called out of the blue this afternoon with a swarm clustered in a low-hanging branch on his land in the Fort, wanting to know if I knew anything about capturing a feral swarm of bees. Which is hilarious, because I've never even definitively seen a swarm of bees. But, "what's the worst that can happen?" I asked myself. I can get the living shit stung out of me and fall off a ladder backward. That's what!

But fortunately that's not what happened, at all. I drove out to the ranch and there, right beyond the electric fence that bear-proofs Chuck's bee yard in an ash tree was a 4 to 5 pound cluster dividing itself slowly over a forked branch with eleventy bazillion other bees flying around (exactly like I'd seen from the car the day before in West-by-Gawd. . . ) Chuck had already set up a ladder and gathered together a pair of loppers and a couple of large boxes. After some head scratcing we decided to just give the first bee bundled branch a sharp jolt which knocked loose the majority of them and they landed in the box with a loud 'plop'. Like a viscous, gravity defying liquid they quickly spread themselves across the entire surface of the inside of the box. We swept most of those into one of the awaiting hives that Chuck had set up to house the five packaged shakes that had finally arrived that morning from the BANV. The second cluster was on the main trunk which was thin enough to get the blades of the lopper around and I started to cut slowly as Chuck held the end of an attached branch. We started to see that the end result of cutting where we did would be something of a disaster if we continued but that's when the branch broke the rest of the way through and the bee covered limb hit the ground showering us both in a cloud of confused bees.

What still clung to the branch Chuck knocked into the hive and we stood scratching our heads once again trying to decide how to determine if we'd succeeded in capturing the mother bee. "The bees will go where she is", says I (which, at the moment, was damn-near everywhere). "Well, we can look everywhere, or we can look where we have the bees concentrated", says Chuck. With that he began to shift gently through the frames in the hive. I climbed back up the ladder and started searching among the stragglers still clinging to the leaves of the ash tree. I'll be damned in half if I didn't find her after a only few minutes of casual observation, right there with the white spot that Frank Tilco had placed on her thorax two weeks earlier! These were Chuck's bee's all along staging a walk-out.

I coaxed mum off the limb and a dozen, or so of her attendants followed her onto my hand and I backed carefully down the ladder only to have her fly off and merge back into the cloud of airborne bees. Fuck! The chances of me finding her in the first place were like looking for a needle in a stack of needles. . . that fly, and I managed to lose her. I figured that she was gone at that point and the only thing we knew, for certain, was that we did not have the queen, and therefore the swarm was only a temporary holding. "Look where the bees are" was wisdom that served us once, so I climbed back up the ladder to search anew.

Certainly, there in a small egg-sized cluster was Her Majesty only a couple limbs over from where I had found her, originally. This time her capture was aided using a small hair clip and after showing our quarry to Chuck she was deposited in the hive body among the throngs of her adoring sisters, who began to fan the wayward swarm to their new home in the old neighborhood. And in the span of an hour, the cloud of bees that could fill a high school gymnasium compressed themselves to the front of the hive box as if it contained a hidden vacuum; a slow motion explosion in reverse.

So, now Chuck's short a hive for his packages having only assembled five. . . Guess who's the lucky recipient of the extra?


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