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[personal profile] doodlemaier
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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[personal profile] doodlemaier
a swarm of honeybees alighting in a lilac bush April 10th: I must be doing something right (or as conventional beekeepers would probably say: "wrong"), this was a third swarm kicked off by Brigid. I'm pretty sure she's honey-bound and every time a queen cell hatches She sees a full pantry and doesn't even bother killing the other unhatched queens, just up and hauls ass. Again, Mrs. called for me to intervene. I didn't have an available hive so I ended up gifting them to a beekeeper Mrs. is in contact with in Culpeper who was able to drive out to Strasburg after I retrieved them.

I spent the following weekend putting together a makeshift fume board and bee escape. The weather on Monday (bagged out of work) was ideal for taking honey with a fumebaord - 80°'s, sunny, very little breeze. The Bee-Quick label claims the bees will vacate the supers between the board and the escape after about 5 or 10 minutes. Two hours after the fact I think I had more bees in the honey boxes than I started out with. The mistake I made was putting a thin wood panel lid on the fume board rather than making it just piece of sheet metal, so the heat of the sun wasn't able to penetrate and fully vaporize the benzaldehyde (Bee-quick's active ingredient). I've got a design in mind that I hope will right the issue, so I'll try again next weekend if the weather cooperates.

I have no shortage of bee-box-building to do. I'm currently gearing up to place a couple of conservation hives with packaged swarms at a small farm in Winchester by May 12th, but I have to build them first. Swarmapalooza is providing bees faster than I can build hives - and that's beautiful thing! Even having gifted this swarm, I'm one colony up from where I was this time last year! In addition to the six splits Chuck procured from Frank he also ordered a couple of Italian packages from Georgia. He said that when he went to pick them up there were beekeepers reporting that they had also captured a number of swarms. 2012 is already known around here as the "Year of the Swarm". The last two weeks of March were unseasonably warm caused, I believe, by a very active sun cycle which I think triggered these early and copious swarms, and is directly related.
Swarming is the way by which bees reproduce. Being a super-organism, when one colony divides into two or more it's true reproduction, whereas laying eggs to replace workers is akin to an individual growing hair and fingernails.
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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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[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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