Sunday, July 28, 2013

A Story Of Bees

Years ago, when we were taking our nature classes with the girls, we spent a significant portion of the time playing awareness games.  The goal was to teach us to be aware of our surroundings, to pay attention to all of the things that were happening around us.  We focused on using our ears.  We looked at things with our peripheral vision.  We felt things with our hands and feet.  We smelled things.  We tasted them.

The idea is that we can "see" much more if we use all of our senses, including our intuition.  As a culture, at least in this country, we tend to use only our eyes.  Perhaps, this is a large part of our human condition.  It makes one wonder how the blind can manage in our largely visual world.  Each class we played a couple of games, although they varied from week to week.

I have noticed that one of my girls, Little Fire Faery, really learned the lessons.  She will, invariably, pick out animals and plants on the side of the road when we travel, or see things that the rest of us overlook.  I am awestruck with her ability to notice things.  It could be that being young gives her the advantage of fewer things to share her focus ... she does not need to worry about how to get somewhere or if the coffee pot was shut off or if the car has enough gas.  She is free to watch, listen, feel, and ponder.  Her sisters are free in the same ways, but she has a real gift in this regard.

Last night, as we pulled into the driveway, she exclaimed, "what is that", as she pointed to the top of the trees on the other side of the house.  There, about 20 feet from the ground, was a swarm of bees hanging on a branch.  We all excitedly began to discuss how cool the bees were and that we should try to catch them.

Unfortunately, I did not have another hive prepared.  One hive was filled with bees that we purchased.  The other, which I built last fall, is home to the swarm I caught this spring (I had intended to post about this, but never got to it).  So, the dilemma was whether to let them go or try to find a hive, in spite of the fact that we already have two healthy hives on our little 1/4 acre lot.

I am not one to let an opportunity pass.  So, I scoured the internet (unclehenrys, craigslist, and ebay) for hives.  I also place several phone calls, and sent messages, to friends who had hives in the past.  I frantically searched.  As luck would have it, there was an e-bay listing for 2 top bar hives within 50 miles of my house, but the auction would not end until 23:30 tonight which would keep me from getting the bees into it today.

I contacted the person listing the hives and asked if he would part with one before the auction ended. Thankfully, he agreed.  In fact, he offered to meet me half way between his place and mine.  We arrange to meet and complete the transaction.  So, this morning, Wendy and I drove to meet him.  While I only needed one hive, I picked up both ... one for me and one for a friend.

It was raining a bit, but we managed to get the hives in the truck, after removing the legs, and drove home.  As soon as we made it home, I re-attached the legs.  We then moved it into position, leveling it to make sure the bees built comb that did not cross from bar to bar.  That done, we began to ponder how to get the bees down and into the hive.

We talked, we schemed, we planned.  The first thought was to cut the branch, while balanced on the top of a ladder, and then "bonk" the bees into the hive.  Bonk ... by the way ... is the technical term for forcefully knocking something against another surface to physically dislodge the bees.  This causes a lot of buzzing, and quite often a cloud of confused bees, around the "bonked" site.

It turns out a 12 foot tall ladder is not tall enough to reach a 20 foot high limb.  Go figure.  In fact, getting a rope tied a branch at that height is pretty much impossible, too.  Then, we got creative ... lets try to tie a 5-gallon bucket onto the end of a 15 foot long pole.  The idea was to place the bucket under the swarm and then bump the branch, with the bucket, to knock the bees into it.

The first attempt succeeded in putting some bees in the bucket while other clumps fell toward the ground.  I am sure you can imagine the resulting chaos ... confused bees simply trying to protect the queen until a suitable new home could be found.  There were still a large number of bees in the tree, so we tried again and again.

I lowered the bucket to the ground and ventured a peek inside.  Wow!  That is a lot of bees.  At this point, a couple of the bees decided that I was to blame and flew violently around my head.  So, I casually, calmly walked back ... at a brisk pace ... ouch, STING.  I waited a second and then cut the ropes that tied the bucket to the roof rake.

A swarm , you see, consists of all of the bees needed to start a new colony.  The queen picks a place to hang out and the other bees surround her in a buzzing, clump of apiary goodness.  They will stay there for a few days while scouts search for a suitable location.  New site located, they convoy on over and get busy ... like bees do ... building comb, collecting pollen and nectar, etc.  This is why it is critical to get the queen when scooping up a swarm.

After a few minutes of watching, I was still not sure that we had gotten the queen into the bucket.  So, I, logically so, tied another bucket to the end of the roof rake.  This was raised in a similar manner to unceremoniously thump the limb again and again.  This bucket too was lowered to the ground and cut free.  In case you weren't counting ... I now have two open 5-gallon buckets on the ground with a very large number of confused bees in each.  I had no clue as to the location of the queen ... in one of the buckets or still on the branch.

It was at this point that calm reason took over.  I decided to let the bees sit for a few minutes.  As stated, the bees are trying to protect the queen and so will figure out where she is and gather around her again.  After 10 or 15 minutes, I looked into the tree.  She was definitely not there.  Sadly, both buckets were will thrumming with activity.  Being who I am, I sprang into action.  I would simply BONK (see the definition above) one of the buckets of  bees, to get them into a writhing mass on the bottom of the bucket, and then pour it into the other bucket.

It became obvious, when I looked into the second bucket, where the queen was.  So, I poured the queen-less bucket into the queen-ful one.  Then, I BONK'ed that one and poured all of the bees into the open hive, which patiently waited without any under heckling.  I decided to give them all a second to figure out what had happened.

Really, I went to get a small branch from the Arbor Vitae to use as a brush.  Brush in hand, I returned to the hive and brushed the bees off of the side of the hive, into it, and began closing the bars one at a time.  All the while, Wendy and the girls took photos, some of which you see here.

With a full heart, and a big grin, I am happy to report that we now have three active hives in the back yard.  Now, we need to wait and see if they stick around in their new digs.  I have set out the feeder, once again, to help get the colony established, so that they can start to gather pollen and nectar to store for winter.

We learned later that not only did the neighbor see the swarm leaving the hive for the tree, but they were entertained by our efforts to gather the swarm.  Thankfully, they offered a few of their roof rake poles to allow us to length our rake enough to reach the swarm.

I consider myself fortunate to have been given this second chance to catch a swarm, in spite of the fact that I am not an expert.  I am grateful for the chance to work with these amazing creatures.  I am hopeful, too, as I travel this MooseBoots trail, that I can one day achieve even a small degree of the awareness that my incredible daughter, Little Fire Faery, has been able to build.