Thursday, May 24, 2012

My New Babies

"What?" you say.  "I didn't even know she was pregnant!"

No, I'm not talking about those kind of babies, I'm talking about the animal kind.  And I have about 5000 of them.  Can you guess what they are?

I am the proud keeper of about 5000 (and counting) bees!  And I am so excited I can hardly stand it!

I became interested in keeping bees last fall.  I think bees are the most fascinating creatures, and I did a lot of research, talked to some bee keepers, read a lot of books, and decided it was something I wanted to do.  Their help with pollination would be great for my garden, fruit trees, and flowers, their honey good for our allergies, and I can use their beeswax in the body care products I make for myself.  And it just so happens that a lady in my neighborhood has been keeping bees for about 20 years, and she agreed to be my mentor.

When you start out as a beekeeper, you can either buy your bees, or collect a swarm.  I decided I wanted to try getting a swarm.  My mentor, Susan, has been collecting swarms for many years, so she put me on her list, and we agreed that I would go with her to assist in the collection.  The call came Monday morning, and she was already at the swarm site.  Fortunately, it was only a few miles away, and I was able to get there before she collected them.

This is what I saw when I drove up.

It was a really good sized swarm.  The branch they were on was cut and placed in a box.  There were a few hundred bees flying around, and many of them found their way into the lidded box since the queen was inside.  Susan stayed at the site to let more bees go in the box while I rushed home to put a little honey inside my hive box to give them a little food when they got there.  The bees that didn't make it into the box would eventually collect on another branch, and we (I) could go back to get them later.  Without a queen, they would have no reason to live and would eventually starve to death.

These bees are going in the box to be with their queen.

Here come the bees!

The entire box was a mass of bees.  Despite the sound they make, swarming bees are not aggressive and are not likely to sting you.  They have no home or food to protect, so they are 'nice'.

We placed the largest branch which most likely still had the queen on it into the hive box.

Then we gently shook the bees off of the smaller branches.

Once the bees were shaken off of the large branch, the bees from the box were gently dumped into the hive box.

Then the remaining frames were slowly lowered into the hive box.  At this point, the pitch of their buzz became elevated to a swarming pitch, so we had to work quickly.

Admiring my new babies.

There were a few drones (male bees) in the swarm.  They are the larger bees with more black on their abdomens and large eyes.  And like some human males, they are completely dependent on the female worker bees to take care of them.  The drones can't even feed themselves!

A couple things are going on in this picture.  When bees find a new home, some of them will position themselves at the entrance and fan their wings, pushing the scent of the queen out so the bees that are flying around know where to find her.  They are the ones with their hineys in the air fanning their wings like crazy.  This happened immediately after they were placed in the hive box.  The other thing that was remarkable was the fact that they started cleaning house right away.  The pine needle was left behind from one of the branches, and it was slowly pushed out of the hive.

Going, going, gone!

I spent a lot of time observing them the rest of the day, and I'm considering making a bench near the hive just so I can have a comfortable place to sit.  : )

Susan called me again on Tuesday night to let me know there was a small cluster of left over bees that had collected in the same tree as the swarm.  Now it was my turn to collect the bees.

So we took off early this morning to get them.

My helpers with their reusable produce bags as make shift veils.  Hey, at least the bags weren't plastic!

This cluster was about the size of a very large mango.  Pretty manageable for my first collection!

Probably a few hundred bees here, ready to be reunited with their sisters.

As soon as a few of the left overs were introduced to the hive, the fanning committee got to work.  It was amazing that they recognized each other and knew they needed to fan.

Once the bees in the box caught wind of their long lost queen, they made a mad dash up the side of the box.  I swear it looked like they were actually running up the box.  It was so fun to see.  (They are the ones in the left hand corner.)

Fanning Committee on the left, Welcoming Committee on the right.

As I watched my bees today, many of them were returning with their pollen baskets overflowing with pollen.  I think they like their new home.

If you're still with me, thanks for enduring this extremely long and picture heavy post.  I couldn't help but to share my excitement.



Liz S. said...

What a great post! I loved the picture of your "Littles!" Thanks for the bee-keeping lesson; I'd be pretty excited,too!

*Alison* said...

WOW! This was so interesting.. I read the whole post and at the end was wanting more.. I am so excited for you! How neat! :) I can't wait to hear more about your next adventure.. :) hugs

Susan Raihala said...

SUPER post! How exciting to start something new and energizing and interesting! Keep us updated on your hive's progress!