I am registered on all sorts of lists to catch bee swarms around Charleston. The folks at the 911 call center know me. Several exterminators know me. The Department of Agriculture folks have my number. I get lots of swarm calls. I LOVE SWARMS! Catching swarms of bees has to be my all-time favorite part of beekeeping.
A gentleman called me the other day reporting a large swarm of bees in a tree at his house. He lives within a mile or so of me so it was the perfect situation. I ran to the house, grabbed up a bunch of equipment and headed to his place where I met his family and the neighbors too. The cool thing is that I know the neighbor family. Abigail plays soccer for the neighbor and their son plays for me.
Anyhow, Abigail and I walked up to the swarm and it was a good one. It was about shoulder high on a smaller tree from which I could easily cut a branch to remove the swarm. I typically lay a sheet out, place my destination hive on top and shake the bees from the branch into the swarm box. Bees in a swarm are usually not terribly defensive. I typically approach a swarm pretty boldly to see how they roll and rarely have any issues with them. That being said, never touch a swarm of bees because there are still 10,000 or so stinging insects who don’t care much about manners. Call a beekeeper every time.
So, I sent everyone inside where they could watch from behind screened windows and started my tree trimming. Within a few minutes I had the bees in the hive and we were all done but for the crying. Wait…no crying. Just loading the bees into the car.
edit: one of the ladies took these pictures…
I think I like catching swarms for the “show-off” factor as much as anything. The two families that watched the swarm catching were curious and interested and called me crazy! It doesn’t get any better than that!
When I got home, I had three more calls from people with bee swarms…it might be a busy few weeks!This entry was posted in Bees, Nature, WV and tagged Beekeeping, Bees, Honeybees, Pshaw...stingers? I fear no stingers!, Swarms are cool! by warren
Many of you have probably heard the nursery rhyme about the old lady who swallowed a fly. I do not remember it from my childhood but our kids loved to hear us tell them the story. It’s an old story but may freak out some folks (as a proper nursery rhyme should!)
So, as my father-in-law and I were pulling honey supers off of the hives last week, I noticed a funny little spider loitering. Spiders often loiter around bee hives. Roaches do too but I shall speak no more of them. I hate roaches. Actually, all sorts of bugs hang around bee hives to pick up the detritus naturally generated by the colony.
So, I watched my spider friend for a few minutes and sure enough, in a quick move, he reached up and grabbed a bee that I had injured in the harvesting process. I may be wrong, but I think that is the first time I have seen a spider make off with a bee! I am always amazed by the circle of life (or whatever you want to call it) that goes on around a bee hive. Aside from the colony itself, the bees support other nearby bugs as well as providing pollination services to many trees and other flowering plants. Most importantly, they provide me with honey!
Anyhow, I love to just watch the bees and take time to see what happens around the hive. There is quite an education to be had there. If I ever swallow a fly (or a bee), I am definitely going to swallow a spider too!
In case you are not familiar, here are the lyrics to The Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly rhyme…There was an old lady who swallowed a fly
We are like the Olympics here Among the Hills (.com!). With much pomp and circumstance, we harvested the honey so laboriously produced by my bees. I use both my English and my French when I work the bees and I always win gold…liquid gold! Emily’s Dad helped me harvest about half of the frames of honey and then I got the other half on Sunday morning. Usually pulling the honey off of the hives is a hot, hard, stressful job. Beesuits are made of heavy cotton and we usually seem to time the harvest for the hottest day in August. The bees are rarely happy about having their stash removed and honey is heavy. This year was a little different…it wasn’t hot. Not very hot anyhow. Honestly, it really is hot and hard work but this year was probably the best and easiest honey-pull I have ever done!
Click above for videos of how we remove the cappings from the honey.
Sunday afternoon Emily’s grandparents helped Emily, Abigail and me extract 2/3 of the honey. Extracting honey involves a good bit of work and it is quite sticky but the benefits are awesome! This year’s honey tastes better than any honey I have ever harvested!
I am not sure what nectar sources the bees found out at the property (I can call it a farm now…we did agriculture out there!), but besides the awesome taste, most of the honey is as black as coffee. We actually got two different colors of honey but the dark sort of intrigues me. It’s unlike any honey we have ever gotten!
Anyhow, we took a bunch of pics and a few videos of the extraction process. It’s hard to get pics of that part of the process when we pull the honey from the hives. As you might guess, my mind is focused on other things. You will have to imagine that part. Anyhow, aside from being exhausted, it is fantastic to spend time with family, working together. For me, that is the real gold medal for me!This entry was posted in Bees, Family, Food and tagged Bees, Family, Food, Honeybees by warren
It has been a really busy swarm season for me this year. I think the mild winter allowed a lot of bees to survive that otherwise would not have made it and many colonies started spring build-up earlier than normal. I think that I love catching swarms more than any other part of keeping bees. I like seeing them en masse out where they can be “checked out” and I love their temperament. I love being the brave bee man who dazzles audiences and makes women swoon and men blush.
Typically it is a pretty straight forward process and is actually pretty safe (for me…I know what I am doing. Do not try this at home unless you know what you are doing…10,000 angry stinging insects in a typical swarm will not end well if you do it wrong). Usually I survey the bees a few minutes before digging into the capture. The only hairy part of catching a swarm is usually climbing into the tree with a box of some sort in which to capture the bees.
I have caught two swarms recently that have been interesting though. A few weeks ago I had a message on my phone from a family who had a swarm of bees in a tree outside their home. They had small kids and were nervous of the bees being in the playyard. It was 8:30 pm or so when I discovered the message so I headed to their place a town west of where I live. By the time I got to their place, it was 9:15 or so at night. After driving, I wasn’t about to walk away from a nice swarm, dark or not. The man of the house left a spotlight aimed up in the tree while I climbed into the tree. I was able to scoop the bees into my box and climb back down in the dark. Luckily, that went off without a hitch. Catching a swarm after dark is not a good thing though. Usually bees disturbed after dark assume the perturber is a bear or other critter which has bad witchery in mind. Luckily, I did not smell like a bear I guess!
Sunday, I was at our place in the country for a little bit to do some work and I needed to attend to the call of the water gods. As I completed the…uh…task, I happened to turn my head to the right and not 18 inches from my face was a huge swarm of bees. I was near the bee yard so I assumed the buzzing noise was from the bee yard, not from a swarm hanging right beside me. It was pretty exciting to see the swarm pretty close to ground level but I was without a bee suit. “What should I do?” I asked myself. “Be a honey badger (some language)of course!” So, without a suit, I proceeded to gently cut the inch thick branch from the tree and move the swarm to the hive box I happened to have sitting in the bee yard. A number of bees fell on my sleve but I only got one sting…one sting from a bee anyhow. Somehow in the process of moving the swarm, I skidded the handsaw across my hand which left a lovely opening in my skin.
Well friends, I do love catching swarms but I cannot really suggest that anyone catch swarms after dark or without a bee suit. In both cases it turned out fine, but unless you are a fool or a beekeeper who rocks like KISS (I will leave you to decide which case describes me), you should catch swarms in the usual and safe manner. Sometimes I get swarm-drunk (Wasn’t KISS drunk a lot of the time? hint, hint) and can’t help myself!
Well, it wasn’t Santa but I was up on the rooftop of the local Lowes store Monday evening. The manager called me earlier in the day reporting a swarm of bees above the entrance that was shedding bees down onto customers’ heads throughout the day.
The problem with the swarm is that it was at the base of the blue metal roof that hangs above nearly all of their stores. That roof is far too slippery and far too steep to stand on. Not being Spiderman, we decided to survey the scene from above. We thought that I may be able to reach the bees by reaching over.
I have never been on the roof of a large commercial building so climbing up on the roof was pretty exciting all by itself. It was windy as…well, it was windy. And cold. Andy windy. It was clear, especially with the wind, that there was no way for me to hang over the side to reach the bees. I looked around at the pretty cool view and could not come up with a good solution but killing the bees with pesticide is definitely not a good solution for me.
I have used a shop-vac to catch swarms in other cases so the manager grabbed one off of the shelf and we rigged it up so it wouldn’t just destroy the bees as it sucked them in (yes, bees can definitely ride safely into a shop-vac if you decrease the suction). With an audience (that’s the best part of swarm catching), I vacuumed the bees off of the roof at Lowes and took them straight home. I love free bees!
I know keeping honeybees isn’t for everyone but I remain fascinated by them. This weekend, Isaac and I moved the last of the bee hives that were here in Charleston out to our place in the country. It’s perfectly legal to keep bees in Charleston and WV has a very progressive apiary law that makes it safer for everyone involved. Still, after my episode a few summers ago, I decided that I would no longer keep bees in the city.
Anyhow, I opened the bee hives after the move and took a good look around. I am always amazed that they can survive on the back of a trailer, bumping around up my dirt road and across the hayfield. The bees did great though. I took this video with my phone and was super amazed with the quality of what came out. I hope you enjoy a look at the bees and see how cool they are, even if from across the internets!This entry was posted in Bees, Nature and tagged Beekeeping, Bees, Honeybees by warren
It’s a little earlier than when I usually split bee colonies but this year, since we had little in the way of winter, the bees are really booming and desperately needed to be split. Bees typically start to bring in increasing amounts of nectar which stimulates the queen to lay more eggs and eventually the brood nest becomes so full of bees that some of the bees leave. That’s how a swarm is born. For beekeepers,swarms are not exactly ideal. I don’t always mind if my bees swarm so long as I can find the swarm and catch it. Too often though, swarms happen when folks aren’t watching and then half a hive of bees is lost.
Anyhow, I usually make splits to hopefully prevent natural swarms. To make a split, I simply take 3-6 frames of bees, eggs, honey and pollen from one hive and put them into a new hive box. The bees (apparently) feel as if they have swarmed and with the newly opened space, they are free to go on about their business as a properly sized hive. I usually make splits a few weeks from now but the hives at the house were bursting at the seams and had swarm cells. Swarm cells are the hive’s preparation to make a new queen to replace the queen that leaves when the bees swarm.
I have had excellent luck preventing swarms by timing my splits just right so I expect that this season will see no swarms from my hives. I have high hopes of getting calls from the city, however, to retrieve swarms from other people’s hives!
In addition to making splits this week, I also moved most of my remaining hives from the city out to our place in the country. Moving bees is a wild prospect. Emily and I woke up at dawn’s crack (actually, before dawn) to cover the hives in bedsheets to keep the bees inside for the most part. We laid down a sheet for each hive and then moved each hive onto the sheet. I gathered the sheet around the hive boxes and duct taped them to the side of the hive boxes. Emily then threw another sheet on the top and taped it down as well. For the most part, that kept the bees inside the “netting” and allowed us to move them safely.
We had to prepare the hives before dawn to make sure that all of the bees were inside the hives when we closed them up. The hives are quickly gaining weight this time of year so lifting them is quite an adventure. Emily was a great help and all hives arrived safe and sound! Sometimes splitting up and moving can be a pretty good deal!This entry was posted in Bees and tagged Bees, Honeybees by warren
A little while ago I posted about my discovery of the flower setting on my camera. I never knew I could take macro pictures without buying a lot of special equipment. I think I have always liked close-ups better than landscapes as a general rule and now I can take mediocre pictures in both formats!
Ok, so before you go on, you have to promise me you will click on these pics and get the close-up view…this thumbnail view doesn’t do them justice! Promise? Ok then…
So I was home at lunch the other day and the bees that remain at the house (4 hives…only until April or so when I move them to the country) were super active. I put some sugar water on them to feed them a little since there isn’t much blooming yet. Maples should bloom any time now but they aren’t out yet. Anyhow, sugar water always makes them very active (not in a bad way) and the bright sun made it even more so.
As I watched, I noticed that there was a ton of pollen coming in from somewhere. I saw bright yellows and greens and everything in between. Bees flying with pollen are often pretty funny to watch. They can be so packed down that they look like they are a wounded plane coming in after battle, just barely in the air but still making it.
I sat down in their flight path and used my flower setting and took a bunch of close-up pics. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do!This entry was posted in Bees, Nature and tagged Bees, Honeybees, Nature by warren
One of these things does not belong…well, really neither thing belongs but bee poop in the middle of February is not too uncommon. There are usually a few warmish days here and there where the bees can get out and flex their…guts. It has been a super mild winter for us so the bees have actually had a pretty regular schedule for keeping…regular. I guess it has been awhile though because on Wednesday when it was so sunny (and I was out of town for work), the bees covered my car in yellow poop.
Now I know you are wanting to ask so go ahead and ask – Warren, does bee poop stink? For science, of course, I decided to do the sniff test. I am (not so) pleased to report that I have an answer…bee poop does stink! Now I didn’t take too many samples, but we may have to let other labs verify my results. So, dear friends, you have just witnessed science in action!
In other science news, mosquitoes do not belong.
Also, mosquitoes do not belong outside in February, but just last week as I returned from the great out of doors and a dirty rotten mosquito followed me in the house. I know what she was after. Mosquitoes don’t care a lick for me but they absolutely love Emily. I really don’t mind mosquitoes themselves, but the was they make Emily whine and fuss is my problem. I killed that dang whine-making mosquito in a preemptive strike. I have no regrets. It had to be done.
Since we are doing science here, folks, I want to take an opportunity to draw the correlation between bee poop and skeeters. I checked around and 9 out of 10 living creatures agree – both bee poop and skeeters stink! There you have it! Science rules!
Stay tuned dear friends, in our next post, we will discuss the maths!This entry was posted in Bees, Nature and tagged Bees, Honeybees, Nature by warren
We worked on the cabin last weekend but it wasn’t all work. Emily and I took a stroll around the place a little too. It was so nice out that we couldn’t resist. It was sort of like we were on a bus tour for retired folks (Emily does have a significant birthday coming up this summer), stopping at various places along our tour route.
Anyhow, the first place we stopped was over at the bee yard. We are registered with the Department of Agriculture so we are honest to goodness farmers…bee farmers! Most Januaries, the bees remain inside the hives and cluster together (and sort of vibrate) to keep warm. Honeybees do not hibernate. They are cold-blooded of course, so they slow down if they get too cold, but if the hive is healthy, they remain relatively warm inside the hive and do just fine.
So, this January has been super warm as Januaries go so the bees were out when we visited the bee yard! Here is another interesting fact about bees…barring nosema (bee dysentery), bees will not poop inside the hive. So, winter can be a mighty long prospect if there are not nice days here and there. Nice days for a bee basically means above 43-45 degrees so they can leave the hive to…uh…catch up on some reading if you know what I mean.
Click above for a video of the bees flying. If that version won’t play on your machine, try this link
This year, the bees are feeling good! They can poop pretty regularly, they have a chance to break up their cluster now and then to move inside the hive for food, and they give me something to watch! So, my friends, please enjoy my January bees with me for a bit. They are always delightful and especially so in the wintertime!This entry was posted in Bees, Nature and tagged Bees, Honeybees, Nature by warren