For the past three or four years, The Engineer has been trying to catch a swarm using various old hive boxes in different configurations. In years past, he stuck with the “tried and true” method of baiting the boxes with ugly, old, frames, propolis we’ve scraped while cleaning woodware, and the “lemongrass oil on a q-tip” method.
Many curious bees visited our boxes — apparently drawn by the irresistible smell of another hive’s detritus — but none took the final step of choosing one of our offerings as a new home for their sisters and a queen.
This year, The Engineer upgraded. He built a purpose-made wood swarm box, and we bought Swarm Commander Premium Swarm Lure.
At more than $25 for two ounce bottle, it’s pricey stuff, but we’d heard it was the best. Also, The Engineer hung the trap in a tree, selecting a spot that was higher than previous box locations.
Having been fooled so many times before, we didn’t get excited when we saw bees going in and out, even when their behavior appeared more similar to foragers than curious scouts.
But last Saturday, I got a text: “Three queens in yellow jacket trap” (always cause for celebration), “and pollen going into swarm trap.”
We, and by “we,” I mean The Engineer, had caught a swarm.
As mentioned earlier, many bees will explore a swarm trap, but when they begin foraging and bringing in pollen, it means the box has a queen and brood. And those young bees require pollen to grow.
Next, we had to get the bees out of the box and into a hive, which meant ascending a ladder in full bee suit and lowering it to a table.
We left it there for a few days to allow the bees to reorient to the lower location. This was interesting to watch because the returning foragers went to the box’s prevous location before circling lower and lower until they found their newly lowered home.
Today, we finally looked inside. The swarm is a small one, which makes us think it’s likely a secondary swarm. Also, the bees are similar in color to the rest of ours. Although we split all the full-sized hives, maybe one of them swarmed without us realizing it.
Maybe one of our splits raised two queens, and one of the virgin queens swarmed.
This seems possible, but I still don’t know enough about beekeeping to say if it’s likely or not. Who knows?
They were very calm.
We were prepared to transfer freshly made comb to frames, something we’d done before when we left a hive to their own devices and they built beautiful new comb without a frame. This time, we didn’t need to because the girls were using the old comb.
It was wonderful to see a healthy brood pattern, even though there wasn’t a lot of it.
Then we saw the queen, another golden girl, and knew all was well with our new hive.
To give them a boost and help ensure they stay in their new home, we gave them one of LoLa’s frames of brood, along with a feeder filled with sugar syrup and Amino-B Booster.
In a day or two, we will re-orient the hive entrance to face south, the direction it will ultimately face when we move it to its permanent position in the apiary.
We will be treating all our hives in the next few weeks, and afterwards, when we are sure this one is in good health, we’ll move it to its final home.
Having dealt with our newest hive, we turned our attention to LoLa (the LOng LAngstroth). Although we didn’t spot the queen, there were many frames of brood, larvae, and eggs. Slightly more worrying was the sight of many queen cups on the bottom of one frame, albeit empty ones. This is despite the fact that they have plenty of room toward the middle of the hive.
We rearranged a bit, moving more open comb near the brood so Mama Bee has room to lay, and closed the end entrance to encourage them to move more toward the middle. Taking the frame of brood for the swarm hive will also help.
Below, you can see the bees figuring out they need to use the front entrance.
Our last task was to check #1A, which we’d split from #1 in April, leaving them to make their own queen. When we do this type of split, we like to leave the queen-making hive alone for a full month. By leaving them undisturbed, we hope they will make and accept a new queen and that she will have plenty of time to mate and start laying.
We were not disappointed.
The hive is well-populated, with plenty of brood.
And we saw the queen! Do you?
So now we are an eight hive apiary, and I can assure you this was not the plan. When we started beekeeping, we kind of thought four hives might be good to have … you know, eventually. Then, last year, when our girls started doing well, we upped that estimate to maybe six.
And by having friends take some of our splits, we did pretty well with that aim. But, then came LoLa, and, well, when The Engineer catches a swarm after trying for years, we can hardly get rid of it, now can we?
I can see now how beekeepers end up with twenty, forty, one-hundred hives.
They kind of sneak up on you.
Anyway, I have a couple more photos to show you, taken earlier in the week from #4. At least, I think it’s #4 — the one with the comb-in-a-jar experiment. Here’s an update of their progress. Although the glass distorts the view somewhat, the photo on the left is from the side, and the one on the right is the top of the jar.
There are a lot of bees working on the project. Maybe they’ll get a little further than last year.
And, lest you think we devote our lives solely to beekeeping, I have to report we also took our first camping trip and our first paddle of the year this week at Mohican State Park.
Because the Clear Fork Branch of the Mohican River is popular for canoeing, rafting and tubing, the campground can be quite crowded during the summer, especially on weekends. So, we camp on weeknights in May.
We can do this because we’re retired. 🙂
The downsides are the river can be too high to paddle due to spring rain (last year), and the nights can be quite cold … especially when you camp in a tent like we do (this year).
Still, the days were gloriously clear and sunny. Also, we re-met a couple we’d become acquainted with on last year’s visit and ended up kayaking and hiking with them on our second day.
The paddle was wonderful, with no other boats on the water. The hike was an unplanned one and entirely my fault because after bringing two cars to camp so we could avoid having to hike back to the drop-off point where we’d left our van, I realized I’d left the car keys in the van. As a result, having the car at the end of the kayak run was
pretty completely useless.
Although The Engineer and I were
happy willing to hike back on our own, our new acquaintances insisted on joining us. And in the end, we could all have ice cream with a clear conscience, knowing we’d earned it.
It was a lovely day, made even better because I didn’t completely char the evening meal.
Our campfire kitchen includes a volcano kettle (one of the best inventions ever!). Ours is a Kelly Kettle, but the Ghillie Kettle is made to similar specs. Our stove is an EcoZoom Versa, and we also use a small Lodge Dutch Oven. All these kitchen items cook with wood or other readily available fuel (leaves, etc).
I’ll admit the results can be hit or miss when cooking in an open fire with a Dutch Oven … at least when I’m cooking.
This time, I thought I did okay. I made chile on the stove with chorizo left from the previous night’s quesadilla (made in our double pie iron (similar to this Rome one), black beans, my last jar of home canned tomatoes, peppers, onions, and lots of spices. Then I threw together cornbread (from a mix), spooned it on top, and into the fire it went.
Result? A little charred, but still quite tasty, and since it was the last night in camp, I was able to soak the pan and clean it up at home. I didn’t realize, or maybe just forgot, that the cornbread mix would make a crust on both the top and bottom!
June promises more adventure, with a coastal kayaking lesson, a kayak tour of Lake Erie, and a camping trip planned to East Harbor State Park where we can put it all into practice.
Plus, bees! Stay tuned!