Walking through the Apiary

IMG_9498People, mostly just friends, often ask how the bees are doing, thinking about it I’m not entirely sure what they mean. My answer, though, is usually I don’t know, I haven’t checked them in awhile. Indeed, the last time I opened the hives was when the bees stung me five times at the end of May, I suppose I’ve been a little nervous to poke around in their hives again. Luckily, bees aren’t actually livestock that need to be taken care of, as long as they have enough space and food source, they can just be left alone for awhile. In fact, the bees probably do better without a beekeeper opening their hive and messing around with them often. Jesse remarked that I am more of a bee observer than beekeeper at this point, and perhaps that’s true and for the best, after all bees don’t need my help. Every once and awhile I’ll walk through the apiary to watch the bees at the hive entrances, observing their activity. The health and state of a hive can be told by observing the bees on the landing board. Lately, they have been very busy, the landing boards are crawling with bees coming in and going out. A few weeks back, I observed several leaving on foraging trips even in the rain.

Two weeks ago, one of my hives swarmed. They raised queen cells, then the old queen and perhaps half the workers left the hive in search of a new home. This is a swarm. Bees swarm naturally, it is a way for a colony to grow and become two colonies instead of one. Swarming usually means the colony has out grown its living space.  For a beekeeper, swarming is both good and bad. A beekeeper can lose a lot of bees in a swarm. It sets back the mother colony in bee and honey production, the bees left in the hive may not build up fast enough to make honey for winter. Swarming is a good sign the colony is growing and generally doing well. But it also means the beekeeper isn’t paying attention to the hives as one should be. If the beekeeper is able to catch and hive the swarm, she can grow her apiary. Experienced beekeepers spilt hives just before the hives begin preparation to swarm, thus doubling their amount of hives.

IMG_9404Last week another one of my hives swarmed, of course both had to swarm on a Friday when I am usually far too busy to work bees. I had no time and no idea how to catch swarms. However, my brother-in-law has been learning beekeeping along with me and is very interested in catching swarms. He was able to come over and hive both of the swarms. Interestingly, both swarms congregated on a nearby pear tree. Isaiah noticed the swarms; he came into the house saying the bees were doing something weird. The first one was on a branch; Jason cut it off and shook the bees into an empty hive. They were very calm and it was easy. The second one was a little more work. It was on the trunk instead of on a branch. Malachi was helping Jason this time. These bees were a little more agitated by the process, Malachi was stung twice. They were able to successfully hive the swarm though.

The new colonies seem to be making a home in the hives they were placed in. I added new supers to the other hives. Jason said the blue hive was the one that swarmed the first time. I wanted to see if they were recovering in number yet.  When I opened it up, I was confused. There was no colony, only a cluster of robbers. I didn’t look too closely but just glancing at a frame, I didn’t notice any dead bees. I am curious to know where the bees went. Perhaps they were the second swarm. If so, why did they leave the hive? I am still puzzled and have no answer. There were lots of bees in the other three hives, however, I didn’t pull any frames out to examine them. I simply noticed they seemed to be doing very well and then gently slid a new super on top and closed them up. With the white hive, which and been so aggressive in May, my heart was pounding fiercely as I worked them. It only stopped fluttering when I had the outer cover safely place back on.

Sometimes I have my doubts about being a beekeeper or wonder if I’m doing a good job or if I’ll ever get the hang of it. Then I remind myself, this is only my second year, I’m still learning and there is so much to learn! I will still be learning even after being a beekeeper for forty years.



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