Posts Tagged ‘swarm’

Ok, not really,  I just thought it would make a catchy title :O)

Bees prefer hot dry weather to swarm in, which is what we have right now. It’s still a bit early in our area but the bees don’t care about calenders, they’ve decided that this is a good weekend. On Friday we went to a really neat nursery owned by a fellow beekeeper. He keeps a few hives there at the nursery, but the neat thing about it is that he specializes in native plants and insect friendly plants, you don’t really find the typical garden center plants there. And my favorite thing is that he has created over the years a lovely garden which you can walk through complete with large pond and wandering trails full of flowering plants. It’s so inspiring and beautiful, we are going to visit there 3-4 times over the season to see what is blooming and how plants are looking at different times of the season.

Anyway! Back to the bees.

So we got home from the nursery in the afternoon only to find that a swarm had flown by. Our neighbor, who is a farmer and is outside ALL the time, saw the swarm flying round shortly before we got home…naturally. As you know, we have horrible luck when it comes to catching swarms. We still don’t know if it was ours or someone else’s and we have no idea where they finally ended up. P  could have torn the hives down to check, but there isn’t much point really. So, another one lost.

But wait, there is more!

Then Saturday afternoon P gets a phone call that there are not one but two swarms reported in a nearby village and will he please come and get them…please?! So he gets all of his swarm-catching paraphernalia together and heads out. He gets to the first place and discovers that the bees had been sitting on a bush in the lady’s back yard, how convenient! No ladders involved! Only problem is that it flew away again just 5 minutes before he arrived…Doh!

So off to the next address. Here the bees had landed up in a roof in an old shed. When P went in he said a nasty toxic chemical smell hit him and he thought it was strange that a swarm would go into a place that smelled like that. He found the swarm, or what was left of it. Below the swarm was a pile of dead bees and the only thing remaining of the swarm was about 2-3 handfuls of bees in a clump. He put them in the swarm box and set them out in the shade so that the stragglers could join the others and he planned to go back in the evening a get the box.

When he went back the bees were back in the stinky shed again and this time there were only about 1 handful of bees left. He left them there, they were obviously dying and nothing could be done for them. He thinks now that they were poisoned. Either by the home owner who maybe first tried to spray them and then when they didn’t die right away, called the swarm hotline. Either that or someone else sprayed them, or they flew through something toxic. Really hard to say but they are done for. He is going back today to check on them.

So 3 swarms in 2 days and we struck out again. I think there’ll be several more opportunities though so we’re not giving up yet :O)

Oh, forgot to mention that the picture above is from a swarm we caught in 2007. That one was from our own bees and it was a success but I think it was the last one we managed to capture without a hitch.

And finally, just a reminder, although I know it is not needed for most people who read this blog, please don’t try to kill bees if you happen to get a swarm in your yard, most places have a removal service or a local beekeeper that will be happy to pop right over and take them away for you. Remember that they wont hurt you, they are very passive when they are swarming and they will remain in their protective clump (they are protecting the queen who is in the center of the clump. Best thing to do is just stay away from them so as not to stress them, call your local beekeeper or removal service. Many times the swarm is just passing through so they wont be there long in any case.


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Hi everyone, I know it’s been a long time, I apologize. There just hasn’t been much to share that anyone would find of interest and life in general is keeping me pretty busy in other directions. But we’ve had a few questions about our Warre’ hive experiment and how it is going, so here’s a brief update.

We started in June of 2008 by building 5 Warre’ hives. The plan was to gradually move the bees from the standard German boxes that we were using, into the Warre’ hives as the bees swarmed. Well, it sounded like a good plan…

That year we had 2 swarms, the first one we caught and moved into one of the hives, unfortunately it did not thrive and died out over the winter of 2009. The other swarm we were unable to catch.

Next, we followed the advice of a local beekeeper and tried to create an artificial swarm. He gave us a queen that he was  going to replace in one of his own hives (he does alot of experimental breeding and so forth). Well that was a complete and total disaster from start to finish. Despite Peer’s best efforts to keep it together, that hive never took and it gradually dwindled down to nothing. The queen kept crawling away (she had a clipped wing and couldn’t fly). The hive was in complete and utter chaos and many of the bees few away…total, TOTAL disaster. Do NOT try this at home kiddies.

So we began the spring of 2009 with 1 dead Warre’ hive and 4 hives in standard German boxes. Two of those hives were really weak and the other two, while not quite as weak, we felt were not strong enough to harvest honey from and so we didn’t. We left them completely alone for the most part to see if they could build themselves back up over the summer.

With the exception of one hive, they continued to be weak. The summer was not a great one for bees, it was cold, dark and rainy much of the time so this didn’t help matters. There were no swarms at all over the summer so we never got the chance to start another Warre’ hive.

Since they were doing so poorly, we also checked them early for mites and they seemed to have quite a few, even though Peer had, as per standard mite treatment recommendations, treated them the previous autumn. So he treated them again. We think that we’ve lost yet another hive this autumn due to the mites and then the wasps moved in, the hive was not strong enough to fend them off. So we are down to 3 hives. I think we may lose another one or two over the winter since they are already weak going into it…

It might be that we have to buy new bees and start over again, but Peer wants to give these guys a chance first. We’re in no rush, we don’t really care about the honey, for us it’s not about the honey, we just enjoy having the bees here. So we’ll be patient and give them a chance.

And so, needless to say, it was a very bad, bad, bad, bad year!

I hope that next summer I’ll have better news!

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We had our second swarm of the season yesterday. It came out of the same hive that swarmed last weekend, this one was much larger. This time the bees settled in a blackthorn tree just behind our house, about 10 feet above the level of our roof.

If you click on the picture you will get a larger view.

Peer couldn’t reach them from this side of the tree so he had to go around back and using a ladder he cut away some of the branches and then tried to knock them into a swarm catching bag. Unfortunately it didn’t work, he needed about 3 other hands to do the sawing, hold on the the ladder, grab the branch and balance it, etc. We had to go to a dinner party so we had to leave them….when we came home, unfortunately they were long gone.

An update on the artificial swarm that I told you about a few days ago…

The day after we added the queen, the bees were able to set her free and became quite happy and content once again. Peer moved them from the cellar, into their new home yesterday and they are doing really well. They are beginning to fly and to do all the usual “bee stuff” so all is well once again, in our little kingdom :O)

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We’ve been anxiously awaiting one so that we could begin establishing the new hives that Peer built

Sunday was our lucky day!

Hives tend to swarm on warm dry days between 11am and 2pm, at least they do around here. Peer noticed the swarm beginning to build around 1:30pm. They fly in something like a funnel shape, round and round, directly above the hive until most of them have gathered. At that point they flew straight up and onto a branch at the very top of a 100 ft oak tree…just perfect! No way we can reach them way up there! So we thought we had lost them. We walked away disappointed and went about our business.

About 10 minutes later, Peer sticks his head in the doorway and tells me there is another swarm forming! Yay!

We stood on the porch and watched them, but they gradually seem to be dissipate…”how strange!” we thought. I had a pair of binoculars and started looking around the tops of the branches for the first swarm…it was gone! Well, that meant that the swarm we thought was a second swarm was really the first one, but why did it return to the hive? Then it dawned on us. We still have one of the original queens that we bought last year. She has a wing clipped and can’t fly! So when the swarm left, she simply fell out onto the ground and then crawled underneath the hive. The swarm didn’t realize this at first but then they found her and gathered with her underneath the original hive….some of you might remember that this is the same thing we had happen last year.

So here they are, all crammed up underneath the hive…

It’s hard to see exactly what is going on from this picture so here is a front view of the hive…

The only way to get them out is to move the whole hive, which is REALLY heavy!

We waited until about 6:30pm when the hives were slowing down for the night. Peer had a friend come over and help. He’s a friend who is thinking about getting into beekeeping so we thought this would be a great experience for him :O)

They’re getting ready; putting on veils, lighting the bee pipe, etc. They wear light colored clothing because the bees are not as disturbed by lighter colored clothing…I of course chose dark blue for the occasion…lol! They only chased me off a few times, but none of us got stung…Jens, Peer’s friend, did get some nettle stings which are actually worse in my opinion.

The first thing Peer does is spray the bees with water. This gets their wings wet and they can’t fly until they are dried off again.

They can’t move the hive all in one piece, the honey room on top is full again and so the whole hive is way too heavy, especially for trying to lift it in the ackward position that it is in, so they move it in sections.

First the top, which is the honey room.

Then they move the main 2 rooms…looks easier on the picture than it really was!

Now that the hive is out of the way, Peer sprays them down again…

And dumps them into a plastic container.

Once he has the majority in the container, he dumps them into their new home.

There is really no easy way to get the bees into the new box properly. He dumps them into the upside-down wooden box, but then he has to turn that box right-side up again. Anyway, it is really hard to do without squashing some bees no matter how carefully you do it, you just have to hope you aren’t also squashing the queen. After this first time, Peer has an idea for how he might do this part differently next time.

And so, here they are after inverting that top box, everyone is in and it’s time to close up this hive. Before the roof goes on, there is a smaller box which is full of wooden packing material, this acts as a layer of insulation.

Then comes the roof.

The bees are doing their little dance, with butts raised high in the air and wings vibrating which is their way of telling other bees that the queen is here.

This picture shows how different this new hive is in size and shape when compared to our old ones…personally I think it’s really cute and if I was a bee, I’d want to live there :O)

And so, here is the hive a full 2 full days since we moved the swarm in. By the way, this isn’t the complete hive, there are 2 additional boxes that are added to the bottom. As the hive grows, the bees keep building downward. As they go, they fill the top boxes with honey and move the living and hatching areas into the lower boxes. This is opposite of the way it is done in more traditional style beekeeping systems, but it is the way the bees do it in the wild. They seem to be taking to their new home very well. They’re quite busy, flying in and out, doing their thing just as they should be :o)

It will be interesting to see over time, how this system works for us, we’ll keep you posted!

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There is so much to update you on, I’m not sure where to begin, but I think I will start with the bees. This is our second year with the bees, we went into the winter last year with 4 hives and I’m happy to report that we didn’t lose any of them! Early in the spring Peer checked each hive and found one or two that were running out of food so he fed them enough to get them through til the willows began producing pollen and the bees would begin producing their own food again.

I forgot to mention that we moved the bees in the very early spring, before they began leaving the hive. They use to live right beside my studio and our veggie garden. This spot was a bit crowded and made it not so convenient to work in the garden during the afternoon hours because the bees were flying directly overhead. We moved them to a larger, less active area on the other side of the house. I think they like it there and I like having them there :O)

There are many different systems for keeping bees; different philosophies, methods, different hive arrangements and construction designs, etc. Last year we were using the typical framed hives found here in northern Germany, the ones you see in the picture above. These require quite a bit of care and hands-on maintenance. We personally feel that for a backyard beekeeper it’s more beneficial/healthier/less stressful for the bees if they are left pretty much to do their own thing without a lot of interference from humans. We wanted to try a less hands-on approach, after all, bees have been doing their own thing for millions of years without humans telling them how to do it!

We decided to try a different system, one which was designed specifically with this philosophy in mind. The system was designed by Emile Warre’, who was a village priest in France, during the 1920’s. Peer got a translated version (in english and german) of his writings which include the instructions for building the hives and he just spent several weeks building 5 new hives. The biggest difference with these new hives is that they are much smaller, they do not have frames, they have smaller flight holes and they can be built without needing a lot of specialized materials. Because they can be built with scrapes of lumber and things that most people probably have laying around the property, they are called the poorman’s beehive. The next few pictures show the construction process.

The first thing Peer did was to make a shopping list for all the lumber he would need since we didn’t actually have any here that wasn’t already planned for something else. The lumber yard cut all the pieces to the specifications that Peer gave them.

Peer began by building 20 box frames, 4 boxes for each hive. There is no bottom and no top, just the sides.

These are the roofs…

And the bottoms…

After all the pieces were assembled they needed to be treated to keep them from rotting in the weather. Peer used a mixture of hot linseed oil and melted beeswax, which he painted onto every single piece.

Then set them out to dry…

Instead of frames, which have machine formed wax comb (as seen in the image below)…

…this system uses 9 thin slats of wood per box, each with a single strip of beeswax painted down the center. The strip of beeswax shows the bees where, and in what direction they should build their combs, without actually doing the job for them.

First peer melted wax that we collected during last year’s honey harvest and then just painted it on with a paintbrush. He set the pan of hot wax over a tee light so that the wax wouldn’t harden as he worked.

He had to paint 180 of these!

The next step was to nail all of these prepared slats into the boxes, 9 in each box. They had to be nailed so that the distance between each slat was the same so that the bees will build in a consistent manner.

A completed box…

Actually this system calls for 8 slats per box but there is a theory that by using 9 slats, thus creating a narrower working space, the bees will build smaller cells which may greatly reduce the likelihood of mites.

There are a few steps I didn’t capture on film but these were the main ones. After all the pieces were ready, Peer put them together to form 5 complete hives and stored them until we would need them.

What we are going to do is slowly phase out of the old system and as our bees swarm we will move the swarms into the new boxes…now all we need is a swarm!

Stay tuned!

P.S. If anyone is interested in learning more about this system, just drop us a line!

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