Bees Are Bustin’ Out All Over

In the middle of a jam-packed weekend George got the kind of call that makes him drop everything and jump into the car: there’s a swarm of bees in a tree near where you live, do you want to get it? 99% of the time the answer is Hell yeah! So equipped with beekeeper suit and nuc box, a’ gathering we went, George singing: “June June June, and bees are bustin’ out all over!” Oh, a nuc box is a half-sized beehive with 5 frames instead of the regular 10, set up to catch and transport bees.

Zowie! The largest swarm I’ve ever seen was settled in a fig tree in the back garden of a house the next town over from us.Swarm of honeybees

George’s Plan: set the nuc box on top of the fence, and the leftover honey and wax on the frames in the box will lure the bees to move into their yummy new home.

Bee swarm

And in they went.

Honeybee swarm

At dusk, when all of the girls had found their way into the nuc box, George sealed it up and brought them to their new home in a friend’s large sunny garden. We checked on the hive yesterday and were overjoyed to see that these hard-working girls have in a week already built comb on 4 of the 5 frames!

Bee swarm

Take a look at the magnificent queen!

Queen Honeybee

George uploaded a short video he took of the bees marching into the nuc box.

This is my post about a swarm George caught earlier this year, using a bee vacuum.

And click here to read my post about the process George and our friend Joan went through to catch a swarm in her garden.

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Gathering O’ The Swarm

It’s spring-time warm here, and local bees with so much pollen and nectar to gather are thriving, which leads to … swarms! A friend directed a neighbor less than a mile away to beekeeper George to gather a swarm that settled on their house.

Bee swarm

The relatively flat roof was ideal for George to clamber onto by ladder, and it was a good situation to try out the new bee vacuum that Joan, our good friend and partner-in-bees, recently got.

Bee swarm

We onlookers down below couldn’t see the large portion of the swarm in the roof’s gutter. George vac’ed them up first.

Bee swarm

Moving on to the bees overhanging the roof, we watched as some of the swarm flew about, but most were drawn into the gentle pull of the vacuum.

Bee swarm

It was much quicker than what George would have had to do otherwise – scrape the bees from the side of the roof down into a box.

Bee swarm Since the bees will have their new home in Joan’s hive, we went to get one of her hive boxes with some frames that her old bees had built on.

Bee swarm The bees will be attracted to the leftover honey and wax on the frames, and migrate onto them from the vacuum. With the box on the roof, the bees that didn’t get vac’ed will sense the pheromones and re-join their queen and swarm. It’s a whole-day affair, mostly waiting around to make sure that as many bees as possible are gathered up. Any stragglers will likely go back to their old hive.

Click here to read my post about the process Joan and George went through to catch a swarm in her garden last year, I think that slow and laborious process was the impetus behind her ordering the bee vacuum!

Have Beehive, Will Travel

In April George and I gathered a small swarm of bees near the BART tracks which we’ve kept in the nuc box that we used to gather the swarm. While trying to figure out what to do with them, George was struck with a great idea to solve some problems we’ve run into with our Top Bar and Langstroth hives. What problems, you ask? Well, the Langstroth is basically a stack of heavy boxes, so checking on the bees involves lots of lifting and upsets the bees, not to mention being hard on George’s knees and back! And the Top Bar, while much easier to manage, uses foundationless frames, so to extract the honey we have to crush the wax.

George’s hybrid hive is one level (though more can be added), and long to fit more frames than the usual hive. He built it to accommodate normal frames, so we can use our extractor, saving the wax for the bees to re-use.

Beehive

We wanted a location with more sun than we get in our oft fogged-over microclimate. Our friend’s very large, unused yard in a nearby town was the perfect place. Best time to move a hive is in the evening, when the bees are tucked in, back from foraging. Tape up the opening and you’re set to go! They serenaded us with a gentle buzzing on our ride over. George lifted the nuc box into the new hive and removed the tape. Bees don’t fly very well at night, so only a few curious bees ventured out. We said good night to our ladies and left.

BeehiveGeorge visits often and always finds them calm and happily coming back to the hive with pollen. The design of the hive makes it very easy for George to check on the girls. Here’s the Queen!

Queen Honeybee

 

Sweet Reward

The wonders of beekeeping and helping struggling honeybees are our main motivations for having beehives, but getting honey from our girls is an extra special bonus. We don’t take honey every year. If the bees need it themselves for food we leave it; but some seasons the stars align and there’s extra. One reason bees can swarm (some of the bees in a hive make a new queen and leave with her for a new home) is because they don’t have enough work to do. In that case, taking honey and leaving them empty comb gives them a reason to stay with the original hive. George is all suited-up and ready to extract. He selects some of the frames that are full of honey and carries them away from the hive.

Beekeeper George

This frame is full of honey – it doesn’t ooze out because once it’s full the bees cap the honey with wax.

Frame

Scraping the wax off is the first step. You can use a fork, but this nifty uncapping tool is much more efficient and effective.

Extracting honey

As with everything else related to beekeeping, there are many different ways people extract honey. When we first started we only had a top bar hive, which you can’t use an extractor to get the honey from. George recorded a video showing his ingenious “Salad spinner honey extractor” method. We now have an extractor to use with the frames from our traditional hive, which makes the process much easier. Since it spins the honey out of the comb without crushing the wax, you can put the frames right back into the hive and save the bees the work of reconstruction.

Honey extractor

After much vigorous spinning, the sweet reward.

Extracting honeyWell, actually the baklava made by George is the REAL reward!

Bakin' baklava

And of course any honey that doesn’t get made into baklava gets bottled. This is the label I designed for our “La Ferme Melliferalle” honey.

Honey bottle with label

You can find La Ferme honey – and lots of other delicious local honey – at BioFuel Oasis on 1441 Ashby Ave., Berkeley California. If you’re local you can pick up from us in El Cerrito, email George at elegans@aol.com with your order.

To Catch a Swarm

The tale of our friend Joan’s bees began almost exactly two years ago. Much has happened since. Here I told you about the epic-sized swarm her first hive spun off.  After that the hive continued to produce more swarms, and these are the bees that Joan got to replace her swarmed-out hive. Joan’s glorious garden is surely one reason her bees thrive.

Honeybee on Spanish lavender

Two days ago, one of her hives swarmed again. Rather than staging their journey from the olive tree, where most of Joan’s swarms head first, this one congregated on the stone border around the tree. It was a relief to have a ladder-less swarm capture for once.

Honeybee swarm

Joan tried to entice them into a box with some tasty honey and comb, but although they eagerly ate the honey they weren’t ready to move into the box. George and I brought over more temptations: bee lure and an extra-fancy beekeeper’s box. Okay, that’s just a cardboard banker’s box all duct-taped-up with one side handle left open for the bees to enter.

Honeybee swarm

The bees were interested, but moving slowly because the weather was cooling. We beekeepers were patient, but only up to a point. Joan and George decided to suit up to help the swarm along.

Honeybee swarm

Those lingering in the rocks started marching up to join their sisters.

Honeybee swarm

More waiting.

Honeybee swarm

Until finally the whole swarm was tucked into the box.

Honeybee swarm

And on to their new home. But that’s a story for another day!