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.

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.

Honey Bees Al Fresco

George and I got the buzz through the beekeeper’s grapevine that there were some honey bee swarms under the BART elevated tracks. A portion of the structure beneath the tracks is hollow, and we’ve heard that there are beehives throughout much of the outdoor BART system.  Although we figured the swarms probably had found new homes, we ventured over yesterday afternoon to see. Yowza!

Honey bee colony under BART tracks

This is NOT a swarm –  it’s a colony of honey bees that built their comb down from a hole in the structure. You don’t often see “fresh-air” beehives. I’m not even sure whether you can call them hives, since they’re not inside a structure. Regardless of the proper name, it’s a natural sculpture of staggering beauty. There are seven frames, and it’s about 2.5 feet down and 3 feet across.

Honey bee colony under BART tracks

It’s opposite an apartment complex, and one young woman yelled over to us, “You’re not taking our bees, are you?” It turns out she and her housemate love bees, and they’ve been watching over the colony for a year and a half, so it has survived through a month-long cold snap and the hard rains we’ve had recently. We told them no, we were definitely not going to disturb the fresh-air colony, but we were trying to gather up a small swarm that had separated from it, which was hanging down from another nearby hole.

Honey bee swarm under BART tracks

When we first saw the swarm I was looking up to photograph it, when George noticed just in time that there was a pile of bees on the ground right where I was going to step!

Honey bee swarm

We were sure they had fallen from the swarm because they were directly beneath. Hoping that the queen might be in the swarm on the ground, we had zoomed home to get our beekeeper suits and a nuc box (a small wooden box with frames to keep bees in temporarily). George smeared some honey comb onto frames – yum – and placed it next to the bees on the ground, and they immediately started marching onto the frames.

George with nuc box and frames

They filled it up really quickly!

Honey bee swarm on frame

George put the frames in the nuc box. The bees on the ground marched inside, and some flying around landed and joined them.

Honey bees going into nuc box

A bunch of them began “fanning” on the front landing strip, which George hoped meant that the queen was inside. When a worker bee fans she stands with her backside facing out, fans her wings and releases pheromones to direct the rest of the swarm to the colony.

Honey bees fanning

At one point clumps of bees began dropping from the swarm! One clump hit the ground, but most of them separated and swirled around.

Honey bee swarm

As it started to get dark we were bent over the front of the box to make sure they all got in. Another clump of bees fell, some of them onto our heads! George had his suit on but I didn’t. Swarming bees are usually very calm and sweet, their sole aim is to protect the queen, so unless you do something to really upset them they won’t sting. I was around them for hours that day without a suit and I didn’t get stung once, not even by the ones that fell on my head. After the ones that fell marched in, we sealed the nuc box and brought the BART bees to their new home.

Today was wonderfully warm, and the new bees were busy coming and going, checking out the ‘hood.

Honey bees

Time will tell whether we got her Majesty, the queen.

Happy National Honey Month

Imagine my delight to learn that September is National Honey Month! 

Honeycomb

You know we’re very fond of the golden elixir around our house, and we’re so proud that our honeybees have been happy and healthy enough to produce lots of it.

Honey and beeswax candle

Here are some honey highlights. First, worker bees (all female) visit flowers and plants to gather nectar.

Honeybee on flowerThey bring the nectar back to the beehive, transform it into honey, and pack it into the wax honeycomb that they built.

Honeycomb with bees

We leave most of the honey for the bees’ own use, but in good years there’s extra, and we take a bit. Recently we got a hand-crank extractor, which makes getting the honey out of the comb much easier than our old “crush” method.

Extracting honey

It also leaves the honeycomb intact, so we put it back into the hives for the bees to use again. In the photo George and our friend Joan are “scoring” the capped honey so it will spin out of the comb easily when we put it into the extractor.

Did you know that many people eat local honey to control allergies? The theory is that trace amounts of pollen from local plants to which people are allergic remain in the honey, and that eating it year-round can help the body cope with the allergens. Sweet medicine, for sure!

Joan’s New Bees

I’ve told you about our friend Joan’s bees. In this post from March, I wrote about an epic swarm that split off from her beehive. Well, sadly, the bees continued to produce more swarms, and finally the hive was so weakened that it failed.

George and Joan were debating what to do when things fell into place last week. George’s query to his beekeeper group netted an amazingly generous offer from Bob Ballard to deliver one of his hives to Joan’s house.

Beehive

Bob loaded the bees into his truck in Hayward; they arrived in Richmond without mishap.

Beehive

Bob, George and Joan moved the hive into place.

Beehive

Finally it was time to let the bees out!

Beehive

Some ventured about, exploring their new home. Joan’s garden is a paradise of flowers, bushes and trees – like the flowers in the foreground of this photo.

Beehive

I was amazed to see a bee crawl into this beautiful dangling flower.

Bee in flower

And of course they loved the Salvia.

Bee on Salvia

There are techniques you can use to try to minimize swarming, but it seems that the strain of bees we originally gave Joan tend to swarm more than normal. Now that she has a new hive, I think they’ll be happy in her garden for a long long time.