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.

Two swarms are better than one

Our friend Joan has a hive of bees that originated from a swarm we gave her a year ago. Joan’s bees are going gangbusters. Last week a huge swarm the size of a large child separated from her hive.  Joan said, in her wonderful Southern accent, “George, you could put your arms around it and give it a hug.” I couldn’t go along to help George and Joan gather that swarm, but when the phone rang early yesterday afternoon and Joan said, “Guess what!? It happened again,” I had my beekeeper’s suit and camera loaded into the car before she hung up.
DSC_3385b small They were in Joan’s olive tree (the last swarm traveled to her neighbor’s yard, causing a bit of consternation).
DSC_3386b smallThis swarm was tiny in comparison to last week’s, a bit over a foot long and maybe half a foot wide.DSC_3389b small I could get close with no worries – honeybees generally don’t sting if you leave them alone while they’re swarming. They are intent on protecting their new queen (she’s in the center of the swarm), with a few peeling off to to scout for their new home.DSC_3391b small Here’s more of a close-up. They were lined up in neat rows, and holding tightly to one another.DSC_3393b small George thought it would be least disruptive if he could get them to fly voluntarily into the box that he had brought to transport them, called a nuc or nuc box. It’s basically a smaller version of a normal Langstroth hive, ideal for transporting a swarm (unless it’s as big as a small child). The term nuc comes from the fact that the swarm is gathered around the queen — the nucleus of the honeybee colony. To make the box appealing to the swarm, George took a few of the frames that fit into the nuc box and coated them with honey that Joan harvested from the hive last year.  He also added some drops of “bee lure,” which is a mixture of scents used to attract bees. Joan supervised.DSC_3397b smallWe waited about an hour, but although some of the scouts did enter the nuc, there was no mass movement into it. As dusk approached, we decided to suit up and move the bees into the box. George and Joan clipped some of the twigs that were in the way, then carefully cut the main branch and placed the swarm into their new temporary home. George will go back this evening to make sure that all of the stragglers are in the box, then he’ll seal it up and bring it to a friend who needs a hive because hers died over the winter.
DSC_3406b small

Today’s Best Award on Zazzle – my honeybee design necktie!

Whee-ha! I’ve posted before about zazzle, but it has been quite awhile since I wrote about it.  I put things up there once in awhile, when I have a new design I usually add a few things on zazzle — a card or print,

Zazzle orchid print

Zazzle orchid print

some funky sneakers, a bumper sticker with some hard-hitting message:

Zazzle bumper sticker

Zazzle bumper sticker

Back in 2008, shortly after I started posting my work on zazzle, I won a “Today’s Best Award” (TBA in zazzle lingo) for sneakers that I designed using my photo of a zebra’s stripes:

Zazzle zebra sneakers

Zazzle zebra sneakers

Now, zazzle doesn’t tell you when you get a TBA, you have to either check the TBA list every day (which I stopped doing long ago), or you may find out if some kind soul leaves you a “Congratulations for your TBA!” message.  Well, guess what? I got one of those today (thanks again JuJuGarden)!

So, first the story behind the piece that won. This is the photograph I started out with: I shot it  through the window of a top bar beehive, of some busy honey bees working hard:

Honey bees in hive

Honey bees in hive

I took an element of this photograph, and started making different kaleidoscopic designs using my favorite software program, Kaleider (I’ve written posts about Kaleider, just click on the tag at the right for Kaleider to bring them up, and you can check out the software at this link).  I made several designs that I really liked, and this was one of the ones I loved most:

Honeybee kaleidoscope

Honeybee kaleidoscope

Next, I did a repetition technique (I’m going to be teaching this on CraftEdu, so email me if you’re interested in that class).  I took the repetition design and uploaded it to zazzle.  The only thing I’ve had time to make so far from it was a necktie, and that won a TBA award!!

Zazzle TBA, honeybee design necktie

Zazzle TBA, honeybee design necktie

I’m donating 10% of everything sold on my zazzle shop through the end of July to the fund to help rebuild the Berkeley-East Bay Humane Society after their fire, so if you’re thinking of buying anything — now’s the time!