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!

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

Brian’s Bees

Is there anything more special than friends who share a passionate interest? George’s friend Brian is a twofer – they first met and bonded over their common love of orchids, spiced with a shared cynical smart sense of humor. More lately, Brian discovered that he wanted to keep bees. He had a beautiful hive all ready and waiting for some honeybees to move in, so when George and our friend Alan rescued a swarm, there was no question that they were meant to be Brian’s bees. The swarm settled on a tree limb just above a garden shed.

Honeybee swarm in a tree

George and Alan clambered onto the shed. I held the ladder and worried that they’d fall through the roof (they didn’t). When bees are swarming they’re very calm, so George easily brushed most of them into a box. The critical thing is to try to get the queen. If you do, the rest will follow her, because their main imperative is to protect her.

Catching the swarm

As you’d expect from an orchid and nature lover, Brian has an amazing garden. Here’s George delivering the bees to their new home.

Bee hive

The bees quickly realized they had arrived at nectar heaven. The workers happily began to forage, build comb and make honey, and the queen zealously performed her queenly duties and began laying brood. We went back to do a hive inspection, and this is what we found:

Worker and queen honeybees

That’s her majesty, surrounded and protected by workers. She’s much larger than the other bees, and is a gorgeous deep golden color. Here’s more of a closeup photograph.

Queen bee

Much of the white you can see filling the comb is larvae or brood. As George finished the inspection, I walked around the garden to see what the workers were up to. They favored a magnificent Spanish Lavender plant.

Honeybee on Spanish Lavender

The intoxicatingly fragrant orange tree was another favorite.

Honeybee on orange flower

We even got a bit of honey from some extra comb the bees had built on the lid of the hive, so Brian could taste his bees’ honey. Your own bees’ honey is always the sweetest. And here’s to honey and friendship, ever sweetly intertwined.