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Posts Tagged ‘Swarming’

Male, Drone bees have large eyes and no stinger.

This weekend at Smoke Farm, with rain showers passing through and a steady plopping of spring droplets, I watched bees from the newly introduced Italian colonies emerge from the hive, perch momently on the edge of the bottom board, turn slightly and  look out into the vast world.  A sudden burst of vibration emanated from their body, and they were off, into the rain drops, the overcast, the unknown perils.  Such bold, willing sacrifice, I thought.

Initially, I took the naming of hives very seriously.  My first three hives were named Republic, Kingdom, and Rogue.  I wanted to evoke well-ordered, prosperous colonies as well as leave room for the rebels.  Republic and Kingdom did terrific for two years, and Rogue, although never growing out of one super, was always good for a frame of honey now and then.

Last year, I dedicated hives to the people who lived near those bees.  One for Matt, for all the work he put into building hive bodies with me, and one for Asha, my god-daughter.  One for Michael and Kelle, and one for myself.  Matt’s bees took on some obvious attributes of his–they worked incredibly hard, made a lot of honey, and they had a bad attitude once in a while.  Asha’s just did their thing, developing normally, making it happily through the winter, there to say “hi!” when I appeared.  Michael and Kelle’s were the most gentle bees, very productive too, and they had a penchant for swarming.  My bees died, and I wonder if there is a connection to all the changes I went through last year.

Temporary Swarm Housing at Michael and Kelle's.

For commercial beekeepers, as well as the literature that informs us enthusiastic hobbyists, bees meant for keeping should have certain attributes.  They should be gentle.  No one wants to open a hive that is constantly banging into your veil and pressing their stingers through your shirt and gloves.  They should also be productive, making an abundance of honey for the keeper to harvest.  Many commercial people look for a lack of propolis in the hive (a collection of resins from trees the bees use to seal the hive) because it is so sticky, and most honey producers will tell you that swarming is bad.  When the hive swarms, half the colony leaves with the old queen, and the laying of eggs and development of worker bees can be set back nearly a month, rendering the hive too weak to make the beekeeper honey.  And recently, universities and commercial beekeepers have been trying to breed or select bees that are resistant to varroa mites because untreated, a colony will eventually die.

The Longfellow Swarm's old home in a hollow Alder by Longfellow Creek.

To me, every colony is different, and rather than name or dedicate a hive, this year I want the bees to teach me who they are.  The colony at Michael and Kelle’s house that swarmed twice this spring left a whole box of pollen and honey-full frames.  I get the feeling they are geared toward swarming, but I also have a hunch that after this first impulse, they are going to settle down and produce a lot of honey this summer.  The queen of the Longfellow Swarm had just begun laying eggs, about a week after swarming, and the workers had set about filling the second box with new comb and honey.  These gals are going to be robust, and I have no idea what to expect from them later in the year.  Asha’s Carniolans are awaiting some attention from me, as I suspect they might swarm in early summer.  But before I get too bold and decide the fate of their stock, I want to get to know them better.  And besides, for many centuries the best way to expand your apiary was to catch swarms, which is incredibly fun and challenging every time.

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A view from the Longfellow Swarm’s Hive in West Seattle.

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Bee on the Wing in Blue Rosemary.

Last week began with the discovery of a new obsession–photographing bees on the wing with a macro lens.  The super-narrow depth-of-field of the lens made it difficult to catch a bee in focus, but in this image she is moving too fast for my shutter speed.  Still, after 75 shots, I think this one is a keeper.

Then it was off to pick up package bees on Friday morning.  The second and third week of April should be considered a national holiday, as every beekeeper in the King and Snohomish counties of Washington seemed to be as eager as Rachael and me to pick up their bees.  Our unintentionally extended adventure turned into a beautiful day together.

Rachael Poses with 4 lb. Packages of Bees.

The next morning I was up early and on my way to Onalaska, WA, to pick up Carniolans from Jason and Heather Sherwood.  A lot of people ask me where Onalaska is, and all I can say is it’s rural, southwestern Washington.  I was there at 7:30 and back on the road by 8:30.

Package Bees Awaiting Pick-up at the Sherwood Apiary.

Saturday, Sunday, and Monday night were dedicated to the introduction of package bees.  We welcome back colonies to the Central District and Capital Hill in Seattle, as well as Smoke Farm.

Throughout the weekend, just when I thought I might take a break and have lunch, my phone would ring.  Hives were swarming!  Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday, as well as last night (Thursday 4/22), were filled with swarm catching.  Michael watched one form from his window on Saturday, and together we caught it without any protective gear.  Kelle helped me catch the swarm on their Blue House and temporarily introduce them to a nuc (a small, five-frame hive for rearing queens and keeping a small swarm).  But the swarm story to be told comes from West Seattle, where Rachael and I found a monster-sized swarm:

The Longfellow Creek Community Garden Swarm.

The call came in on Friday from Jayne.  Jayne Simmons, co-founder of Good Food Gardens, plants lavish healthy gardens in your yard, maintains the Longfellow Creek Community Garden, and makes salves, tinctures and infused oils as Sister Sage Herbs.  She and I had spoken earlier in the year about introducing bees to the Longfellow garden and even teaming up to introduce bees to her garden projects, but I just didn’t have the money to prepare the equipment and purchase bees.  The bees, however, had other intentions and came to her.

I asked Rachael if she would like the honor of catching this swarm, introducing it to a hive, and maintaining it at the Longfellow Garden.  Since my Valentine’s Day post, a lot of people have been wondering if I have introduced Rachael to the bees and if they approve of her.  Well, this was the weekend, and the answer is decidedly yes!

Rachael, aka Lady Awesome, Catches Swarm!

Later that evening, Rachael and Jayne introduced the swarm to a beautifully exposed corner of the Longfellow Garden.  This week ends with three new Women of the Swarm, Kelle, Jayne, and Lady Awesome!

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How a Honeybee Swarm Decides Where to Nest

My friend, Water Buffalo and the Swift Clicks, starts awesome rumors about me, like: “i was talking with my friends about bees and pollen today and you came up. i said you were a troll and that you whisper to the bees in beeish and they do your bidding and all that you sleep curled up in a potato sack underneath the hives and protect the bees from bears.  something like that anyway.”  She doesn’t capitalize and had asked me a while ago in response to my Please, someday enjoy bees over tea entry, “were there female bee keepers in medieval times?”

I haven’t discovered a suitable response to that question, but in the spirit of that question I want to tell you about three remarkable women and their passion for bees:

  1. Annie D. Betts (1884-1961) was an engineer and scientist who worked on aeronautical research during the First World War.  Her contribution to beekeeping history was the discovery of a common fungal disease effecting beehives, Chalk Brood.  She was also involved in the founding of the Apis club in England and served as Editor and President in 1930.  She was known to ride a motorcycle to work.  *
  2. Dorothy Hodges (1898-1979) was an artist and began beekeeping at 42 years of age, acquiring a small colony with no previous experience or handling knowledge.  From there she began drawing and painting bees, especially those carrying pollen loads, and that grew into an avid study of pollen, their seasons of production, color, size and shape, all drawn from images through a microscope.  She is best known for her book, “The Pollen Loads of Honey-bees.” *

    Juliana Rangel-Posada

  3. Juliana Rangel-Posadais is studying swarm behavior at Cornell University Department of Neurobiology and Behavior.  She has recently released a video of the changes inside a hive in the hour before and as a swarm occurs.  Swarming is a vibrant, populous hive splitting off to form a new hive.  She has discovered that a small percentage or oligarchy of bees release a piping sound that instigates the rest of the bees to swarm.  Although we know that swarming is influenced by over-crowding in the hive, the lessening influence of queen pheromone in the hive, and adequate honey and nectar available in the field, what we don’t know is the actual mechanism and trigger through which this event happens.  Her research is cutting edge and awesome to watch:

Video Link: Bee swarms follow ‘pied pipers’

*Information on Annie D. Betts and Dorothy Hodges was gleaned from Great Masters of Beekeeping, Brown, Ron, Bee Books New and Old, Somerset, UK, 1994.

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