Saturday dawned at 21⁰C and peaked at 27⁰C, with the fans and ice water being sufficient for the chicks, so we could attend the kids’ year end concert without worrying too much. They each played a song on acoustic guitar along with their teacher – highly amplified, on stage, with lights and all, like the little rock stars they often imagine they are. But the heat still shunted a few other people’s schedules around. Sam from Geelong Honey Source called at midday to postpone our 4:00pm appointment, as the heat wave and the fires in nearby Little River seriously derailed his schedule. This suited us fine, as Patricia was away for the afternoon, learning to bake macarons.
Sunday was a normal 15⁰C – 22⁰C for Victoria at this time of the year. So around 6:30, after some more delays affected them, Sam and Mel arrived with our two hives. They were already in their bee suits, so we quickly scrambled into ours, with veils, gloves, the works, to start learning on-the-job about bees and bee-keeping. Great was my surprise when I saw Sam wore no veil, no gloves either and he had his bee suit’s sleeves rolled up.
While explaining everything (and more) as he worked, Sam gave one little puff of the smoker near the lid of one of the hives that he transported the bees in. He never touched the smoker again – in fact it had gone out by the time he finished. Using his hive tool, he nonchalantly and very calmly opened the hive and one by one transferred the frames into our hive, showing and explaining everything to us in detail. Very delicately and very calmly he worked with the bees, even touched them, brushed them gently out of the way when he had to and scooped the last ones up to the new hive – all with his fingers and bare hands, and never even getting a single bee agitated in the least. He showed us the combs, nectar, eggs, brood frames, worker bees (by the thousands) and a few boy bees. But one thing eluded him – the queen herself.
Sam searched through all the frames again, but still couldn’t find her. Fearing that she might have gone AWOL during the trip, Mel fetched another queen in a little holder and placed her in the hive. Unfortunately we didn’t take a photo, but it was a very interesting process, as they would have had to “eat” her way out of the little holder for her. The bees calmed down a lot when they smelt the new queen.
He then did the second hive, which had even more comb and more bees. This time he found the queen easily and promptly marked her with a permanent marker. It’s a fascinating process watching him just calmly working with them.
After this he went through the first hive again, still searching for the original queen. He didn’t want to leave the “new” queen in there unnecessarily as they would fight it out to the death if there were two queens in the same hive. You wouldn’t want to waste such a fine specimen just because you were in a hurry. Just as well he did this, because he eventually found her – a sneaky little hideaway she was! (A big beautiful tiger queen, actually.) For her efforts she also got the permanent marker treatment. With a florescent dot on the head, she should be easier to spot in future.
Calmly he emptied both his hives by gently brushing off the last few bees with his fingers, packed up, and explained to us what is to happen over the next two or three weeks. When we were a little way away we quickly wriggled out of our gloves, veils and suits.
We have an interesting little assignment in about two weeks’ time, depending on the weather and the amount of nectar around. (That clover among the Dreamland grass will now fulfil another function, in addition to fixing nitrogen – multi-functional elements, thank you, mr. Mollison.) Did I mention “calmly?” Mmmm, maybe once or twice…. That’s going to have to be our modus operandi for our little assignment. Breathe… Meanwhile the two new bee families lived happily ever after (we hope) in their new homes.