Bees swarming!

We live in interesting times indeed - I had three stories ready to go at the same time! The framed chook greens one was basically finished, so it went out, but this is the more exciting one. So on Sunday we went to Micaela’s calisthenics competition on the other side of Melbourne again, and this time we were almost on time... but the real fun started when we got home. Patricia’s parents were walking Jack in the front yard when they spotted two swarms of bees in a bottle brush bush near our hives. It seemed both our hives must have swarmed...

I immediately jumped on the phone to Sam, our mentor from Geelong Honey Source for everything bee-related, but to make matters worse, there was no answer… We went to look at the bees again, and they seemed semi-calm – we really have the calmest bees ever. Anyway, a few tense minutes passed very slowly until Sam’s partner returned our call. He was with his girls at Supertramp but she would go and take over, he would drop everything like a hotcake and rush out to us. It’s as swift as the emergency services! A short while later Sam called to say he was on his way with everything he might need.

Bee - Swarms

Two swarms close together in the bottle brush

We still inspected the hives about two weeks ago, and it all seemed OK, but we have had a few really great spring days recently and everything has exploded into bloom – so the bees have been busy. Too busy, I guess. That’s the thing with the changing of the seasons around these parts – you really have to be on top of things. I personally have been spending all the available time and focus on the chook greens over at Dreamland, and so the bees almost gave us the slip… almost!

Sam arrived half an hour later and he immediately set to work to capture the two swarms. Without any veil or glove, he started gently taking handfuls of bees from the easiest to reach swarm and dropped them into the first of the two nuke hives he had brought with. We quickly realised that would take too long with sunset approaching fast, so we made the call and I ran to get the large secateurs. We would rather sacrifice a few branches and save the bees. Once he had the swarm on a loose branch, it was much easier to drop them at the hive’s entrance. It was amazing to watch them all marching into the hive as if they belonged there! Sam reckoned their queen must already have been dropped in there with the first few handfuls.

Sam transferring the first batches of bees

For the second swarm he used a different approach. He removed a few frames from the nuke, we cut the branch again and he promptly dropped most of them straight into the cavity. He then slotted the frames over them to get them to settle.

I was so interested in watching Sam closely, I didn’t pay attention to what I was doing. I leaned forward to try and spot the queen between the mass of bees and in the process put my hands just above my knees, as you do. Without looking, of course, as you do. Unfortunately there must have been a bee sitting right there, so it got squashed and I got stung… my first sting since we’ve had the bees. Like all other bites and stings – well I know about mosquitoes and bull ants – after a day or two it’s swelling up grossly and it will be a few days before it will ooze and then eventually subside. Oh well, careless, so you learn.

Bee - Sam saving swarm 3

Dropping in

While the first swarm still marched into their nuke, we went to inspect our two hives. There was so much less activity, but still a lot of bees around. This was the first time I had ever seen Sam put a veil on. He reckoned a queen-less swarm can become very restless very easily, so he didn’t want to take any chances. Anyway, we inspected the hives as it was getting darker and darker. There were quite a lot of queen cells, but they weren’t developed enough for Sam to take new queens from. We heard the sound a queen typically makes, but we couldn’t find her. We found one wax moth and got rid of it. The chooks got a bonus bowl of wax and drone larvae for the next day.

In the second hive we got a pleasant surprise! There were 3 frames with enough capped honey that Sam recommended we could remove. So we replaced those frames with empty ones and closed them up as it became too dark to see what we were doing. It’s great to have a fresh honey supply so early in the season.

Sam left with the two nukes to get them settled at their breeding farm – more than an hour away, which he still had to drive to from our place.  But now it’s a big debate at home… I want to get the hives back once they have settled and start two more hives, but Patricia is more cautious and only wants the two left-over hives to work on. We clearly have enough food and water to sustain them (but more about that in the other story that I already have ready). I just reckon those are “our” bees, we’ve raised them, we know how calm and how productive they are – we really should make use of the opportunity to extend our farm. I know it’s double the work, but the bees only take up a small percentage of the time that the chooks, vegetables, composting and de-kikuying takes. Besides, Mr Mollison said we should obtain a yield! Anyway, the debate rages on.

About (207 Articles)
My name is Martin Rennhackkamp, I now live happily in Lara, Victoria, Australia with my wife, two children and two dogs. My interests, apart from the obvious Organic, Biodynamic and Permaculture Gardening and Farming, include sustainable living, surfing, horse-riding, a wide variety of music, dancing, nature, birds, reading, Christianity and a few other things which I never get to...

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