Busy bee weekend

Our bees seem to have a thing for weekends. About three weeks ago they swarmed on a Sunday and our mentor Sam had to make plans with his girls to rush out to us to save them. Then two weekends ago they went on a big mating flight, scaring the heebie-jeebies out of us as we thought they were swarming again. Well this past weekend was no exception.

Since the last swarming we had checked the hives with Sam and he removed all the queen cells, just leaving one in each hive. We also created additional space in the one hive. So in theory they should have been OK, and Sam’s instructions were to check a week and a half after the mating flight again. We should then start seeing brood if the queen started laying.

However, only a week later, on Saturday morning after a celebratory cake and tea for Patricia’s recent birthday, just as I was getting ready for some serious hard labour on the vegetable beds, Patricia’s mom called me. The bees had swarmed again! The one swarm was packed on the bird bath. I jumped onto the phone to Sam, as you do… only to receive no answer. So I just kept an eye on them and went on with the vegetable beds. It wasn’t an hour later when they noticed a second swarm in the same bottle brush bush as where they had swarmed to the previous time.

Bees - swarm

So I took photos, sent them to Sam and jumped on the phone again. This time he answered, but he had his daughter’s birthday party on and then he was booked to remove two swarms from wall cavities. Because I didn’t have a spare hive, he gave me some instructions how to capture the swarm in a cardboard box and I was left to my own devices. Well, I did have Patricia’s dad as camera man. He’s quite fearless, or maybe he trusts our bees even more than we do. He only had a flimsy veil on, his normal clothes (and it was quite a warm day so they weren’t too thick either) and his favourite open crocks.

In the time I got everything ready, the swarm on the birdbath up and left in a swirling buzzing whoosh. Well there goes a tame placid queen I still thought… Anyway, I fabricated something that resembled a nuke hive from a chook feeder cardboard box. Handy to keep some of these things and not shred them all for compost. I am no Sam, so I donned a full bee suit with gloves for my first swarm capture. Better safe than sorry. Just as well, because I had to sever the branch with the large secateurs using only one hand, while I held the branch with the other. Of course the inevitable happened and the secateurs moved as I cut, so I didn’t cut the branch clean off, and as a result, it half-fell with a jerk. The bees weren’t too happy! Anyway, juggling the large secateurs with one hand, I hastily repeated the process and the got branch off. I shook what must have been about ¾ of the swarm off with a gentle but firm shake – straight into the box. Before they could think of escaping I closed lid, folding the one flap over the other and tucking in the last one, as you do. Little did I know I was going to regret that approach a bit later… The majority of the rest of the bees seemed to march through the slit I had cut into the box, so I left them to their devices.

Spaceman putting the bees in a box

Next I jumped on the phone to John Webb, another bee supplier in our area. Again no answer… what is it with these bee guys over weekends? In fact, I knew what it was – it’s swarming season so they are all super busy. Anyway, I did a few loads of soil from the veg garden beds, while guiding Micaela to feed Ricky, the neighbours’ neglected horse, as well as the two Wyandotte hens who were “working” in the tractor in the vegetable garden. Time came to fetch Markus from a “band practice play date”, so I cleaned up and phoned John again as I rushed to get Markus. John had what I needed, so I left Markus to play a bit longer and went to pick up some hive “spare parts” from John first. This time I have learnt my lesson. Instead of getting enough parts to make one additional hive, I got enough to make two. You just never know when you may need it. It’s way easier to have it ready in the shed than having to rush around trying to get stuff – especially over a weekend, as it seems to work with our bees.

Bees - new hive parts

Preparing the spare hive for service

So back at home we sorted out the bee stuff from between the amps and guitars and quickly set to work. This time Patricia was home so we could work together, again with our brave camera man on his post. I quickly set up the new hive, left a few frames open and set to transfer the box into the new hive, while Patricia was handling the smoker and helping wherever was needed. She very good with the bees too – very calm, steady and caring. But that’s when I realised the errors of my ways. Try opening a box, upside down, when the lids are folded in and tucked in, and the whole swarm is stuck to the lids! So after some funny contortions around the box, we dropped most of the swarm into the hive. Note to self – if you ever have to do this again, NEVER fold the lids in! Anyway we put the remaining frames in and closed the lid. Easy we thought, we captured our first swarm. Well… not so easy, tiger!

Spaceman transferring the swarm from the box to the hive

We were still preparing to inspect the other two hives, when most of the swarm relocated themselves out of the hive back to the area where the box was. It’s literally only about 15m away, but off they went, in mass. Maybe their queen was still there, but we thought she would have been in the box, or maybe they must have had some homing beacon there after being in the box in that area for three to four hours. Luckily most of them settled on the loose branch again, with the remainder on the ground around it. Luckily Patricia had a quick brainwave. Let’s mimic what Sam did last time with the nuke hive, she reckoned. So we moved the new hive to that area, dumped them off the branch back into the hive (again) and it wasn’t 3 minutes later that we saw the mass on the ground moving towards the hive’s entrance.

While they were moving in, we went and inspected the other two hives. The one was chockers with honey – capped and uncapped – but there wasn’t a single cell open for a queen to lay in, and no brood either, so that is why they must have swarmed. And just a week ago there was still tons of space. So we added another super. The other hive still had a lot of open cells and even frames they haven’t developed yet, as that is the one we harvested three frames from just three weeks ago. By the time we finished the inspection, the deserters were still marching in, so we decided to leave them be and move the hive later.

See, we had other plans too – we had to leave for an evening festival at Turtle Bend reserve out in Teesdale (a small little country town about 30 minutes away) especially since we had grandad and grammy as willing child minders for the evening. Since I regularly surf with the band leader / guitarist, we’ve been trying to get to a performance of Los Locos, a latin / salsa band from the Surf Coast, many a time. (For some bizarre reason he calls me Chris…) Well this time we got it right – and we weren’t disappointed. They rocked the festival as dusk was setting and we had to try and remember all our salsa steps on the fly. They played some really great songs – highly recommended – there’s just something special about live music, especially of this calibre! Anyway, when we dragged our tired feet back home later, I quickly moved the hive to the placed we had prepared next to the other hives, where they are protected from the harsh summer sun and they have a good flight path to the east. The approach seem to have worked, as on Sunday and this morning their flight patterns seemed very normal – well to my beginner beekeeper eyes they were. Let’s hope it stays like that.

Bees - and then there were three

And then there were three…



About martin@muchmoremulch.blog (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...

2 Comments on Busy bee weekend

  1. Nice reading! I am almost there to try to attract some bees here in the desert, with my colleague and friend. He lives out there. We had found a guy who makes hives for a living, and with autumn coming it would seem the best time to try this. Thanx for the inspiration!

    • martin@muchmoremulch.blog // October 16, 2019 at 7:42 am // Reply

      Thanks B. If your winters are pretty cold they would need enough food (their own honey) to keep them warm and fed through winter. Our winter is a bit colder than Cape Town for a comparison and here they need that. Of course if it’s warmer, they work through – then they may need shade (not blocking their flight path) and NB water over summer. Well, they always need access to water. They’re fascinating!

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