And then there were four…bee hives
A few days after our first swarm, we noticed another swarm in the late afternoon. This time it was too late to try and catch them. We followed the progress of the cloud of swirling bees as they moved across our backyard, to the neighbours at the back and then the neighbours at the side, then the national park next door. Good bye bees. The kids were spotting from an upstairs window and I followed the cloud around as it moved. Have you ever watched bees swarming? It is an odd experience. There is a really loud humming and buzzing and there are so many bees flying around. Literally a swirling ‘cloud’. One minute there are hundreds of bees flying in tight circles and the next second there are none. Before you can blink they have moved on.
Sam went to the park to see if he could spot them but had no luck. I was really sad to see so many of my bees leave home. I feel like I have nurtured them all year and then they have just abandoned me without saying good bye. (Yes, I know I didn’t really do anything to ‘nurture’ them, and yes they are only following their genetic programming…but I can’t help but take it personally!)
This is what Sam says to me:
Don’t be too sad mum, at least this is preparing you for when I leave home
My 12-year-old. Hmm. “Thanks darling” I said, “but that really does not help make me feel better”!
The very next morning….another swarm! This time Sam and I caught it beautifully. We rigged up a temporary home for them in a cardboard box (I had been told this would work), and easily caught them all. Feeling very proud of ourselves I headed back to the bee shop to buy yet another box and frames. When I got home…they had all flown away again! They didn’t approve of the cardboard box.
We tried to catch them again. This time it was hotter (always makes me more stressed) and we were short of time. And they were back on the neighbours fence. Yes, the one who does not like bees! Oh dear. Very unsuccessful attempt at catching them. We left it and headed off for kids music lessons. I rang David, the guy who helped me last time. David to the rescue again. He came straight over and had almost finished catching the swarm by the time I got back after dropping the kids off. Yay for the kindness of fellow bee keepers.
So now I have four hives. One strong and three weak hives. I really didn’t want four hives, would have been happier with two strong hives. I am half tempted to try to combine two of the weak hives together. I hear conflicting advice on whether or not this is possible. Should I try, or should I just leave them alone to do what they wanted?
Sam and I opened up the original hive that kept swarming to try to figure out what was going on. Normally a hive will make an extra one or two queens if they are getting ready to swarm. A day or two before the new queen emerges, the old queen leaves with the best worker bees. The new queen kills off any other queens not yet hatched and all is good.
But in our hive we saw about 15 queen cells. About 5 had hatched, accounting for the swarms we had seen, and perhaps some we hadn’t. There were still a lot of unhatched queens so we had to cut off those queen cells. Sam wanted to examine them so we put them on the dining table in the house while we continued our work. When we went back inside, one of the queens had hatched! We were too soft-hearted to kill it off so we took it outside and put it near the hive. This week I have to go back and have a look inside all the hives. Check that the original swarming hive has a functioning queen (and no more queen cells!). Check that my strong hive is not getting any ideas about swarming. And check the new hives to make sure they are doing ok. Four hives in spring is shaping up to be a lot of work. Soon they will need more boxes and more frames…sigh!