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A bee swarm!

October 8, 2012

It’s been so long since I gave you an update on our bees…and so much has happened. I joined our local bee keepers association earlier this year and have learned so much from them. We also acquired a second hive from a member who was relocating to Queensland and looking to find a new home for his new hive. Sam was delighted that we bought the hive for him – very proud to be an official bee keeper. The new hive has golden Italian bees which are a lot more yellow than our Caucasian bees which are a dark brown. It’s been fascinating having the two different breeds to compare and we are able to compare the behaviour of the two breeds. Sam’s bees are very inquisitive and quite territorial – if we are out in the backyard, a few scout bees will come over to check out what we are doing. They will circle around us and often drive us away just by being a nuisance. My bees are really placid – unless you walk into their flight path they will just happily ignore you and get on with their own stuff.

And we discovered another trait of Sam’s bees this last week – they like to swarm! On the Friday before the long weekend it was a really hot day and we noticed a lot of bees hanging around outside my hive. Fearing an imminent swarm, Sam and I quickly got our spare box out, cleaned and added wax sheets to the frames, and popped the box onto the hive to give the bees some more space. This is what they looked like after we had added the extra box.

The next morning, just as we were getting ready to leave for a weekend away, the kids noticed a ‘cloud’ of bees hanging around the neighbour’s fence at the back of our property. Yes, the neighbour who is terrified of and hates bees! After watching them for a few minutes I realised that it was a swarm…from Sam’s hive (that colour difference is handy!). I tried calling my friend Russell who has been my bee keeping teacher/counsellor no answer. Tried calling a few contacts from the local bee keeping society, also no answer. Finally I got one of them on the phone. He was also just about to leave for the weekend but offered to lend me some of his equipment. On my way to his place (stuck in long weekend traffic), I decided to stop at the beekeeping supplies shop and buy another bee box, etc. While waiting I started talking to another customer in the shop and told him that I was facing my first swarm and was totally worried (panicked if truth be told) about how I was going to manage it. He offered to come and help me with it – how incredibly generous of him! Particularly since I said he would have to come over straight away since we were already late for heading off on our weekend trip.

Spring is peak bee swarming season. They swarm when the nectar flow is strong and they start to run out of room in the hive. It is also a genetic thing as they want to procreate and increase their numbers. The bees start making a new queen (by feeding up one of the larvae with royal jelly). A day or two before the new queen emerges, the old queen takes all the best workers from the hive and heads out. They settle close by for between 1 to 24 hours while scout bees go out to look for a new home. As soon as the new home is found, they head off. So when you spot a hive, you have to work fast if you want to catch it. When the bees are swarming they initially are a big buzzing cloud of bees flying around in what looks like a frenzied circle. Then they settle down into a calm little cluster – hanging on to each others bodies to form this ‘cluster’. Swarming bees are at their most gentle and are highly unlikely to sting you. They have filled their bellies with honey from the old hive to last them for the journey and to help start their new home. Their bellies are too full for aggression!

I was particularly worried since my neighbour had parked his car right next to the spot where the bees had swarmed. If he had seen them, I feared he would have his own little mental swarm and melt down! David, the guy who came to help me, was amazing. He was so calm and confident…and gentle…he managed to capture the whole hive without a single bee getting squashed or lost. We shook the bees off the branch into the new bee box. A frame of honey from the old hive was added to the box to tempt them into the box and keep them there. Luckily we got the queen in that first shake as slowly the rest of the bees climbed into the box via the bee entrance.

Then we were a three hive family! This one is for Tara.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. October 8, 2012 12:51 PM

    I would think bee-keeping would be a very tricky business but you see to be taking it all in your stride. I would love to keep bees because having access to that honey would be amazing xx

  2. October 11, 2012 12:37 AM

    Here in the UK we are past swarm season, but it was a hellish one, at least for us! And, yes, bees are like pets in that they seem to gravitate towards the people who will be most freaked out by them. Good work, though!

  3. Charlton Estate Trust permalink
    October 12, 2012 8:08 PM

    Wow! great photos!

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