— Guest post by the Queen Bee
Acknowledging that we’ve been remiss in posting our updates, we’ve got a lot to catch you up on.
As I write today’s post, I am reminding myself that as emerging beekeepers, we still have a lot of lessons to learn and that often we must do it the hard way.
About a month ago, I woke up to, “Babe! BABE! Come and see this!!!!”
At that hour in the morning, I figured it had to be a winning lottery ticket or our house was on fire.
Neither was the case, however when I joined him at the bee yard, we saw thousands of bees flying around in a giant bee cloud, just like you see in cartoons. We watched the big brown blur about 5 meters in the air wondering what it was.
“It’s a swarm!!” I said, sadly / hysterically.
We were going to lose all of our bees! Was it one hive? Two hives? Would they come back? Could we catch them?
At that moment, we realized that we actually knew nothing.
They had settled into a giant tree by the bee yard, about 5 meters up, deep in thick of our forest.
That didn’t stop us from running around like chickens with our heads cut off, trying to get them back. I decided I would try to woo them. I laid a blanket down to make space in the bush, set up a new hive and sprayed it with some Hive Alive (Bee superfood) and put little potted plants around it. Gaston contemplated stacking the ladder beside the tree to climb up to shake them off.
We would soon realize how ridiculous our ideas were when we calmed down and decided to do research.
While it is possible to catch swarms, because of where they were located, it simply wouldn’t have been possible for us (without any broken bones anyway). Our only choice was to be sad, knowing that in 2-3 hours the swarm would be gone, having found a new place to build their colony never to return to our bee yard.
Last year we ran double hive boxes, so the ladies had more than enough room to grow. This year we converted to singles because they are easier to manage, but require a different cadence of care and inspections.
A swarm is basically like when your kids come home from University, and then they invite all of their friends to come over and visit and stay. And then your parents come over, with their old crotchety dog that’s half blind and pees on the carpet. And then the in-laws come to stay, and fill the medicine cabinet with all sorts of weird medication.
There is simply not enough room. So you say eff this shit, we are going to stay in a hotel and then you leave.
That’s basically what happens with a single hive box if you don’t give them enough room. The queen bee makes her replacement and then gets the hell out of dodge with about half your colony, leaving them to rebuild to full strength.
So the good news is we didn’t lose all of the bees, the bad news is we lost over half.
We thought we were witnessing the first swarm, unfortunately, it was the last of all of our hives to swarm. Of the 6 colonies we have, 5 had swarmed ☹.
The effect of a swarm is basically a stop in the production line. It’s like all of the worker bees go on strike and there is a time delay until all of the new workers are born. The new queen has to hatch, build up strength, then go on her mating flight – about 14 days until she is laying again. Then the new-bees won’t emerge for another 21 days.
So at the end of the day, we had 5 virgin queens, 1 old queen (we actually killed her off, as she wasn’t producing well) and 2 weeks of waiting before we can get back on track.