_Okay, so I was totally lame and hadn't attended an open bee yard hosted by the Mecklenburg Beekeepers Association. An open bee yard is when an experienced beekeeper invites newbees to come and observe his or her hives. I had visited my friend, Hernan and his hives several times but hadn't gone to an official MBA open bee yard.
So last weekend I went to the last one of the season, hosted by Mr. Bill Bishop. He is one of the original MBA members and has been keeping bees for some 55 years. Mr. Bishop was the first beekeeper in the Carolinas to have Russian bees. He worked with the USDA, as it studied Russian bees in the U.S. some years ago. Russian bees are a little smaller and darker than the common Italian variety ... a little more gray in color, and they have different habits. One of which is that they are naturally resistant to the Varroa mite, which is a nasty little critter that can suck bees dry and ruin a hive. The Varroas are everywhere so sign me up for Russian bees! I am in awe of Mr. Bishop's knowledge and inspired by his no-chemical approach. It is definitely the way I want to keep bees. So I made a trip out to Mr. Bishop's yard. As soon as I pulled up one of his associates, a beekeeper from Louisiana named James said, "You just missed a swarm!" I quickly suited up and followed Mr. Bishop, several bee school students, and the MBA's president George McAllister to the swarm.
When bees swarm, it is a coordinated event following many days of planning on the bees' part. Usually the swarm heads to a temporary location such as a nearby tree branch, before their final destination. Somewhere deep inside this ball of bees, is the queen. Below, George gets his hand on the branch where the swarm landed.
_George sprayed the swarm with a bit of sugar syrup to keep the bees happy and calm. It keeps them from flying about and gives them a bit of food to digest while someone below gingerly prunes off the little branch holding this swarm.
With pruned branch in hand George walks carefully, hoping not to stumble, while another excited student takes a photo.
_Bill had a small hive box or "nuc" (short for "nucleus colony"), ready to accept the swarm. He put the nuc on a plastic tray in the yard. Here, Bill shows George how to tap down the bees from the branch, onto the tray and at the nuc's entrance.
"Bam!" George does just that in one swift motion. They all are bumped off the branch at the doorstep of their new home.
_The tray and bottom board of the hive was filled with bees. Instantly they smelled the wax foundation and started to venture in. So did the young queen. We watched her go in ... and out ... and in .... and back out again of the nuc's entrance. We wondered if she'd accept the new home. Here you can see the orderly mass.
Mr. Bishop advised that all was well even though these Russians took their own sweet time going into the box. It took a couple of hours. But apparently that is another trait of Russians. They are NOT in a hurry ... except when they say so. Bill kept telling us that the bees were inside re-arranging the "furniture" in their new house, getting things juuuuuust right for their young queen to come in and set up home.
_It was a magical moment and gave Bill plenty of time to give us his wisdom on bees, Russians in particular. I wasted no time asking one question after another. I learned a ton. Bill showed us how he stores equipment, without the use of chemicals, which prevent wax moths from destroying it all. Because he doesn't use chemicals, he had equipment at the ready for such an occasion as a swarm.This bit of knowledge wasn't lost on me! In this photo, you can see that about a third of the bees have entered the nuc.
And about two hours later, just a handful of bees remain outside the box and at the entrance. Success!!!
_While the Russians were setting up house other mentors were busy showing us newbees the ropes. Here mentor Jimmy Odom opens a hive au naturale. He shared a lot of information with with us. I got a kick out of seeing all of us newbees suited up head to toe while Jimmy opened up a box of bees with no protective gear whatsoever.
Here, Jimmy stresses the finer points of beekeeping. All in all, my open bee yard experience was really magical thanks to the mentors from the Mecklenburg Beekeepers Association who made it possible. I truly can't wait to give back in the coming years.
Tom Davidson is the owner and beekeeper at T's Bees.
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