Right now, more than ever, my bees are teaching me that no matter the season, the situation or trials, life goes on. Survivors find a way, together. Right before everyone's lives were upended with the COVID-19 pandemic, I opened up my first hives in late February. When I pulled off the first cover, and saw new wax peeking out from underneath the oxalic acid glycerin sheets, I knew that it was time to get that equipment ready for the spring to come.
I had to go visit my relatives in north central Florida all of a sudden, and while down there I was amazing at the magnitude of spring's blossoms. This decades-neglected azalea at my father-in-law's house was testament.
I was relieved that no matter how much our world may change, and how fragile that is, that the honey bees remain constant and always in tune with nature. Once I returned home and had that first inspection of the year, I smiled when I was rewarded a sting on my right thumb and my left pinkie. I do love getting those first stings out of the way! Those just made it worthwhile when I saw this beautiful queen, and her laying patterns coming out of winter.
I quickly gloved up and went on about my business, beginning the frame-by-frame cleanup and taking stock of the state of my hives. Now, with the world upside down right now, I am taking stock on all the things that are simply right side up, so to speak. These are the gifts we often overlook each and every day. There is no better season to realize what you've been overlooking for so long. Enjoy each day. Smell the flowers now in bloom, don't just pass them by. And bee well. Hello, 2020, nice to make your acquaintance. So far, you're not what I expected. But, life goes on.
Pollen is starting to come in at a rapid pace, and with a bank holiday of President's Day, I pulled the first frames of the new year. It was a good thing, because my nuc's had lots to show me. First off, they'd strengthened over the winter from when I last left them.
New wax is a beautiful sight to behold, especially in February. It means that the bees are doing fantastic, and could use some more room. When I see new wax, I know that the queen is laying, because young bees make new wax. And they also make wax when they need extra places to store food and lay eggs.
This nuc queen laid in every cell she had. So I doubled her room and gifted the colony some frames of drawn comb. It was great to see no Varroa mites in these cells. My winter oxalic treatment apparently has done the bees well.
And voila, the first frame of brood for 2018. It's a glorious sight to see a pretty rock solid brood pattern this early in the season, and the queens raring to go. There was no sign of drone cells on this President's Day, so I've got a small window to prep for swarm season. But that's only a couple weeks away. Hello, 2018!
So far I've collected 8 swarms this spring (one of them twice). Honey bees have kept me running, with a big smile the whole time. After the excitement of my first swarm, I heard a commotion from my bedroom window one morning, went out to the apiary to discover another swarm had settled on a blueberry bush outside the hives. I collected this one in a temporary box, but while inspecting another hive it absconded. Lesson learned: once in a temporary hive, move them to their new digs as soon as possible.
My friend George came over to buy some queenless nucs. My hives are boiling over, so it was easy to accommodate. In this hive there was no brood but plenty of capped queen cells. This one had already swarmed out on me, yet still it was boiling over with bees.
Then a third swarm happened. I grabbed a metal pan and sieve that I use for wax processing and began tanging away. I directed this lovely 6-pounder to a holly bush. All told I've now tanged 4 swarms onto low bushes in my backyard, keeping them out of the trees. I'm a believer!
It was a beauty, and a joy to collect and has settled back in nicely in my apiary.
I've learned the joys of having extra nuc boxes not only around, but ready to go, as well as extra frames and foundation. Quickly I ran out. Thanks to my dear friend and fellow beekeeper Rod, I was able to keep up with all of these swarms and hive them. Saving the honey bees is a wonderful, miraculous thing. But you have to be prepared. I was more successful over-wintering my bees than even I'd anticipated, with 8 of 9 not only making it but expanding over winter. Each season I think I'm prepared and find myself making a list of things I'll do better next winter!
The fence became a popular swarm spot. I think it's the leftover pheromones from the first swarm, along with sugar water and the yellow bells that make it a popular stop. I have that Tibetan singing bowl, a sheet and an extra box ready to go. The swarm collected in this box absconded out of the box the next morning, then swarmed back onto the fence, then all at once descended onto and into another hive that had a virgin queen in it! It was the most bizarre and crazy thing I've seen to date from my honey bees.
Here is that virgin queen, freshly hatched out. I saw an open queen cell then noticed her walking on my hand and soon onto my hive tool. I gently put her back inside as she'd just emerged. I don't know if she made it when the other swarm took over this box for two days, but I'm hopeful. Time will tell.
Here's the other swarm marching in after they descended onto this little nuc box for a couple of days.
A huge 8-pound swarm was collected on the bushes behind my apiary. Then the next day I snagged this 5-pounder off my neighbor's bushes. This is a borrowed nuc box, stand with slatted rack and feeder that Rod loaned me, being a hero to the honey bee in the process. Thank you, Rod!!! I've also found that using a sheet helps speed up a swarm in finding their way to the hive box, instead of getting lost among all the grass blades, twigs and such.
This is the front of the hive I made a queenless nuc out of that had tons of swarm cells on it. One day it seemed every bee came outside. I thought for sure it was another swarm. But no, they went back inside. I think this may have been a send-off party for a virgin queen making her first orientation or mating flight. What an amazing spring this has been and it just started!
A day later I greeted the day watching swarm #8 emanate out of the virgin queen nuc box it had over-taken a couple days prior. My eye saw her in the morning sun, that big beautiful amber queen had landed on the bushes. I quickly snagged her with my queen catcher. It pays to have your equipment at the ready! I sprayed her and her attendants a little with sugar water.
I gently placed her inside by opening the clip above a frame and allowing her to exit and enter the hive. This swarm was HUGE. They're all safely settled back into my apiary. Yes, I've been making splits the hard way this spring, by chasing swarms all over the place. Next year I'll do a better job by checker-boarding all of my hives with empty frames and foundation BEFORE they swarm out.
I put an old political sign down as a ramp from the bush to the entrance of the hive where the queen was housed. In they walked. But this swarm was so large I had to scoop 6 or 7 times off the bushes with a cut-off ice tea jug top and handle and dump the bees onto the landing board. In all it took about 2 hours before the entire swarm was housed and walked back to the apiary.
Recently I was laid off from my corporate job, which is scary. But instead of being stuck inside a windowless, dank grey cubicle I've been allowed to be a part of daily miracles from these bountiful honey bees this spring. I'm selling nucs this year, and apparently more than I'd initially anticipated. And wow, am I having fun learning what God and the honey bees have in store for me. I'm just taking it all one swarm and day at a time.
Tom Davidson is the owner and beekeeper at T's Bees.
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