Thursday, August 1, 2013

Oh Beehave!

My back is still causing me trouble, but I remembered I've had this post ready to go for a while. I just keep forgetting about it! So here it is.  We had something happen recently that you don't have happen very often. Up until now for us---never. Earlier this summer we were out of town and our son called to say there was a huge bunch of bees on the mulberry tree by our driveway. He was pretty nervous about it. Partly he was kidding, but he has had a paranoia about African Killer Bees since he was a kid. He Googled Killer bees and he swore this bunch on our tree looked just like those. I told him to stay away from them and they wouldn't hurt him and we'd check them out when we got home. It was dark when we got home, so we had a look the next day. It was pretty amazing. It looked like a bag of bees hanging from the tree.

The bag o' bees.
  I looked a couple of things up online and found that this was typical swarming behaviour. Swarming happens when a hive gets too large. Half the bees leave with the queen and start a new colony,while a new queen develops in the old hive.I started calling around to find somebody to remove the bees, which only resulted in being passed from one place to another. The main thing was, I didn't want to kill the bees. Not only because we're vegetarians who don't like to harm living things. But bees are vitally important to humans. Bees pollinate more plants than all other methods combined.It's not just flowers they pollinate.And the Earth is experiencing a bee shortage. I talked to a friend right before I started calling and she said she would just kill the bees. I voiced my concern about the bee shortage and she said, "Not around here." That is one of the most common "famous last words" I can think of. "There's no (Insert problem here.) around here." According to Jim Metz,a nice older man who reminded me of actor George Kennedy, who I finally found to come take the bees, he lost 10 of his 27 hives this spring. "I opened them up and they were empty." He said. "And they were still full of honey. I don't know why they left." So his bees at least didn't die from any disease, which is one of the theories about what's happening to the bees. His loss explains why he was so quick to come get my bees!
    In any case, I thought it was pretty interesting watching him remove the bees. He didn't wear a bee keeper suit, or even gloves.He brought a hive for them. It had some honey in it so the new colony would have something to eat. According to Mr. Metz this hive will start making honey right away, but won't have enough honey to harvest until next year.And to calm those of us who always wondered how the bees survive when their honey is taken,(Calm down Ivy!) Mr Metz said the hive has 5 sections which the bees will fill with honey. They can only eat one section's worth of the honey, so bee keepers usually leave one section and take the other 4 to harvest the honey. Being a nice man, Mr. Metz leaves his bees two sections.
  Unfortunately he accidentally left the bottom board to the hive behind at home. It has a space for them to enter the hive.He had me give him a piece of cardboard to close the bottom, so there was no opening except for the top. This meant it took longer for them to go in.) The hive has a pheromone bait in the top to attract the bees.He backed his truck under the tree they were on, scooted the hive under the bee clump and opened the top of the hive. He just barely touched the limb and the bee clump quivered like a bag of jelly. It really looked weird. He then shook the limb and most of the clump dropped right into the hive. 

The shaking of the limb.

  The queen would have been in the center of the clump for protection, so she was in the first clump collected.We waited for a while as more bees came from the tree to Mr. Metz's hive, their new home. It was taking them a while though because they had already started putting wax on the limb and they were reluctant to leave it.

Only a little bee bag left, but these guys want to stay.

Mr. Metz shook the limb another couple of times and more of what was left of the clump dropped in each time. There were still some stubborn hangers on though, so he finally had to resort to some super stink spray that bees dislike the smell of. He gets it from a bee supply company, but it smells a bit like horse poo in a bottle. He sprayed a couple of pumps of the stinky stuff on the limb to get them to leave it. The stuff was pretty potent. I nearly left too, and I wasn't even on the tree limb!
   That got them off the tree but they were still flying around for a while. He finally said he was going to "fire up the smoker". The 'smoker' is the thing that emits smoke that bee keeper use to calm the bees.

Firing up the Smoker.

  It took about a half an hour in all, but eventually most of the bees got in or onto the hive.  

  He wasn't bothered by the fact that there were bees all over him the whole time. I got a few on me too as I was watching. And note that with all of this going on the only stinging that occurred was one sting on his hand as he was trying to put the top on the hive so he could leave. 
      He drove away slowly at first so the bees who were still just thinking about getting in the hive had a chance to follow him.
  Most people panic around bees, but I have always told my kids, bees don't generally bother you if you don't bother them. Just stay calm. (Hornets on the other hand are a completely different matter! They are very aggressive and will chase you for no reason.) We have a pear tree in our yard and my laundry line runs right underneath it. The bees and I coexist quite happily while the tree is in bloom, or the fruit is dropping. (The fruit also attracts bees, especially as it rots. That's a good reason to keep your fruit picked up.(Another reason is IT'S FRUIT. EAT IT. Don't let it go to waste.And yes, we eat our mulberries too.They make great cobbler!) I learned this lesson a few years ago. We eat our pears straight from the yard, plus I make pear cake, pear bread, pear pancakes, and I can my pears and make pear syrup by adding sugar to the water I boil the pears in..But sometimes there are still some that drop too bug eaten to use.Before I learned that I needed to keep these picked up to avoid attracting insects, I witnessed an amusing scene.When pears rot they ferment, producing alcohol.One year we had a couple of pears land on the bottom of the slide. I didn't move them and soon they began to rot. One day as I was hanging laundry I watched a group of bees eating the rotten fruit. Eventually they became so drunk they could hardly stand up and they began staggering around.I was running a bee bar!
  Mr, Metz told me to give him a call and he'd make sure I get some honey. I think it will be pretty cool to get some honey made by 'our' bees! 

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