Day before yesterday I was up in the bee yard looking through the hives to check on the supers. It’s that time of year when these girls are extremely busy and they’re filling those supers quickly with honey. After looking through the hives, I needed to add two more supers.
I noticed in two of the hives that the bees were a little more “frantic” than usual and the front porch of the hive was covered with bees. In the larger hive, the bees had actually gone above the the inner lid. I knew what these signs probably meant but I checked with Bill ( my mentor) to be sure. Yep, just as I thought – signs for swarming.
I went through the brood box of the smaller hive and found several queens cells which were capped and ready to go – which probably meant 1/2 my hive was ready to go!
I only had the next day to do anything about this situation since I was going to be in a conference the next day. Problem – the only day I had to work the bees, they were predicting severe thunderstorms for most of the day. Bummer. Rain and clouds and storms are lousy for bees and they’re not happy if you try and work them on days like that.
Woke to rain and thunder and lightening. About 10am, I walked in the rain up to the bee yard to see what was happening.
Good, the front porch was fairly empty. If a hive decides to leave, there really isn’t much that will stop them – not even thunderstorms.
While I was waiting for the rain to subside, I was frantically getting frames built to put inside two more brood boxes and constantly checking the radar to see where the storms were headed.
Here was the plan: I would need to find the queen in each hive and transfer her to a new brood box. After she was moved, I’d then need to transfer about half the hive of bees to the new box, simulating a swarm.
Sounded easy enough but I’m not very good at finding the queen. I usually just look for new brood eggs to determine if the queen is still around.
The other factor working against me was the weather and the time of day. The storms lasted longer than I thought and we didn’t get to the bee yard till about 4pm. That’s kind of late even on a day when they’re flying.
At 3p, I called Bill to double check the plan.
“Bill? It’s really okay to work your bees in the rain?”
“Sure, you can work your bees any time….BUT…”
I knew the “but” was not going to be good news.
“…just remember that if it’s raining, they’re ALL going to be home. And because they’re not flying and doing what they’re supposed to be doing, those girls are really not going to be happy.”
“Thanks, Bill, for the reminder.”
Bill’s last words of advice to me, “Cyndi, use LOTS of smoke.”
Now, I try to make it a habit to share these learning experiences with others. 🙂
Danny is part of our Beekeeping Series here at the farm and he gleefully offered to help me out if I wanted his help. Help?? Are you kidding? I just wanted another body up there with me for moral support who could also dial 911 – this was going to be one of the “nuttier” things I’d done recently and another human being alongside would be a great comfort! Little did Danny know what he was getting himself into. He kept telling me thanks for the experience. I didn’t have the heart or guts to tell him he might be cursing me when this “experience” was over.
We finally gathered all the equipment – brood boxes and frames, 2 smokers, lighters, bee brush and hive tool, extra clothing and a lot of nerve!
I asked Danny if he would be in charge of keeping the smokers going. According to Bill, those smokers could mean the difference between life and death. It was a challenge because all the pine needles were wet.
I took the lid off of the smaller hive first. My plan was to go through each frame and try to find the queen. This box had an unmarked queen.
I was wearing coveralls over my pants and shirt and on top of the coveralls I had on a hooded jacket. Needless to say, I was sweating like crazy. At one point, I wiped my face and got sweat on the netting in front of my face, right in front of my eyes. That made it even more difficult to find that darn queen.
I went through all the frames and could NOT find the queen. It had started to rain again and Danny was standing behind me holding a very large golf umbrella, trying to keep the water from getting into the hive.
“Danny, I can’t find her. I’m just going to separate the hive. I’ll put some brood frames in both boxes and queen cells in both and I’ll let them figure it out.”
I started sorting frames and noticed that the new box was really calm. It didn’t matter to them that I was messing up their lives. The original box was livid and flying everywhere!
“Danny, I think she’s in this new box. Look how the bees are behaving. I’m going to assume she’s in there and move out the queen cells.”
I took out the first frame and looked…right in plain sight was the queen. I was so excited – one because I’d guessed correctly and two because I could now confidently remove all the queen cells. We’d be able to simulate a swarm and hopefully that would keep either hive from swarming this year.
Once the original hive and new hive were all put back together, I moved over to the larger hive. This one was going to be a challenge for sure. The girls in this hive had decided they didn’t like the front door so they’d created a back door…in the middle of the hive. There was brood up and down in this one. Ugh!! And there were so many more bees to contend with and they were more aggressive.
Danny was having a time trying to keep the smokers lit but it was crucial to our success of not being stung so much. Danny had already been stung in the hand. So far, so good for me. Until…
Molly, my Border Collie follows me all over the farm. Doesn’t matter to her what chores I’m doing, she’s right beside me – even on this day when I was dealing with thousands of angry bees. Remember, she’s black and white, mostly black. A few bees got in her fur and she started running frantically around and shaking. Bees don’t like rapid movement, or black, or rain, or cloudy days, or people messing with their hives. Molly was doomed. As a last resort, she ran in between my legs while I had this huge hive open. There were bees all over her. I put down my hive tool and ran up to the gate, calling for Molly. Poor Danny, I left him standing with a smoker in his hand and the air filled with angry buzzing bees. Thank goodness for the smoke!
I took Molly back to the house. She wouldn’t come to me because she kept trying to get away from the bees. I cornered her on the back deck and kept rubbing my gloved hands all over her back but it was fruitless. I finally asked one of the kids to hand me her brush. Her entire coat was buzzing. I brushed and brushed until finally the buzzing stopped. I felt so badly for her cuz I knew she’d been stung quite a few times. I had one of the kids call a friend of mine who’s a vet tech and ask what we could give her. Benadryl. Mollie was really calm and mellow the rest of the evening 🙂
Okay, back to the bee yard. I took a pair of gloves for Danny. The rain had subsided and it was a little lighter out. The bees had calmed down somewhat and we were back in business.
Going through each of the frames in this hive was going to be a real chore. I looked for the newest eggs and started there, frame by frame. It didn’t take me long and I found the queen. She’s a marked queen so it made it a little easier to spot her. She was on a super frame but I wasn’t about to remove her from it so I moved the frame to the new brood box.
Next, I had to get a lot of bees into the new box.
“Danny, I need to shake bees.”
“Shake them? What do you mean?
“Well, I’m going to take out some frames and bang on them really hard so the bees fall into this new box.”
“Yep and if you wouldn’t mind, would you please open the lid while I shake them, replace the lid afterwards and then smoke them?”
Danny was so trusting! And efficient and fearless! If the bees weren’t angry before, they were really angry now. Eventually, we had a sufficient number in the new box.
Because I am who I am, I turned to Danny and said, “since I have the hive already open, let’s see what they’re doing down in the brood box.”
I’d now been all through this old hive and realized at some point I was going to have to fix the entrance so they would start flying in through the bottom. Coming in through the middle of the hive was creating a mess. There was brood all over the place including the supers and I didn’t want baby bees mixed in with my honey. But I would deal with that another day…
Now it was time to put everything back together and clean up the bee yard. We’d been at this for 2 hours but we’d been successful and that felt very good! And Danny was still my friend 🙂 He said he was a visual, hands-on learner and he’d learned a lot that day.
“Note to self: be very careful to offer help when Cyndi has a farm situation!”
We loaded the 2 new hives into the back of the truck. I’d taped the entrances shut prior to putting the new bees into them. I needed to move them at least 3 miles away from the farm. I called a friend who has a farm about 30 miles away and she said sure!
The next morning I was up early and drove the bees out to their new home. As I untaped the front, a few of the girls came out spittin’ mad. But once they realized this new place was going to be fabulous, I swear I heard them say thank you as they flew off to the pasture full of white clover.
This was by far the most difficult task I’d done with my bees. There was great satisfaction in knowing Danny and I had succeeded in splitting the two hives before they swarmed. I realized that those 2 hours of work had saved me $200 worth of bees. And the knowledge gained for both me and Danny….priceless 🙂