Saturday, July 27, 2013

Buddha Bees

Buddha Knob
This lovely Saturday morning, we got up at 5 AM to rescue bees.  Apparently we've given up being night owls by any stretch and instead find our thrills in that golden dawning light trying to beat the bees to consciousness.  With Joey's newly installed Buddha gear shift, we drove the hour and a half to the retreat, Odiyan, which looks like a mandala from a satellite perspective but is surrounded by tall fences and razor wire on the ground.  The bees found a perfect location in a wooden hose box in the garden.  Someone lifted the lid recently and caused their comb to collapse on itself, but the bees persevered regardless.  They were grumpy to be disturbed again, but we removed their comb into our frames and guided the bees back into our box with smoke and without too many stings (except through the veil!).
After- All the comb is inside our box even if all the bees aren't.. yet
  We decided to leave them there for the week to give them time to repair the comb and move into our box completely.  On the way to the bathroom, we passed a pond where I found my newest inspiration, the coot: well named and even better footed.  I never before noticed the odd lumps so different from a duck's webbing.  This may be another creature I end up decorating my own house with because I find them more fascinating than apparently anyone else does (like the dragon wrasse, the juvenile drum fish, the unicorn fish....) but I will persevere with yet another form of reckless abandon and paint coots!  Hope someone else out there loves them too!

 My new subject matter (conveniently in black and white) : The Coot.  You have to love those crazy feet!

Monday, July 8, 2013

Sometimes it's best to walk away...

     For the past few years we have been working with an apartment complex that always attracts bees.  This year they took us up on the suggestion of leaving bait hives on the roof of the building, near where we extracted bees previously.  Early in the spring, with clockwork simplicity, we collected two swarms in them.
This swarm is approx 4' wide
      Then our bee-enthusiast contact, John, called me about a "gigantic" swarm hanging on a tree at the entrance. Piggybacking on his enthusiasm, and needing a break from painting, I asked my neighbor Steve if he was up for an adventure.  He grabbed his camera and we crossed town to what we assumed would be an easy job.
First attempt
     John said he had a ladder set up and caution taped up the space.  It was a 3-legged, 15 foot orchard ladder and the hive was still 8 feet above it.  First I tried to attach the box to the top of the ladder and pull the branch down so I could shake the bees in it.  But I had no maneuverability and the branch wouldn't move.
     So we put the box on a white sheet on the ground (to help the crawling bees not get lost in other debris) and we rigged up a scoop at the end of a paint roller extension and we began whittling down the swarm, two cups at a time.  And it was a big swarm, possibly double-queened.  I would fill the scoop and pass the apparatus down to John's assistant and she emptied it on the sheet in front of the entrance to the bee box.  Luckily, on the second or third scoop, I apparently grabbed the queen because they began that adorable marching behavior, identical orientation and military-neat formation.  Each subsequent scoop followed suit.
The mesmerizing behavior when they know where their queen is
And that's the addicting part that keeps me going up ladders I shouldn't, over a skull-smashing pavement that should have deterred me, in swooning heat and falling perturbed bees who only naturally stung whatever was still exposed (my wrists).  The excitement and enthusiasm of a teeming group of people, in addition to the bees,  distracted us from the real danger I was putting myself in.  It's another version of what Joey calls my "reckless abandon" which usually refers to wild leaps while snowboarding on powdery soft days.  I was lucky this time
     We captured about 2/3 of the hive, but the rest stubbornly clung to the branch far out of reach no matter how much I shook it with an extension trimmer/saw or practically barbequed them with smoke in a can on that handy painter's extension pole.
Trying to smoke them off the branch
    After two hours, we went home with the majority, only fully grasping, as we were putting away our refuse, that I really should have done just that: Refuse to go up that ladder.  I'll admit it was fun and I have since verified that we got a queen and they are perfectly happy in our apiary.  BUT, I really should have taken my own safety into account.  There's a reason Joey is so hesitant about taking on a new bee job.
     Somebody has to.
     Who knows, maybe they would have moved into one of our bait boxes if we'd given them a few more hours, or at least moved on somewhere else like the ones I left behind did......

Follow up: The ones I left behind moved into the building and were very harassed and uncooperative about staying in our box on removal.  no easy solutions.