Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Summer of Bees

When we first checked this situation out, the bees were just exploring.. visiting in small groups and taking the building's measure.  A week later we got the call that, "the queen is here!"  In fact, two separate queens moved in.
1. Drilling a hole through the plywood on the inside, Joey located the hives using a boroscope

2. Cutting the white plywood a prying open

3. Half the hive attached to the plywood

4. The other half of the hive in the bay
 We smoked them lightly to assure calmness, but they still behaved like a swarm when they were exposed: calm, disinterested, and nicely clumped together.
     I scooped bees and cut the fresh comb so Joey could fit it into empty frames, temporarily holding them in place with rubber bands (in a few days, once the bees have attached the comb to the wood, they will dispose of the rubber bands)
5. Exposing the second hive

6. Hive #2 revealed and new box in place

7. Slightly smaller second hive

Following the same procedure as the first hive, I cut and scooped while Joey prepared the comb for the new hive.  We verified we had two queens since each section had fresh eggs in it.  This queen kept trying to run away and we had to corral her using smoke and cloth soaked with the nontoxic but dissuading, Bee-Gone.

8. Finally, she is in the box, indicated by the bees fanning their "Come hither" pheromone at the entrance
  Once we got the majority of the bees inside our boxes, we'll leave them for a day or so to reattach their comb and adjust themselves to our boxes.  Then we'll return before sunrise, wrap them in a sheet burrito, and take them home.
9. Two hives, One wall, One happy Liz

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Maker Faire

I expected 3D printers and Burning Man vehicles, which I saw... but there was so much more!  I love this new (10 years old) truly empowering trend, breaking away from mere consumer fair to engaged and interactive.  They had small children using sewing machines, learning silk screening, observing glass blowing and metallurgy, puppets, legos, making buttons with LED lights...
    While there was certainly a technological focus, flying robots and such, the main thrust of the whole event is to support creativity in all its forms.  In the spirit of things, I handed out my "How I make a Mug" card.  Our neighbors on one side made dresses from dress shirts salvaged from salvation army bins.  On the other side, Frankenstuffies swapped heads and other parts to make new creations from discarded stuffed animals. 
     We met a club of people who "haunt" each others' houses with moving skeletons that have grotesque rotting flesh thanks to plastic sheeting melted with a heat gun and painted with gel stain.  People walked around in massive, complex and uncomfortable costumes. While the Burning Man crowd made explosions and apocalyptic organ noises, the Greenies collected and sorted the waste, sending me home ecstatic with two massive bags of clean bubble wrap. 
     This was the most inspiring event I have ever attended!   I will most certainly be back for more!

Monday, May 4, 2015

2 swarms in 1 weekend!

     I was putting the finishing touches on a large stag tree bowl when I got the call.  A swarm sprawled across a potter's Art Walk display downtown Guerneville. Couldn't be more appropriate for the first call of the year! I grabbed my nuc with freshly waxed frames, my smoker, my eager neighbor and we took off.  At the bottom of our hill, the woman called again.  
     "Are you on your way?"
     "Be there in a couple minutes.."     "Good! He wants to power wash them off..."
     "Did you slap him?"
       She didn't, and he didn't either.  I parked my car in the center lane with hazards on and joined the small crowd.  As soon as I put my box on the table, the bees paraded in, to an appreciative ooh from the observers.  They asked questions while I coerced more speed from the bees with my smoker.  They all entered the box and got wrapped up, burrito style, in a towel from my car in less that an hour.  Then home for a jar of sugar water until they find a decent nectar source.
Who could resist?
     Sunday I got a text from a woman in Santa Rosa.  She said a swarm was hanging on a tree in front of a busy shopping center for the last couple days.   When she texted this photo and another photo of the tree for orientation, I called the high school student who wanted to explore bees for his senior project.
   "Are you ready to go?"
     Luckily, he was and he and his parents met me in the parking lot with a ladder.  The branch the bees were on was too large to simply snip or give a decent shake, so we set the box under them and smoked and scooped them down into it.  Ian, still grinning from a perfect prom the night before, calmly worked the smoker, unfazed by bees landing on him.
   Soon we wrapped these bees up too, burrito style, in a sheet this time, and took them to his high school where he built a Ware hive.  This is a top bar style hive, no prepared beeswax foundation like the Langstroth hives I use now (though similar to the Kenya Top Bar hives I was promoting in Peace Corps Paraguay).  I shook the bees off my frames into his box and coaxed them again with smoke.  Without the obvious lure of beeswax (though he said he rubbed the bars with wax), the bees were not as easily convinced of its merits. 
     I found a clump on a corner of the box that, with a little examination with a stick, contained the queen.  She climbed onto my stick and I delivered her into the entrance. Hopefully, now they will stay.  
    We put a feeder at the entrance which should help the bees with their reorientation, but I warned Ian that, while in the search for the new nectar source, the bees might be a little more all-over-the-place for a few days.  Since the hive is directly adjacent to the school, it might make them temporarily unpopular.
     Few things give me more joy than capturing a swarm.  In that state, they are so focused on finding a new home, there is no need for protective gear. You can stand in the middle of cloud of bees, have them banging against your face, and, unless you crush one, you won't get stung.  I love the opportunity to talk about bees, their castes, challenges, behaviors.  And I love the awe that they generally inspire in the lucky observers. 
     And I got to see the queen!  Lucky me!  So please, if you see a swarm, call your local beekeepers.  Often the police have their numbers, or even exterminators do (since they're not allowed to kill them).  Certainly, any store that sells bee equipment can help out.  In Sonoma, Marin and Napa counties, if I can't get them, here's our swarm list:
but call me first...(707) 696-0861 

UPDATE: 5/24 - Guerneville bees moved into their permanent new home.  They filled out the 5 frames of foundation beautifully and were clearly ready for more.  For all those observers who asked what I was going to do with them, here's the answer:  They are now pollinating and making honey in Santa Rosa.