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.

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