Monday, May 18, 2009

First bee encounter - swarm at K's

So the other day was my first activity as an aspiring beekeeper: catching a swarm on the side of my little sister's friend's house. I'd been reading things on beekeeping and a package of bees was coming in the mail in a few days (which has since arrived - more on that later), but had never actually done anything with bees except feed wild ones sugar water. 

But I'd read that swarm capturing was pretty easy. Although they look dangerous, bees who have swarmed are usually docile, because before leaving the hive, they gorge themselves on honey in preparation for the journey they have to make in search of a new hive. Being so full of honey, they are quite relaxed and gentle (think of how you feel after a Thanksgiving meal). Though if they've been there a while, they'll be more aggressive since by then they'll have digested the honey they ate. So swarms are usually docile but you never know if they'll be pissed off for some reason. [By the way, I've only been keeping bees for a few days, so don't be fooled; most of the stuff I've learned from books].

Anyway so Dad and I were pretty excited when Audrey's friend K called about the bees. We went over just to scope out the situation and we saw that big swarm clinging on under the eaves of the roof.

We decided we'd go for it even though we were getting bees in a few days.  So we brought a hive body with 10 frames and a cardboard box for catching the bees in. We planned to catch them in the box and transfer them to the hive body while we were there. Dad had bought me a veil and some gloves for beekeepers, so I took those and we also wore jeans and long sleeves (Dad just wore a T-shirt, which he would regret later). We also brought along some duct tape to seal up the hive once we got the bees in. I figured we didn't need the smoker since I'd read swarms are already gentle and smoking usually isn't necessary. 

When we got there, K's dad was ready with a video camera. I set up the ladder next to wall where the bees were and got up there with the cardboard box. I had my veil and gloves on and just started scraping the bees off the wall and roof into the box. It was pretty cool, just huge gobs of bees plopping into the box and buzzing. I don't know why but they started climbing up the sides of the box (maybe so as not to suffocate each other). I got as many bees as I could and upturned the box over the open hive body (with 8 frames in it), and shook the bees out. They were flooding over the side of the hive body but generally seemed to be making their way down into the box, getting between the frames. I went back up to scrape off more bees and dumped them into the hive too. We waited for a while for the bees to go down into the hive, so I wouldn't squish them when I put the inner cover on. Dad went up to get the last bit, and that's when the bees got agitated (I guess we waited too long?) and they all started flying out of the hive box back up to where they were on the house...

And so we had to do it all over again, except now we were nervous about them flying away. I repeated the process, except this time we pushed all the bees into the hive, put on the inner cover and lid, and sealed it all up with duct tape. There were still plenty of bees in the air and clumped up on the house, so I went up to get more. K's dad had brought out some cardboard boxes for us to store the rest of the bees in. Up the ladder I went and scraped some weighty chunks of bees into the box. They had finally had enough, and I got stung once on the forearm and once on the thigh immediately. I didn't know bees could penetrate jeans... Dad came over to help me tape up the cardboard box and so the bees now went after him. He tried calmly walking away, but ended up having to run into a field across the street. He said later they just kept on stinging him, so he had to run for it. He ended up with about 10 or 15 stings on his hands and arms. At this point, we determined that we probably needed the smoker after all, to get the rest. Dad went to the house and picked it up real quick. I smoked the bees up good. They buzzed and fluttered a lot so I thought I was making them mad again, but then they didn't sting at all when I wiped them off the roof into the next box. We sealed that one and did one more, the last with hardly any bees in it. We loaded the hive body and the three cardboard boxes into the suburban and took them home. 

Out in the back of our house, we've got a wooded area full of mezquite trees, with some retama, huisache and other native trees. Earlier picked out a space for my bees and mowed the tall grass down, then later hoed up the clumps of dead grass and raked it clean. There Dad and I put some groundcloth so the grass couldn't grow up around our beehives. So out there we set the hive and cardboard boxes, still sealed up tight. We made airholes in each and left them there. By that time it was already dark, so we walked back up to the house, done for the day, but wondering how get all the bees together in the morning...

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