Since I left you dangling, or more precisely left myself dangling a few weeks back, on that chain-link fence, I figured that I’d better tell the whole story.
Have you ever immersed yourself in some sort of fringe activity, and met others who partake in the same activity, until over time it seems that what you’re doing is totally normal and mainstream–only to realize later that what your doing is actually still quite fringe-y? (I’m talking about clean and legal activities, mind you.)
I’ve had this experience with homeschooling. I’ve met so many homeschoolers over the course of fourteen years, and I spend so much time with them that I sometimes forget that what we’re doing is seen by many people as rather radical.
Same for beekeeping. I have several beekeeping friends: stefaneener, kristin, susan. I even have a blogging, beekeeping uncle. I sometimes forget that posting a photo of myself climbing as chain link fence in a beesuit to capture a swarm may be seen by others as a little, um, crazy.
But let’s go back to the beginning.
You may remember that in February, I posted about my hive. How I’d opened it up, found the queen, and was excited that as a first-year beekeeper, I’d helped them make it through their first winter. How I had high hopes for honey this year.
Well. Two weeks later I checked again and they were gone. All but a couple of ladies who sat at the front entrance worrying together and wringing their tiny bee hands. Where had they all gone? And why?
I have no idea. This is just what bees do. Sometimes they take off and go. I knew that, but it was still a little heartbreaking to have it happen to me, especially because this was my first colony. I cried, I did. My mom said that maybe it was a way of preparing me for my oldest going off to college in the fall.
She was trying to be helpful, really.
So I left my hive out in the yard, somewhat full of honey, hoping that another colony might just happen by, before the ants snarfed down the honey. And hoping that one of my even crazier beekeeping friends might get a swarm call.
Both Stefaneener and Kristin are on swarm lists. That means that if someone finds a swarm of bees, or a wild hive on their property, they can call my friends. The caller gets free bee swarm removal; my friends get free bees.
Swarming is a natural part of bee life. Sometimes a colony decides that it doesn’t like its real estate and it looks for something better. It may be that the current living space is too small, or maybe it’s gotten a little too hot in there, or….who knows? Sometimes they just decide to move on, and it often happens in the spring.
They fly out together in a big–for lack of a better word–swarm. Eventually they gather in a cluster, often on a tree. They gather protectively around the queen and wait while a few scouts search out better digs.
Colonies are generally quite calm when they’ve swarmed. They have no honey or brood to protect. Which makes them fairly easy to collect.
Or at least this is what Stefaneener told me, when she phoned to tell me that she’d received a swarm call, and would I like to help gather it and keep it for my own?
Why, yes I would, so long as she was with me. Stefaneener knows her stuff. Look at the nutty things she does for bees! This job would be much easier. The most challenging part–it would turn out–would be climbing that chain-link fence. Six times.
The swarm was behind some houses, alongside a creek. The houses ran up against that fence, which was the boundary of an adjoining golf course.
Stefaneener is a good climber. You only need to check out that link of her climbing up that very tall ladder for that swarm, or witness her children owning the monkey bars to understand this. I am not a good climber. I am not terribly athletic in any way. Always the last to get chosen for dodge ball. The only kid I knew who played soccer for eight years and never scored a goal.
I made it up the fence just fine. But once I got to the top, I couldn’t move. My hiking boots wouldn’t fit into the links; I had no toe hold. S., from the far side of the fence, tried to help. “Just swing your leg over.” Easy for you! I finally had her unlace and take off my boot, but then it hurt to put my merely socked foot into the links. I just sat there, forked in the rear by the top of the links, giggling at my ineptitude and feeling helpless.
It’s sort of a blur now, but I think that getting over involved stepping on S.’s back somehow.
I put my boot back on and we trudged through blackberry vines.
Found the swarm.
That’s when I realized that I’d left my gloves in the car.
You know what that meant. Two more trips over the fence. (Sigh.)
Back again, we saw that the swarm was clustered over a mass of branches and vines. We couldn’t simply cut a branch and gently drop it into a box.
(I wish I had a better photo of the cluster. You can sort of see it in the photo above.)
Instead, we shook the branch until some of the bees fell into the box.
We also used our gloved hands to brush them into the box. They didn’t seem to like that much and buzzed about, though not too angrily.
After we’d collected a good part of the swarm into the box, S. decided it might be best to leave them alone until dusk. The rest of the colony would have followed the queen into the box by then.
So, back over the fence we went. (Trip #4, if you’re counting.) I became slightly less inept with each climb.
At 7:00 pm, (after Trip #5) we were back at the swarm. Only to find that every single bee had rejoined the original cluster back in the tree. We must not have moved the queen into the box earlier in the afternoon.
On to Plan B. We had to hack at all the branches and vines with my small pruners (at least I’d remembered them). One branch was quite thick, so S. held the box while I hacked. And hacked.
Finally they were all in. We enclosed the box in a sheet so no strays would nettle me as I drove home on the freeway.
Trip #6 was rather victorious. S. went first, I passed the box over to her and then climbed over myself. I’d like to say I was graceful; at least I can say I was successful.
I dumped the box into my empty hive that night: bees, branches, vines and all. I wanted the bees to have the night to settle in. In the morning, when it was still cold and before they got active, I shook the bees off the branches and that was that. I had a hive again.
I also had a very sore upper body. The results of beekeeping boot camp. For a few days, that soreness reminded me that I’ve now joined the ranks of the slightly crazy.
The girls and their drones seem happy in their new place. There seem to be far more of them than I ever had with my original colony, which I’d bought as a package.
The purple Pride of Madeira is blooming just outside their front door and they’re all over it.
And they got here just in time, just as our ollalieberry bushes began to bloom.
It’s going to be a good year for berries, I think.
Fruits of living on the fringe.