Saturday, May 16, 2009

Those pesky bees

I'm starting to feel like a real, live beekeeper now (who happens to fit less and less into her beesuit, by the way). Caleb and I went out for a second inspection. Because we had trouble finding eggs last time, we wanted to check again to make sure all was progressing as it should. On Thursday, the weather was absolutely perfect for a hive inspection...sunny, warm, and even a rising barometric pressure. All things that the bees like.

And right here, I'd like to stop and ask a question. Why is it that life NEVER proceeds as the books say it should? Where do they get their material anyway? Is it some sort of cruel joke that they pull?

The hive with the marked queen is doing fine. Well, fine in that we saw both eggs and larva and plenty of work going on. Not fine, though, because much of the work was taking place in random fashion. The bees have decided to not use the foundation and instead build any which way they feel like it. Oh, there are places with comb being drawn out from the foundation like they are supposed to do, but there are probably half the frames with "crazy comb". I think I'm coining a new term for beekeepers here. Now, I will need to, at some point, knock off all that wayward comb and try to convince them to play by the rules. I hesitate to do it yet, as they are still such a new and weak hive. But, someday, I'll have to destroy that work they've done.

The other hive? The one where we found a queen but inexplicably, she was not marked as she was supposed to be? Well, there are some larva (though we found no fresh eggs), we could no longer find a queen, and the workers have built "queen cells", or "supercedure cells" to raise up a new queen. Perhaps that queen has died? That would explain the lack of eggs, but the presence of larva. Anyway, one of the queen cells has already been capped, so we should see a new queen soon. She should, if all works right, then destroy the other queen cells and take over the hive. But then, why would I expect things to work according to plan???

I would love to open up the hives and find everything operating just as it is supposed to, with everyone building how and where they are supposed to, the queen in position and laying eggs normally, and everyone happily making my honey. But, this beekeeping thing seems to be more of an introduction by way of chaos, especially when you consider last year's "laying worker" fiasco.

I'm not the only one baffled by these tiny insects though.

On Tuesday, my neighbor called me up and said that one of her hives had swarmed and would I like to come see it? I grabbed Caleb and hopped in the car. I did not put on my beesuit because swarms are just a big ball of bees in a tree somewhere and there is very little activity. I knew I had made a mistake when we pulled up and there was a cloud of bees flying all over the yard. I could not believe that I was standing there with bees flying literally all around me, without a beesuit, and without screaming, frankly.

Swarms often happen due to overcrowding in the hive. The hive decides to split and so a new queen is raised (just as in supercedures, but with swarms, the queen cells are found along the bottom of the frames instead of on the face of the frames like mine are) and then the queen takes flight with a "swarm" of bees. They usually find a place to hang out for a while (often up to a few days) in a big cluster while they scout out a new home and then they all take off again to move into that home. In fact, my cousin just sent me a picture of a swarm her sister-in-law saw in Texas under a truck. They almost never sting while swarming, as they have no hive to protect.

What happened at my neighbor's house was that she had come out to find them swarming out of the hive. After a few minutes of utter chaos (seemingly, anyway), the bees alighted on a tree branch and clustered. That was when she called me. But, by the time I arrived (5 minutes later), the cluster was already dissapating and we could see that they were moving off.

But here is the part that baffles us. They went BACK to the hive! Swarms simply do not do that. For one thing, that would make for 2 queens in the hive at once. For another, the reason that they swarmed in the first place was never addressed.

Where is that in the books?

As far as we can tell, it must of been a test (and only a test) of the Emergency Swarming System. Had this been a real swarm, the cluster we saw would have found a new home. Instead, they all just went back after the drill.

Bees. If only those girls could talk. That would certainly help me figure them out.

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