This week has been busy. It is bee season (and baby season in general on a farm). New chicks, new ducks, new geese, new cows (soon!), and new bees. This week we had the great adventure of capturing 2 honeybee swarms. 1 was mine, 1 was not. Shame and pride all in one week.
Swarms are an amazing thing. 20,000+ bees & their queen streaming out of a hive all at once and setting off to find a new homeland. They are mostly harmless at this point. No home = no sting, usually. It’s a sign of success to the colony (Yea! we survived winter and can head off to find our own place.) but a sign of potential loss to the beekeeper (Boo! $125 worth of bees just flew away.). So during swarm season the enterprising beekeeper is ready; carrying all your gear around in the car ready. Swarm calls can happen at any time: during a funeral service or as you’re saying goodbye to your child for a week at Grandma’s. Both happened this week.
My hive that swarmed was at our bee yard at Ninja Cow Farm. I had just removed that
hive’s old queen just 20 days earlier in attempt to head off the swarm instinct. But these girls were so gleeful about spring they raised a new queen who hatched, mated, and swarmed all within 20 days. Amazing. Want to see the swarm & me in a backhoe bucket? You can see the video and read Dan’s wonderfully witty writing here. The swarm retrieval was pretty easy despite my kryptonite: heights. But it couldn’t have happened in a better place. At Dan’s farm you say “This would be easy if only we had a ____.” Whatever goes in that blank, Dan has it. Cool big kid tools make light work.
As the swarm on the tree settled into their temporary box, the real work started. I approached the bee yard and audibly asked “Ok, Who did this?” Much buzzing. I checked several suspect hives until I found the culprit – the recently queenless hive from weeks earlier! Despite the swarm leaving, the population of bees was booming and still preparing for more. I encountered no less than 7 virgin (unmated) queens running amok in the hive plus an additional 8-10 unhatched queen cells. Whoa folks – 1 queen per hive is the standard. These girls were planning to keep casting off swarms until there was no one left at home.
Seizing the opportunity for free, fresh royal ladies, I set to work extracting the spirited
virgins and cutting out the remaining unhatched queens. Many beekeepers replace one or two year old queens in the spring/fall to keep their hives humming. Queens cost $25-45 each with shipping. So you can understand my glee: swarm captured and new leaders in the wings. Pun intended. Dan walked by hours later and said “You still here?” As I explained the queeny windfall, I spied a cluster of bees on my pants – another queen. Some days you search for hours to find a queen. Today they were everywhere.
The upside of all these mini colonies I’m creating with the new queens is that they are resource hives for us. We can pull frames from any of the nano hives to bolster production colonies just before a nectar flow. Like now. The swarmy hive at Ninja Cow who just lost a good portion of their forager force in the swarm wouldn’t usually produce surplus honey. But I’m planning to call up some reserves from the single lady hives to beef up our production colonies and hopefully make the big girls ready to roll for the spring flow. Now the honey supers are on and waiting for it to rain – nectar that is.