Tuesday, July 2, 2013

I wanna bee a cowboy...

I have written before about being intrigued by honeybee swarm catching and those who are drawn to it.  Swarming of an existing hive happens when the queen and a large number of her worker bees decide to leave the hive and find a new home.  Often due to overcrowding issues.  Leaving behind a new queen, or a queen cell from which a new queen will emerge soon along with the rest of the hive's population.

As I understand it, queens are not the flying type.  They only fly once, to mate.  When they venture out into...wait for it...a drone congregating area, with a bit of a dark end to the night of frolicing.  Think of it as a singles bar.  There is cavorting and fertilizing.  And the drones who are lucky enough to bee with the queen?  They die.  And that is the end of outdoor adventure for the queen.  From then on, she is hive bound.

Fertilized queens are large and their bodies develop to be perfect for her full time occupation of egg laying.  Apparently, worker bees will run the queen around the hive for a few days before the swarming occurs, in efforts to get the queen in flying shape, to shed a bit of weight, tone up those muscles so she can fly.  This makes me giggle.  Thinking of the honeybee version of Richard Simmons, in shorts, a headband, and a sparkly tank top.  Not as much as the idea of a drone congregating area, drones nodding whatsup to each other and sipping on their mead.  But still.

Once the swarm heads out of the hive, they are quite calm.  They are looking for a new home, and they are well fed.  Having stocked up for their adventure.  They tend to find a high branch of a tree and cluster together around the queen, while scout bees venture around and look for a new home.

This is the time that neighbors get antsy and bee cowboys get jazzed.  A large buzzing teaming mass of bees is understandably a bit alarming.  One can catch the swarm, which involves some form of bucket, often a ladder, and some thumping.  Or one can have a well placed swarm trap that seductively lures the swarm to make the trap their new home.

I have been reading a great deal on my bee club google group (a beekeeper congregating area, if you will - whatsup) and in the news and social media about swarm catching.  And my bee mentor, Bonnie, has caught two swarms at her house in the past three weeks.  It is a way to add on to your bee yard, or strengthen a weak hive.  One of mine may be a bit weak, growing much more slowly than my other hive.  But more importantly, catching a swarming hive, and therefore a new colony of bees, is a way of protecting them, making sure they find a home that is safe and healthy for them.  It is one thing we can do to help the bees.  And we owe them that, given the obstacles we have placed before them, we humans.

I am not someone who likes to feel left out.  Or that I am missing a chance at something.

So, I started to get interested in the idea of a swarm trap here in our yard.  I sent Jonathan and Nicholas on a trip to the Honey Exchange to see what they could find out.

Apparently they had quite a visit, and as usual, Phil, the owner and Master Beekeeper, was full of advice, humor, and ideas.  They came home with everything they needed to get started on building us a trap of our own.  Phil has built swarm traps for his bee yards based on the advice of Thomas Seeley, in his book Honeybee Democracy.  I have requested the book from a branch of our library.

Jonathan and Nicholas were full of information about how to turn two medium hive boxes into a trap, with an ingenious attached lip with a hook that fits over a corresponding piece that will be attached to a tree 15 feet up and will Will E. Coyote style be able to be lowered down to the ground by a rope that is held to the box and tree with eye sockets, should we be lucky enough to round us up a swarm.  A wooden lasso, and no ladder is required.

And these two apprentice bee keepers had a small bottle of lemongrass essential oil.  Apparently it attracts the bees.  And Phil has offered us a bit of his extra brood comb, also an attraction to convince the roaming herd that the trap is a place that is welcoming, and has been used before by bees.

Today, I discovered I was married to a bit of a cowboy.

Are you thinking of it?  Because it has been in my head all day.  This song.

As soon as I woke up today, I waited patiently for Jonathan to wake too...and waited...and waited...and at least five minutes later I bopped him on the head (really the best way to wake him I have found) and said...so, how long do you think it would take for you to build a swarm trap today?

He opened one eye and looked at me.

Poor guy.

He thought, with the advice and plan he had worked out with Phil, that it might take him a few hours.  And that he would still have time to work on the woodpile and to mow the lawn.

It was raining today for much of the day.  I put on my raincoat, and accepted being wet, and spent much of it in the garden.  Supporting tomatoes, building a new trellis for the next bed of peas, and yes, weeding.

Jonathan and Nicholas spent much of the day on the screen porch, covered from the rain, building the trap.  These are pictures they took of their work.  And Jonathan's editorial comments:

The materials.

The hanger uppers.

The rope protecting eyelets.

Nicholas drilling into the new support beam.

Hitching the support flange to the box.  Yup, I know the word flange.

Bolting the bolts.

Jigsawing in less-than-straight lines.

Attaching the new bottom.

The semi-completed bottom half.

The semi-completed top half.

Mistakes were made.  Things needed to be undone and then done again.  And I was not taking the pictures.  Jonathan seems to be enjoying documenting his mistakes...

Hmmm....a ruler might have helped....

If you need one two by four to fit behind another two by four, you are going to need some extra space.  So unscrew the whole thing and put washers in to give the two by four a little space, a little b(r)ee-thing room.

The completed hanger-upper plan.

So, this project that was going to take a couple of hours?  Notice the lighting - or lack thereof - outside the screen porch in the next picture.

The top meets the bottom for the first time.

The rough edges get sanded.

All day.  My cowboy husband spent the day building a swarm trap.  But, given the results, I am rather impressed.  

After the kids went to bed, I painted the first coat on the raw wood parts that had been added to my hive boxes.

As we were talking tonight we realized that we still had a few questions for Phil.  So we emailed him.  And he emailed back.  Of course.

We need to cut an entrance into the trap that is one inch tall by two inches wide.  And, we need to try to have the entrance be south facing.

In response to our questions about the best location for the hive, Phil said this. 

It should be a subtle mix between protected-seeming but visible enough the bees can find it; think like a scout bee.

I am still giggling.  I think Elliott might be best at going scout bee tomorrow to find the best location.  And I need to go to bed.  

To bee continued...

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