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Bee Swarms – A Model of Consensus Building

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First, it may be beneficial to understand why bees swarm. If you consider the colony to be an organism, it like any organism, must reproduce to ensure its survival. If left to their own devices, a beehive/colony will almost certainly swarm. Typically there is a prime swarm, the existing queen and up to 60% of the colony gorge up on honey and leave looking for a suitable nest. Sometimes colonies will divide themselves more than once. This inborn behavior, to swarm and reproduce, is both a bane and a positive event for beekeepers.

The positive;

Beekeepers keep an eye on the colony in early spring looking for signs of an impending swarm. Evidence includes an increase in the number of drones, male bees, being produced. The next piece of evidence is the building of queen cells in preparation of the queen leaving. The colony will need a new queen to replace the departing grand dame. The colony may make a dozen or more queens, only first to emerge will survive and mate. Side note…she may not even survive a mating flight…..she could become a tasty morsel.

The bane;

The bees swarm on there own leaving behind a much smaller population that may not build up quick enough to put away enough honey to harvest.

This reproduction discussion is cursory…..it is a lot more detailed and fascinating than this space provides. What prompted this post was observing bee behavior around my swarm trap boxes. I have three swarm trap boxes in my backyard and if the timing is right I see a lot of what is described in the large paragraph I plucked from Wikipedia. It begins with a few scout bees finding potential nest site.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swarming_(honey_bee)#Nest_site_selection

“Nest site selection

The scout bees are the most experienced foragers in the cluster. An individual scout returning to the cluster promotes a location she has found. She uses the waggle dance to indicate direction, distance, and quality to others in the cluster. The more excited she is about her findings the more excitedly she dances. If she can convince other scouts to check out the location she found, they may take off, check out the proposed site, and may choose to promote the site further upon their return. Several different sites may be promoted by different scouts at first. After several hours and sometimes days, slowly a favorite location emerges from this decision making process. In order for a decision to be made in a relatively short amount of time (the swarm can only survive for about three days on the honey on which they gorged themselves before leaving the hive), a decision will often be made when somewhere around 80% of the scouts have agreed upon a single location, and/or when there is a quorum of 20-30 scouts present at a potential nest site. When that happens, the whole cluster takes off and flies to it. A swarm may fly a kilometer or more to the scouted location, with the scouts guiding the rest of the bees by quickly flying overhead in the proper direction. This collective decision making process is remarkably successful in identifying the most suitable new nest site and keeping the swarm intact. A good nest site has to be large enough to accommodate the swarm (minimum 15 liters in volume, preferably ≈40 liters), has to be well protected from the elements, have a small entrance (approximately 12.5 cm squared) located at the bottom of the cavity, receive a certain amount of warmth from the sun and not be infested with ants. In addition to these criteria, nest sites with abandoned honeycombs are preferred, as this allows the bees to better conserve their resources.

Today I witnessed what I suspect were the final two nest sites in the selection process. There were 20 -30 bees running in and out of two of the swarm traps located in my backyard. Being an eternal optimist, I thought I was about to pick up two swarms.

 

This white box is larger in volume than the brown box I will show you next. Both boxes a baited with queen scent and have at least two fully drawn frames of old brood comb.

 

This video was taken a few minutes after I shot the white box, showing a significant increase in action.

An hour or so later I realized that I was not lucky enough to snag two swarms in my backyard. Dang!!!!!

 

They are moving in and claiming the brown box. It is much smaller than the white box but has had the advantage of capturing two previous swarms. That scent left by previous bees is a strong attractant.

I am not giving up on the nice white box, there are still a few “lookie lu’s” checking it out but the consensus? A smaller box with the familiar scent of a home was the swarms choice!

As a bonus, I have a swarm trap in my backyard that will be moved within the next few days. Today, as the new swarm moved in, this box was exhibiting a curious activity called “washboarding”. Lots of theories of why, but it remains a bit of a mystery. I thought I would share the video with all y’all. I shot it in slomo but it starts full speed and ends full speed. It is just fascinating to watch them. FYI, it was very warm and humid!

When the old queen leaves during a primary swarm, she already has a few miles on her. A queens productivity declines steadily, forcing many commercial keepers to replace her every year to maintain peak production. If you are lucky enough to capture a primary swarm, you have a queen on the decline. The queen really does not rule the hive, the workers do! It is very likely that the swarm will create “supercedure ” cells and replace her!

“Supersedure cells are often begun after the eggs are laid. The bees, knowing they need to replace the queen, begin feeding royal jelly to a young larva they have selected. They build a supersedure cell around this larva (or several larvae) and it hangs down from the face of the comb. Swarm cells, however, are built in preparation for swarming and are not intended to replace the queen, but to raise a second queen. This way, there will be a queen for the part that swarms and a queen for the part that stays.”

From; https://honeybeesuite.com/is-it-a-swarm-cell-or-a-supersedure-cell/

 

TTFN

Bishop

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Learning The importance of a Gesture

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It has been probably 6 years or more since a chance meeting introduced me to beekeeping in Oman. Maybe it wasn’t totally chance, I had been hired to teach a class for a large oil company and one of the attendees was the grandson of a traditional honey gatherer. His grandfather would search the Wadis in northern Oman seeking bees and the honey located in the cracks and crevices of the canyon walls.

The video attached below is the technique he said his grandfather used. No protective gear, sometimes a little smoke but the key was to move slowly and gently! The young man in my class, and for the life of me, I can’t recall his name, would go with his grandfather carrying the bucket used to transport the honey.

The young man did something that only now do I fully understand the importance of his gesture. The last day of the class he brought me what looked like a 750 ml screw top wine bottle filled with honey from his cousins apiary. His cousin had transitioned to more modern techniques but the honey was truly Omani mountain honey. The cap was not a tight seal so I taped it up tightly and packed it, well protected, deep inside my checked luggage. I thanked him profusely, knowing that similar size bottles I saw in the old market at the port of Muscat were $ 75.00 USD or more.

Six years later;

This morning while reminiscing I pulled up the article linked below detailing beekeeping in Oman. I cut a portion of the article enclosed in quotes below. I now know that gesture from 6 years ago carries much more weight than I ever imagined.

https://www.middleeasteye.net/features/liquid-gold-price-omans-sweet-success

“Twice a year, from March to May and September to December, Hamrashdi, 48, harvests honey according to a method that he learned from his father.

Destined for local markets, the precious golden liquid is traditionally bottled by Omani farmers in recycled glass Vimto bottles, a beverage of choice during the month of Ramadan in the Arabian Peninsula.”

I now recognize that ill fitting cap and the shape of the bottle. My gift was from the heart and a reflection of Omani culture. The honey, WOW, the flavor was unique. It was almost spicy in flavor. I selfishly doled out the precious liquid on special occasions, or, to share it’s uniqueness with friends. Now, how do I go back, reconnect and give the appropriates thanks? I need to add this return trip to my bucket list!

TTFN

Bishop

Tree Top Bees

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I am in the middle of trying to coerce some bees to leave a tree so the tree crew can remove it. The homeowner is pretty sure they are the same bees that have live in the soffit by the front door for more than 4 years. She claims that they left two months ago, formed up on the dead tree in her backyard and found a squirrel hole to their liking.

My job starting today, Wednesday May 8th, is to force them out, known as a forced abscond in the Bee World. I have until the end of day on the 12th to get them out…..otherwise the bees will be dispatched and the tree removed. So here is my set up up, I hung a box on the tree above their entrance. If bees are forced out they typically move up. I use smoke with a little Tea Tree oil added to irritate them enough to move. I was unsuccessful today in trying to add another hole in the tree to help get smoke up into the brood chamber. I have a bit buried in the trunk and need to get it out. Ugh!!!

This is a 16 foot ladder so you can get some perspective. I hung a baited swarm trap box 18-24 inches above the exit the bees are using.

The arrow indicates the exit. I have attempted to drill a hole to the left side of the hole. That is where the bit is stuck and I’ll need to extract it or try a little different spot.

We, John and I spent the better part of two hours pumping smoke into the hole. On a positive note, the bees do not appear to have a back door. The bees finally found the box and inspecting it much like scout bees do before selecting a home for a swarm. We shut down after about three hours on location and prior to leaving, we sprayed a little bee quick, an almond scented spray that bees detest, around the opening. It appears it may be deterring bees from returning but bees are sporadically exiting. That’s a good thing!

Pumping smoke spiked with Tea Tree Oil as an irritant for the bees. The bees are behaving nicely but up in that position I decided to play it safe and gear up.

We sought out a beer and sandwich before the storms were expected. There seems to be a lot of activity in the box hanging in tree…..a real good thing. I plan on making use of the window of time between the storms Thursday morning to attack again, get the bit retrieved, smoke again and hopefully they move. Wish us luck.

TTFN

Bishop

I’ll Bee Quick

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The swarm I caught in my “Goo” friend John’s yard needed to be moved before his mother’s visit from Rhode Island. Bees make her very nervous and the visit will be more comfortable without a hive in the backyard. I had recently lost a hive at a nearby apiary so I had a perfect place to move them.

A small problem though, the move was less than two miles and sometimes a short move like that allows the bees to return to the old location. The rule of thumb is move them 6 feet or 6 miles. Six feet allows them to find the box in a short period of time and a 6 mile move creates disorientation relative to the sun. At 6 miles they will orient themselves to the new home relative to the sun. Two miles could be a problem…..

I locked the bees in the swarm box by closing the entrance with a wad of burlap. I left them locked up the best part of two days. I also covered the entrance with some leafy branches before releasing them forcing the bees to reorient themselves due to the confusion of the branches…it worked well. Now I wanted to move them into a full size box.

My usual assistant John, was out of town for a wedding. Luckily my daughter Ashleigh was visiting from Denver and had expressed interest in the bees. She was a good help and she decided to try a time lapse video of the installation process. It went very smooth, the bees were placid and I barely broke a sweat. The video worked well.

After finishing up here we stopped by a single hive I have in a friends backyard. This is a strong and busy hive. Ashleigh didn’t know it but she posed for a Bishop’s Bees And Honey promotional photo op. I caught her shooting a slomo of the bees coming and going.

I brought her back to the house, got her bags packed, put her on the plane and sent her back to Denver. It was a busy day. We had a great visit, just wish she could visit more often. Just gotta make the most of every visit!

TTFN

Bishop

Busy as a Bee

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I feel fortunate, as a beekeeper I am able to witness bee behavior not seen by very many people. Bees love a tidy home and go to great lengths to ensure that it is so. I have been lucky enough to have caught 4 swarms this year. I have a few more baited up and I have my fingers crossed for more.

So, what do you bait them with you might ask? Here is what I do;

Make a box that holds 5 or 6 deep frames – with at least 19L of volume. Yes, I do use the metric system sometimes. – 1160 cubic inches…like two big block engines.

Use a deep frame with brood comb or secure some brood comb with rubber bands. I have 4 to five frames with wax foundation of partially drawn comb

Add a smidgeon of lemon grass oil, a squirt of Swarm Commander and sometimes a envelope of queen scent.

Secure to a tree or elevate the box on a ladder.

Hope the scout bees love your box and go back and recruit more scouts – hopefully they all agree and move in!

This is what moving in day looks like. It really doesn’t take a day once they have all agreed and the queen steps inside.

About an hour later most of the bees had moved in. It was just amazing to watch them climbing up and over the lip and into the box.

Move in day is almost complete.

Now I mentioned earlier that they like a tidy house. In this box was a big chunk of brood comb secured with rubber bands. A couple of days ago I stopped by to see how they were doing……they had apparently secured the brood comb and cut the rubber band loose. Look closely at the opening.

The next day. Look closely inside the entrance for the other pieces of rubber band being extracted. They are amazing!

This isn’t the first time I have witnessed this type of behavior. A couple of years ago my “Goo” friend John helped me cut a colony out of a downed tree. We rescued 6 or 7 frames of comb by securing them with rubber bands. The video below shows a pile of rubber band below the hive and an interesting look at an undertaker bee hauling out a dead bee. It is so cool to see the free fall of the two bees, one dead and one very much alive.

 

Isn’t that just too cool? The division of labor in a hive is also amazing but I won’t bore you with the details but if interested just ask Google, Siri or Alexa.

I moved the captured swarm out of John’s yard and over to my nearby apiary. Left them locked in for two days because the move was just a two miles. I also shrouded the front of the hive with a bunch of branches to force them into orientation flights. Sure enough, once unlocked they did their figure 8 dance facing the hive.

I baited another box and hoisted it up into the tree where I caught a strong one last year. When it comes to swarms, lightning does strike twice, actually many times. I know beekeepers that catch multiple swarms every year in the same stop!

TTFN

Bishop

A post from My Beer Blog

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Sharing a post from my Beer Blog that is at least 50% about “gardening”. Elements of Beekeeping and Beers!

Hive loss but found a soothing ale….Please check it out.

 

Easing the Pain of Loss

 

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