Wednesday, April 21, 2010

It's Getting to be a Real Saga

I updated you a little too soon on the bees.  It's been one thing after the other with my beekeeping debut.  I left the house for a few hours yesterday and returned home to my husband's account of the Russian bees swarming over the garden, dispersing wildly and then all roaring back home twenty minutes later.  I missed it.  We were both mystified, considering how much work the bees were putting into building comb and collecting pollen.  This morning early I opened up Izhevsk to see what I can see.  The short answer was not much.  There was pollen in some cells.  I didn't see the queen or any eggs, but the colony had more gorgeous white comb than the last time I checked and still seemed active and numerous.  I figured I just missed the queen and that any eggs or brood were obscured by the bees thickly covering the comb, which could have been because they were trying to keep brood warm on a chill morning.

I worked in the garden today until early afternoon.  I decided to wind up my outdoor work with a little beehive viewing, just as it was clouding up before a predicted rainstorm.  That's when I saw the cluster of bees on the grass, about 20 feet straight out from the hive.  Sure enough, there was a bee with a white dot on her thorax: the queen.  Rain was now immanent.  I set the lawn chair over the little cluster of bees to keep them dry, then rushed inside to get help from my husband and to jump into my bee suit as fast as ever I could.  We grabbed our bee tool bucket and got the smoker going as quickly as possible.  By the time we got back to the bees, the rain was beginning.

We whiffed a few puffs of smoke at the hive, and at the bees on the ground, as fat rain drops came down.  Then as quickly but as gently as I could, I brushed some of the bees into a plastic planter, rushed over to the hive just as my husband opened it, and dumped the bees in.  I'm pretty sure I got the queen, but not 100%.  And there's a chance I might have injured her as I tried to return her to the hive.  Then there's the likelihood that she was out on the grass overnight with a small group of bees.  Who knows?  I could only try to do my best in a dicey situation.

When the rain let up a short time later, I took a look around the hive and didn't see any clusters of bees, so the queen may well be in the hive.  The rain probably would have been the end of her, or at least tonight's low temperature would have been the end of a group of wet bees.  If our frantic efforts work to restore a functioning queen to her hive, and if the Russians don't swarm out again on the next sunny day (Tomorrow?  Friday?), it'll be a miracle.

I'm having a rough start to this beekeeping thing.  It's going to get easier than this, right?

15 comments:

Sonja said...

Kate,

I am so sorry to hear about your bee troubles. Had I some of those issues that first year, I'm pretty sure I would have given up completely.

What's so puzzling is the behavior of your bees. It sounds downright strange. I'm no expert but I've never heard of anything quite like what you've described, at least not the number of times that it's happened. Were any of the experts in your club able to shed some light on the situation? I'd be interested to hear what other folks say...

Good luck, and hang in there.

Leigh said...

Whew. What a story. I know I'm not alone when I say we're hoping the queen survived and is in the hive!

Amy @ Homestead Revival said...

Okay, I'm on the edge of my seat reading this saga! It's so interesting and yet, I know it's nerve racking for you! You must keep us posted!

The ants... when I went to a beekeeping class, I'm pretty sure they suggested elevating your hives on pipes with some kind of socket receptacle attached to the bottom of the hive (one on each corner of the bottom board?). Then they said you should place each of the new pipe legs in a can filled with some kind of oil - vegetable oil or something like that. The ants will climb over the can into the oil and die before they can get to the pipe leg. Does this make sense? If I find a photo, I'll email you.

Amy @ Homestead Revival said...

I lost your email address. Here's a link to a discussion to get an idea what I was talking about:


http://www.beesource.com/forums/showthread.php?t=231462

Life At Cobble Hill Farm said...

Wow! My husband and I were talking about a week ago about starting a hive. You've had quite the time. I hope it all works out alright for you.
-Staci

KJ's Restart Button said...

I know this must be very frustrating for you but to tell you the truth, I find you and the bees quite entertaining. I hope things go better for you though, and I will be tuning in to see how this turns out:)

Aimee said...

Oh man good luck! We just put our new bees ( first ever) in their hives today, hope I don't have as much trouble! Best wishes.

Anonymous said...

This is all a bit too exciting for me!
I don't know much about bees, but have been talking to people and reading up as they're on my 'to-do' list for next year, and it does seem very bizarre behaviour.
Fingers and toes crossed now...

Hazel

TheSimplePoppy said...

Well, this is rather putting me off wanting bees, but I have to say reading about it is better than an action movie. Exciting! I hope it gets easier.

Sandy said...

Oh my goodness gracious! Well, if you've done all that I think you're officially initiated into the bee keeping world! That was quite an intro!! It's GOT to be easier from here on out! (although with bees, it's always SOMETHING!)

Jennifer Montero said...

I know absolutely zilch about bees and I usually refrain from giving anyone my "advice" but something in the back of my brain is telling me that there's a little cage thing that you put your queen in to keep her in the hive and prevent swarming - another beekeeper may know more.

It's fascinating to read about the antics of your bees and your new job as 'bee wrangler'. Here's waiting for the next post, and hopefully some good news for you!

Rachel said...

That's really a bummer! We have the set up like Amy mentioned with the cans of oil. There's a picture on my blog if you're interested in seeing it.

I hope things get better for you soon!

Wendy said...

Oh, man. Sounds like things are not going well ... which makes me a bit nervous, as our bees aren't scheduled to arrive for another three weeks or so.

The real bummer, though is that the peach trees are starting to flower! It would have been nice to have had the bees here to pollinate the trees that have never done very well on their own. Couldn't have it all happen in sinc, right?

I hope your queen is okay.

Tamar@StarvingofftheLand said...

Kate -- This must be testing your resolve. I hope things have improved since you posted this.

I ran your scenario by the people who run our beekeeping club, and they thought it was very mysterious. They did say that it was within the realm of possibility that, if there was any kind of smell from the motor oil you used on the cinder blocks, it might put the bees off.

I hope your bees have come home!

Kate said...

Thanks all for the encouragement and sympathy. I'm glad my foibles can provide a little harmless entertainment to so many. I must be doing something right...

Sonja, it is unusual - no question, but apparently not unheard of. A few oldtimers at our local beekeeping ass'n say they've heard of this happening once or twice. That's sort of a relief, but only slightly.

Amy, yes, that makes perfect sense and I've seen pictures of such a setup. I may try that next time.

Jennifer, yes. Our queens arrived in their queen cages and were put into the hive that way. But in the usual fashion, they were released from the cage after a few days. That's apparently when the Italians decided to leave. The queens can't stay in the cages and perform their tasks as queens: to lay eggs. They are the reproductive organs of the colony, so to speak.

Wendy, our apple tree was in bloom when our bees arrived and from what I could tell, they mostly ignored it. Plenty of carpenter bees and mason bees on that tree, but I only saw a couple of honey bees on it. Odd, but bees have their own choices to make.

Tamar, well it's possible the oil put them off, and that would be a fairly depressing prospect if it were true, since it would make it all my fault. I don't suppose there's any way to know. But I can try something else next year if these colonies fail.