Well we had a relatively mild winter here in Nebraska, which is good news. The bees survived the winter with lots of honey to spare. I opened up the hive for the first time this year about a month ago and found that there was still plenty of honey and about 7 full frames of brood, much of it capped already, which meant that soon I was going to have an exponentially large amount of bees in the hive. After seeing this I immediately went online and ordered the stuff for a second hive, some stuff my wife had been eying already. I wanted to split my hive so I could avoid having to purchase a new queen, especially since the hive was so strong as it is. While the winter was particularly good for the bees, it was bad news for the novice beekeeper that is myself. I was a little behind the 8 ball when it came to splitting, the bees were already about a month ahead of me and they didn’t care about my plans to split the hive, so about a week after looking into the hive the bees decided they were out of room in the hive and they were going to split themselves.
(The hive opened and revealing some larva)
As I have mentioned before my bees are in a friend’s backyard, well the day they swarmed I was sitting at work and I got a message from my friend, the conversation went something like this:
Becky: I sent your wife a picture
Becky: there is a group of bees hanging off my tree in the back yard
Me: oh wait
Becky: There are still some in the hive
Me: That is a swarm
(close up of the swarm in the tree)
See what happens is when the hive fills up the bees will make a new Queen to take over the hive, meanwhile the old Queen will take most of bees in the hive and leave to look for a new hive. When they do this they will usually post up in a tree or other high place until the scouts find something suitable for a hive. This is what Becky saw in her tree, about 25,000 bees clustering together around the Queen. When they are doing this you can “catch” the swarm and try to home them yourself. Luckily for me, that exact same day UPS delivered my new hive boxes. I left work immediately, went and got the new hive. I had my wife call Tony, a friend and professional bee conservationist. Tony is also the head of the Omaha Bee Club, so I knew he would have the equipment and know-how to retrieve my swarm. Tony agreed to meet us at Becky’s house to help me catch my swarm.
(the swarm back behind me, its much larger than it looks)
We all got to Becky’s house and this is where the real fun began. The standard swarm catcher is basically a 5-gallon bucket on a pole that has a draw string that can be used to pull the lid closed. This is simple enough so Tony created his own using a Home Depot bucket and what I swear must have been cast-iron pipes. The bees were about 15 feet up the tree, which wouldn’t have been so bad except the branch they chose was over a hill, so it added about another 5 feet from the actual ground. The branch they were on was also a flimsy one, so this mean that instead of trying to knock them loose from the branch that we had to surgically remove the portion of the branch from the tree.
(getting ready to cut it down)
Tony informed me that holding the bucket was easier than cutting the branch, so I opted to hold the bucket since I’ve never done either task.The thing about the word “easier” is that it is relative, because fitting that bucket around those bees was pretty difficult as it was, then holding it up the entire time Tony was cutting wasn’t making it any easier. When the bees finally dropped into the bucket it became abundantly clear to me that I had not had the bucket around them entirely, because several dropped straight down onto my head and within a second one decided now was a good time to sting me on the forehead. Between the sting and suddenly adding another 7 or 8 pounds of bees to the bucket I was holding I had to drop down to one knee and slowly let the bucket to the ground, all the while bees were caught in my hair and when they get trapped they start stinging. With one bee sting already and the imminent threat of more I slowly stood back up and walked away. Tony came over and started to help get some bees out of my hair, but had to stop to deal with some bees on himself, so my wife stepped in to help free the bees, however she was not so calm. As I stood there calmly being stung on my scalp, my wife was not so calmly working up the courage to try to remove the bees, sadly I am sure all the bees that were trapped had stung me already, so the effort to remove them was pretty fruitless.
(suiting up, maybe after it was too late)
After that Tony and I went and decided now was a good time to put on our beekeeping masks, something I rarely use anymore, we went back to the pile that had fallen to the ground and missed the bucket. We had to look for the Queen, because without her the rest of the bees meant nothing. We did not find her there, so we assumed that she was in the bucket, exactly where we wanted her to be, however we couldn’t be sure because a small number of them had gone back to the tree and there was way too many in the bucket to sort through them all.
With most of the bees in the bucket we assembled the new hive and then proceeded to pour the bees out of bucket and into the new hive. However at this point since we weren’t 100% sure we had the Queen in the box we had to leave it overnight, if the Queen was in the box the bees from the tree should come in and if she wasn’t they would likely all go back up into the tree, or at least that was the theory. When we went back to check the next day there wasn’t much change, there was still a few hundred in the tree, but the hive was showing activity in and out and the vast majority of the bees were still inside, which is a good sign.
(Bees taking to the new hive)
When you catch a swarm or splitting an existing hive its best to move the new one a minimum of 1-3 miles away for a few weeks, so we strapped the hive shut and moved it down to Kathryn’s Mom’s house.
(The hive at Kathryn’s Mom’s house)
We let them sit for about a week after moving them then we opened it up and took a look inside and were very happy to find that there are eggs at the bottom of the cells, which means that the Queen is inside and happy with her new home. Kathryn’s mom’s has a pretty nice yard that opens up to a forested area, which would seem perfect for bees except it is near a city park so we are only keeping them there temporarily. We have found a community garden that is willing to provide a permanent residence for the bees and are currently in the process of getting a permit to keep the bees on that property. If all goes well with the inspection by the Health Department we will have the bees in the community garden as early as next week.
(The hive hidden by the firewood)
I still have the mead aging in the glass carboy, but its pretty much ready to be bottled up. I took a sample of it earlier this month as well, but noticed it was a little dryer than I had expected and had a sort of off flavor. Bellevue, which is a suburb of Omaha, had a Meadery open late last year and the owner of it also happens to be a member of the Omaha Bee Club, so I reached out to him to ask for some advice. He asked me if the original honey had any off flavors that might match what I am seeing in the mead. I am fortunate enough to have a few pounds of the original honey left, so I went back and checked, and sure enough it matched and thinking about it, this honey is not a light color like that of a clover or orange blossom honey, which would probably explain the dry flavor. The color of mead looks great and even with the funky taste I am still pleased with what I have, now all I have to do is buy some bottles and bottle it up.
(my first sample of the mead)