Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Bees and Butterflies

Yesterday, I went went down to the Farm to see some friends before their upcoming trip, to check on the bee yard and to release Ethel, and well....Frederica. Yes, the other chrysalis split and a female emerged. When I attempted to photograph their release on some beautiful trumpet vine outside the farmhouse, I found no photo card in the camera, so no pics. Both of the butterflies were gently urged onto the trumpet vine by the Farmers. The insects sat for a bit, opening and closing their wings, and then both launched into a soft breeze. They both seem fit enough for their trip to Michoacan, Mexico. I'll be thinking of them, but truthfully, if they become some chicken's lunch I would be just as pleased. It will all unfold as it should.

The hives, now. First off, I was greeted at the bee yard by a monarch butterfly, perhaps one we had just released - a good omen. The hives I expected to be empty. This summer I have been more of a bee-haver than a bee-keeper. It has been two months since my last visit. At that time, one hive was terribly weak, so I fed back some honey to them, thinking that they didn't have foragers. The other hive was so robust and defensive that I have concluded the California bees must come to us with Africanized genes in them. I may experiment with mail-order bees from the SE or Pacific Northwest next Spring.

On this visit, the weak hive was still weak, with the same odd laying pattern - one frame, both sides, all up the 4 medium boxes. Lots of brood, but the tiny cluster can only cover one frame at a time. No stores. Strange queen. I feed them back more honey. I squatted down to watch the comings and goings of the bees, and squash yellow jackets that were all over the hive. I quickly concluded there was robbing going on, thanks to the honey I had fed. I blocked the entrance hole on the upper box and put an entrance reducer in, with the smallest opening active, then watched again. After a bit, I saw expulsions and mortal combat at the little entrance, just as I had hoped. This colony won't make it through the winter on its own - too small to form a viable cluster - but I want as much of the brood to hatch as possible for when I combine them with another hive. Watching the guard bees roust the intruders from the now-defensible hive, I felt proud of them. Silly, really, because they are little automatons, doing what they are programmed to do. But I imagine that if I were one of them, I might feel that it was a futile effort, and I might feel dis-spirited. But there they were, cupping and stinging the more insistent robbers, body slamming others. And while all of this goes on, the mortuary bees are bringing out the dead.

The hive that was stronger on the last visit was still strong. So it got little attention. I'll check the weight next time - in a couple of weeks, and bring supplies for making syrup in case I need to feed them.

The third hive - third hive?! Yes, an active third hive, where there was none before. I had stacked some boxes on my last visit as a bait hive, in case one of the others swarmed, and that must be what happened. The weak hive must have tired of their strange queen and split. I don't remember seeing any empty queen cells in the weak hive, and will have to check next time. If I find none, then I caught a feral colony or another beekeeper's swarm. These girls were going gangbusters. Nice white wax on the inner cover meant they needed more room. So I gave them some foundation that needs to be drawn out, and fed them back some honey. By the next visit, I should have some nice new comb, and they will have some winter stores for themselves and for the weak mother colony that I will splice onto theirs, after dispatching the old queen.

Still, I am not harvesting any honey this year. I don't want to bother with it, and the bees haven't been productive enough to supply themselves and me. I have lots of honey still, and will bring some to knitting camp to sell in a couple weeks. Honey doesn't go bad - it is full of anti-bacterial agents and can still be consumed after 2,000 years in an Egyptian tomb. Now that would be something - to taste the flora of 2,000 years ago!


twinsetellen said...

Hurrah for the new hive. I think it is kinda like raining honey, I mean, after all, the swarm did come from the sky.

RuthieJ said...

Hi Kathy,
Good news about your monarchs! Yesterday was a beautiful day to release them, wasn't it?
I'm thinking about atarting a couple of beehives. My neighbor keeps bees and would be willing to help me. I have a huge yard, so they could be right here. Any suggestions for a total novice?
Where's the knitting camp? I've never attended one.