7.09.2011

Bees Like It Hot

Mom's back yard

Less than two months ago, my mom hadn't given a thought to bees. Now she called to say she caught a second swarm. "It's so hot here, over ninety degrees every day," she said. "They must want to come inside and cool off. There's a lot of them this time, too."

Are we here yet?
Our bees on the roof have been doing nothing but cooling off. Someone told me bees get grouchy when it's overcast. Don't we all? We watch them hang around on their front porches, tidying up, waiting for the sun so their little muscles can warm up enough to make it across the street to the pollen store at the park and back.

Our store-bought bee colonies are growing, even in this weather, but the swarm hives are barely hanging on.

The Alameda girls were the weakest, so why not give them a transfer to bee heaven?

When we drove down to check out my mom's new swarm, we brought them along. They were very quiet in the car, very good little travelers, unlike the PGE girls who seemed to power the car with their humming. With them, every bump in the road seemed to piss them off.

Charlie stealing a frame of Saratoga babies
When Charlie pulled the screen off the PGE girls' front door, they charged and swirled up into an ominous hurricane for the rest of the day. He was prepared to do the same when releasing the Alameda girls. But it was as if Charlie opened the back door of the minivan and the kids were happy they had arrived. They crawled out, flew around and inspected their new home. Even though we were all watching, standing too close, wearing inappropriate clothing, not one of us got bumped. They went straight for the flowers.

The second Saratoga swarm
After my mom fed us, another advantage to having a hive at her house, Charlie inspected the other hives. They all had grown, and grown more than twice as much as ours had on the cold roof. We're getting the idea why there aren't a lot of Outside Lands area beekeepers.

My mom's original swarm was doing so well, in particular, that Charlie took a frame of brood and gave it to the Alameda girls. We considered it a little gift to help them grow, even though they were already more active in this one afternoon than they had been all the previous week, thanks to good weather.

Healthy Saratoga bees
Opening up the hive trap (the pink box, the bigger of the two hive traps), we could see the new swarm was indeed a big one. The swarms we caught in San Francisco were like a few families coming down the Oregon trail in covered wagons compared to these huge, Irish potato-famine sized migrations at my mom's.

So that they wouldn't get annoyed and want to leave, Charlie stole a second brood frame from the original Saratoga girls and left it, along with some empty frames, in the hive trap for the new swarm. No matter how bothered the new swarm was, they wouldn't just up and abandon a frame full of babies. We're hard-wired, we women, to take care of babies, even if they're not "ours."

Marching in
Unlike last time, Charlie knew he had the queen inside the hive after all his messing around. Even though the bees were flying around the hive trap confused, they were also fanning their wings, signalling to their sisters that the queen was inside. They smelled whatever it is they smell, got their marching orders and, within minutes, moved in.

Unlike last time, my mom didn't call after we left with questions like, "Why are the bees clustered in a box under their new box?"

We're learning, or, more likely, we're lucky.