7.04.2011

Come Back, Slackers

A swarm clump on a branch
Once, when Michelle was calling her sister, staring out the window as she usually does, she saw a thick, black swarm of bees covering the three houses across the street.

They left a lot of poop on the neighbors' cars - our bees got the blame - but we couldn't catch them. Since we're on the third floor, we watched them settle onto a tree in one of the back yards. We wanted those bees. It was a huge swarm and it was free. Charlie left a note, got his ladders ready, and waited. Nobody called. The bees stopped swarming. We never saw them again. It was like money floating away.


This morning while Charlie was looking out our window, he saw a thick, black swarm of bees fly  across Fulton street. Unlike Michelle's swarm, these were definitely our bees. Last time Charlie inspected the hives he found some queen cells in the Slacker hive. He destroyed them, hoping that this would quell their instinct to swarm. Instead, one of our first two package queens, up and ran out on us, talking half her sisters along with her.

Swarming is natural and there's not a lot you can do about it if you have a hive that is prone to enjoy the traveling life. Obviously getting rid of the queen cells doesn't work. He must have missed a few - it's a big hive and they were going to divide into two colonies whether Charlie liked it or not. They were the Slacker hive, and they were acting like ungrateful teenagers. While they created a thirty foot hurricane around an orangy-leafed tree right across the street, we made fun of ourselves and the way we were thinking. They were doing what came naturally. Still, it was easy to stare across the street and quote dumb movie lines like, "Come back, Shane. Mommy loves you! Daddy needs you!"
Big cluster

So far, Charlie hasn't convinced the more experienced beekeepers he knows to let him help catch swarms, so this was his chance. He called his mentors and, as usual, all three gave completely different and opposing solutions. None of them could help, either, being Fourth of July weekend.

Charlie brought Dylan over to help. Once the bees calmed down a bit, they congregated into three different clumps on the same tree. They hadn't gained enough composure to stay in one place, but at least where they chose was close to the ground. The bigger trees further inside the park are at least fifty feet tall. At least. It'd be stupid to climb up that high to chase after our $70 worth of bees.

If you know a beekeeper, you know Charlie thought of nothing else all day long. He watched and visited and waited for them to clump. He had his nuc box all ready. If you put a bit of comb in the box, they'll be more amenable to their new mobile home.
Climbing up

Eventually they clumped onto one small, bendable branch. Charlie put the nuc box under the swarm and bent the branch so the swarm was down inside the box, while still attached to their branch. (They really seemed to like this one tree.)

With a thump on the bent branch loud enough for us to hear it in our apartment across the street, the bees landed gently into the box. Once the clump fell, the other bees raced in. He clearly got the queen.  That's the biggest worry. Even though she was a flighty teenager, we want her back. We need her, at least until we can replace her next spring.

Across the street, safely in our apartment, Michelle and I saw a huge yellowish bee hurricane rise up at the exact same time we heard Charlie's thwack. It's a sunny day, so the bees caught the light and looked golden, swirling like honey (heh, heh) in a whirl as tall as the tallest trees, and wide all the way out to the middle of the street. 

Nuc box
Immediately, Charlie secured the top onto the box and balanced it on a couple of branches. At the slotted opening in the side, hundreds of bees lined up to get inside. Surrounding them were more girls fanning their wings, letting their sisters know the queen was inside. There were so many bees that it would take hours for them to get in.

All day, Charlie kept running across the street to check, a good thing since the wind picked up in the afternoon and knocked the box to the ground. Charlie checked, the bees were okay, and continued their march inside the nuc box.

By evening, most the bees were inside and Charlie was getting impatient so he used his bee brush to sweep the outside bees into the box. He couldn't close it up with so many clogging the entrance. And he had to close it up to take it to the roof, being that the last bit of stairs are inside. You don't want to have an open, heavy, buzzing box of pissed off bees inside an apartment building.

Marching in
The bees didn't like his hurrying and stung the crap out of him. Once one stung, all the bees around her stung, too. Beekeepers say that once you get stung enough, you're immunized. It's not something I personally want to experience, but Charlie says he didn't feel the stings. He wasn't swollen, so he might not be lying.

The Slackers are back on the roof, most of them, where Charlie transferred them into a new home. It's just down the hive stand from their old place, where their more stable, more mature sisters remain. We'll see if they have the maturity to stay.