9.16.2011

Sucking Up Swarms


Real gardeners can tell right away that we're poseurs. Lettuce we can grow if we buy seedlings. With seeds from my mom, we accidentally grew enough peas to share. Our squash, grown from donated seedlings, looked healthy in the spring. When the sun disappeared for summer, the squash plants shriveled up and got mushy. The leaves acquired a pretty coat of powdery mildew and we gave up on that box of dirt.

It's Charlie's job to water the roof beds and it's not one of his high priorities: probably another one of the reasons the squash became squashed. After almost a week, right at dusk, he decided to put on his shoes and gardening hat and see if there was something alive in the raised beds that he could pretend to save. It's been so foggy and wet this summer that watering seems redundant.

What do you think was clumped to the squashed squash? Again?

We were told in our beekeeping class that swarming in September didn’t happen. 

Charlie recently created a bee-vac out of paint buckets and a shop vac motor to use for sucking up swarms. He could be heard whining that he was sad he couldn't test his new bee-vac out until spring.

He wasn’t sad anymore. This big, fat swarm was huddled together as if they were tucked in for the night. They looked cold. How, you ask? They weren't moving. Like, not at all. Bees not moving seems wrong. Looking closely, very closely, the outside bees seemed to be tightly shaking their wings to keep everyone warm underneath. If I were a bee, I'd have picked somewhere less exposed to spend the night.

Charlie vacuumed them up with his new toy, without killing a single one. In the morning, they were granted a brand-new hive box. What are we going to do with these bees? Dump them into a weaker hive? Here, or down the valley at my mom's where it's warmer? At this late date, how could they make enough comb and honey to survive the winter?

At night, Charlie went up to the roof to water since he didn't get around to it the night before. This time, he found yet another swarm on the dead squash bed. He didn’t have enough time to do anything but suck up this smaller cluster, probably an afterswarm from the same hive, and toss them into the previous night's swarm hive.

In case they were from one of our hives, we placed their hive far from the rest and onto a different, far corner of the roof. If they were within smelling distance to their old hive, they'd just go back and create a big confused mess, and demand a do-over. 

Next time we opened the PGE hive, we noticed there were only half the previous amount of bees. That must be the swarm's old hive. They'd made queen cells, which we left, and hoped that it would be a calm, sunny day when the new virgin queen was ready to take her mating flight across Fulton. 

Charlie didn't stop whining, though. He was able to use his bee-vac twice with no fatalities. He stares across the street at the park, saying, "There must be a lot of feral swarms within sucking distance."

"Your extension cord wouldn't reach," I reply. "Besides, hunting with a vacuum doesn't seem right."

The bee-vac sits by the door, as ready as Charlie to rescue any swarm oddly attracted to our dying squash. At least the whining has slowed down a bit.