Monday, May 31, 2010

Bee-zy Come, Bee-zy Go

Haven't posted in awhile because I've been too damn busy answering swarm and hive cutout calls! After giving my name to the Ventura County Fire Dept. as a resource, I've been getting 2-3 calls a day, which of course I have to handle after work. Many times the swarm leaves before I can get there; sometimes the "swarm" is actually an established hive entailing a complicated cutout (which I turn down).

In the meantime, while I've been capturing swarms, a few of the hive cutouts I did do (one as a favor to a neighbor) immediately absconded after I hived them. A lot of work for nothing. In fact, my experience has been that 50% of the hive cutouts aren't happy with their new home, and take off for parts unknown. That little hive I showed below, the one inside the utility closet? Gone. Same with a HUGE hive I cut out of a neighbors garage cabinet. Three hours of work and one torn veil--- down the drain, they left after one day.

On the other hand, I've been lucky enough to catch several swarms. One in a tree in Newbury Park:

Another from a bush in Simi Valley; another from a tree in Moorpark (a weird swarm, it'd been there for five days and seemed very lethargic; jury's out on whether that one will survive); and this one in a Simi Valley rose bush:

I hived all of these into nucs, and the ol' beeyard was starting to get a bit crowded. Plus, I was desperate for a location for the swarm I trapped with a bait hive (a hive body filled with frames, and "baited" with a little lemongrass oil to catch a wandering swarm). I needed to expand that trapped swarm to a larger hive, and I didn't want to do that up in the treehouse where the bait hive was!

Anyway, GREAT NEWS! A neighbor at a nearby ranch was kind enough to offer an excellent location for a an "outyard," so I moved four of the nucs there on Saturday night. I went back Sunday morning to expand the one hive into a deep hive body, and let me tell you, they were PISSED OFF! Sent all my audience (some of the folks from the ranch) scurrying for cover, and I literally had to go for a walk before the bees would stop head-butting my veil. I then had to sneak up on my truck and take off, because I didn't want them finding me again and getting in the truck with me!

I got the hive transferred into a deep, but had to leave the old nuc body there. It still had a generous number of bees, and I just didn't want to shake them into the already boiling-mad hive. So, I left it in front of their new home, and I'll go back next week to retrieve it and see if the hive has settled in. The other three, by the way, did just fine with the transition.

I'll take some pix of the new location for my next post.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

More Free Bees!

On Saturday I got a call from a neighbor who was having some tree trimming done. Seems midway through one cut the guy sliced into a hive, and bailed out of the tree post-haste (leaving his chainsaw imbedded in the tree).

Anyway, Mike gave me a call for help, and I headed over. It was WAYYY up high, so I climbed up the biggest ladder I've got and sawed through the rest of the trunk while Mike supposedly belayed from below. This shot might give you an idea of the size of this thing:

Actually, I guess it doesn't. Trust me, this was Paul Bunyon territory. The hive entrance is that huge knot on the left. Anyway, when I cut it through the damn thing swung around like a battering ram. I ducked close to the ladder so it missed my head, but it gave me a good whack on the shoulder. Didn't knock me off the ladder, fortunately.

So we lowered it to the ground, I stapled hardware cloth over the openings, and three of us lifted it into my truck. When I got home I just rolled into an empty field next door and pushed the thing out. I pulled the hardware cloth off the openings, and when I last checked the hive is doing fine in their newly mobile home.

And then today...

I got a call from a homeowner with a "swarm" in their utility closet--- you know, the outside closet where the electric meter and the fusebox live. Here are a couple shots:

I grabbed a cardboard box and put it under the cluster, and then used a drywall knife to scrape along the ceiling, the idea being to dislodge the cluster. Only it turns out this wasn't a swarm, but a new hive with three or four combs started! I sliced right through the comb, dropping the entire mess into the box. With no other idea, I simply poured the whole thing, comb and all, into a nuc, and added some frames. I repeated the process several times to continue to remove clustering bees, but I could tell from the fanning activity at the nuc that I'd captured the queen on the first try.

So, I got as many bees as I could and then closed up the nuc, stuck it in my car, and took them home. Here they are on their temporary stand in one of my beeyards:

And finally... one that I let get away. This was a call from the Simi Valley Police Dept regarding a hive that supposedly had bothered some kids. Here's what I found at the end of a cul de sac:

I told them it was not something I wanted to deal with. for one thing, ground-based hives have a better chance of being Africanized, making them more aggressive. For another, I would have needed a city employee to open the manhole cover, and I would have had to bring a generator to power the bee-vac in order to get all the bees.

I also turned down a call to get two hives out of a guy's attic. The idea of laying on my stomach in a hot attic in my beesuit with the (loud) bee-vac going for an hour next to my head was just not very appealing.

But I keep getting one or two calls a day, mostly due to the flier I gave the Ventura County Fire Dept. Tomorrow afternoon I go to Simi Valley again, this time to pick up a wine barrel with a hive inside. The homeowner said I could take the barrel, so this'll be an easy one.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Caught One of My Own Swarms

So, I was tooling around getting ready to feed the emus at about 10:30 AM on Saturday when I heard an unusual amount of buzzing overhead. Turns out that a swarm must have issued from one of my own hives, and they'd taken up residence in a pepper tree immediately outside the beeyard. Can you spot 'em?

First, a little perspective. Then a close-up:

I grabbed a ladder, a cardboard box, and a nuc (smaller, five-frame hive) plus five frames of new foundation. I keep supplies like this on hand, as Foghorn Leghorn used to say, "For just such an emergency." Anyway, climbed up, held the box under the ball o' bees, and shook. Most of them dropped in a glump down into the box, and I immediately shook them into the nuc. There were a lot of them!

I watched for awhile, and started to slide the top closed. I had to go back up the ladder twice to shake in smaller groups; some of them kept re-congregating at the original swarm location. I kept getting them and shaking them into the nuc, closing the top a little each time...

It was at that point I got really lucky and actually spotted the queen scooting down between the frames! So, I quickly shut them up and took them to their new home... really just about 150 yards uphill at my other beeyard. Here they are:

They immediately started "fanning," a behavior that shows they are marking this as their new home. They stick their abdomens up and release a pheremone from their Nasonov gland (named after the famous beekeeper, Joe Nasonov, who used to mark his territory in much the same way after a plate of refries)and fan it into the air. Other bees fly around orienting themselves visually and with the help of the pheremone, and before you know it, the new hive is up and running! You can spot the fanning behavior here, if you look closely:

It was a busy weekend. On Friday evening I went over to the Community Garden and switched out the nuc for a single "deep" hive, as they were starting to get crowded. I set them next to each other, like this:

I checked the frames as I moved them (briefly, it was really windy) and they were full of capped brood, so another population explosion is on the way in a week or so. Not a lot of capped honey, so they're living hand-to-mouth right now, but they'll catch up once they've got a larger number of foragers. Here they are, all ensconsed in their spacious new digs: