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Category Archives: beekeeping

Ken has six active bee hives this year and yesterday one of them swarmed. Honeybee swarms are a natural occurrence and can be expected if hives are really busy and growing in population. The bees force the queen to slim down by not feeding her and she makes new queen cells so the bees left behind will have a new leader once the old one has swarmed. One of his hives from last year was thriving and constantly had bees ‘bearding’ on the front of it and Ken expected it to swarm.

In yesterday’s case, they didn’t go far – maybe ten or fifteen meters to a young ponderosa pine tree and fortunately Ken spotted the giant bee cluster before they moved on to what would be their new home.  The tree is on a hillside just below our backyard and the swarm was high enough that it required a ladder to remove it.

Ken had promised a swarm to our friend Mary for her birthday, since her bees did not survive last winter. Of course, she and her husband were out walking the dog and without their phones so it was a while before they called and said they would be right up. In the meantime, Ken started setting up a ladder and other equipment to get started on it by himself. I was not in favor of him doing it alone and was relieved when they said they were coming.

With three of them it was much safer and easier. They all moved slowly in their bee suits, keeping the bees calm, while they gently began cutting branches away from the pack of bees. Little clusters of bees were placed in an empty hive with the branches. Gradually they got to the main part of the festooning bees and very carefully cut out the two big branches holding it all together. They got just about all the bees into the hive and put the top on. The stragglers joined the others around their queen and in a short while all was quiet. Mary got her bees early this morning when it was cool and will get them set up in her bee yard and then remove the branches from the hive and replace them with frames so the bees can build orderly comb and fill it with brood and honey.

Ken went into winter with four active hives and three survived. That was a very high percentage. Normally it’s less than 50% survival rate around here due to mites and disease and many other factors that are often unidentified. Since he expected to lose more, he put in an order for three new colonies. They have to be ordered before a beekeeper can determine how many survived. The new bees arrived over the weekend and moved into their new homes in the Methow. So now there are six! The old hives were already very active and the bees have been out gathering pollen and maybe even some nectar. I used my longest lens to get these photos but still I was too close and a bee got stuck in my hair and stung me on top of my head.

Yesterday, after the rain quit, the honeybees were out and about collecting pollen from the willow catkins. I wonder if they feel a sense of relief after being cooped up in the hives all winter?

You really should click through these images to appreciate the bees’ hard work.

Four of Ken’s six beehives burned in the fire last summer and the replacement bees arrived last month. Ken and I went over to Dave’s house where other local beekeepers were gathered to get bees to start new hives or replace colonies that didn’t survive the winter or succumbed to other things like mites, pesticides, fire, etc. I think there were over 120 boxes of bees delivered to start their new lives in the Methow and Okanogan valleys.

We quickly brought them home and Ken got to work moving them into their new bee boxes. After that he checked the two old hives and discovered that one of them had died in the last couple of weeks. It had been the weaker of the two but after surviving the fire and the winter, it was a great disappointment to lose them just when things should have been improving.

I am seriously getting behind on photo editing. I will probably never catch up. So tonight I am combining two days of honeybee images into one blog post. Ken is the beekeeper, not me. I just really enjoy watching the process as it unfolds and I have to tell you, beekeeping is FULL of drama. There is always some new question and the answer is invariably ‘Well we don’t really know. What do you think?’

Last Monday, Memorial Day, Ken had enough time to open up all five of his hives to see how they were doing. A friend said the honey flow is early this year so a person needs to be ready to add supers to the hives and to watch out for swarms. Of the five hives only one is kind of behind and that is the one that was a swarm late last summer so its stocks were low and it was lucky just to get through the winter. If it survives this winter, it should do well next year. Of the other four, three are going along alright, not yet needing a new super but one of them was nearly full so he moved around some of the frames and put the new super (another box for the bees to store honey) on it and was pleased but still concerned that the bees could swarm. He had one extra hive so he set that up just in case.

Two days later while I was in town, he was playing ball with the dogs. At one point Luna refused to retrieve the ball so he went to see why and sure enough, there was a swarm of bees right above the ball. Smart Luna. She’s been stung and has a healthy respect for bees. So he suited up again, cut the pine branch full of bees, put it into the empty hive and closed it up. The next day he had to go on a road trip so before he left he wanted to get the branch out of there and replace it with frames for the bees to use for building comb. Suited up again, he picked up the branch and brushed the bees into the box with frames. If all went as planned and if the new queen was in there, the bees would stick around start making brood and gathering honey. I checked yesterday and the bees are still in there! Now he has six hives.

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