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Tag Archives: honeybees

Here at home, the snow is receding although it’s not all gone yet. Where it has gone, things are growing. And the honeybees are out searching for their own signs of spring. The first wildflowers are steershead and yellow bells. In the garden, chives, daffodils and parsley are all up and growing.

Ken was worried about the possibility of the honeybees swarming and sure enough, on Saturday, the strongest hive split apart. They made a new queen and thousands of bees followed her out of the hive. I noticed excessive activity down there and told Ken about it. He walked over to see what was up and had the chance to watched the swarm take off and land on a nearby bitterbrush. There were so many bees that they weighed the branches down to the ground. Ken suited up and got a spare hive box with a few frames and cut the branches and dropped the girls into the box. They stayed so they must be happy with the new, less crowded box. Now there are six hives.

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.

On Thursday I had to look at the calendar to remind me that it was only February 8! The temperature reached over fifty degrees, Fahrenheit! It was shirt sleeve weather when we should have been wearing down coats and heavy boots. Ken’s honeybees felt the warmth and flew out of the hives in great numbers, searching for something new to eat, fresh water, fresh air and goodness knows what else. The bees were everywhere and Luna didn’t like it. She had to go inside since she’s been stung more than once and goes out of her way to avoid any contact with the honeybees. Sky and I enjoyed the nice afternoon, poking around the yard, finding reminders of last summer, and she even posed for pictures.

The snow has been rapidly melting for the last ten days or so and where there was nearly three feet in late January, there is barely a foot now and none in the forecast. It’s colder today but with full sunshine, should be a nice day to be out and about.

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