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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.

Despite the heat and the valley full of smoke, animals are abundant. There is a mule deer with twin fawns that we see around our hill pretty often. All the young birds have fledged and are learning to forage with help from their parents. Ken’s bees are still out collecting pollen and nectar from our garden flowers. I do wonder how the smoke affects these animals and if they have shortened life spans because of it.

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.

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