My Second Swarm

My friend, Stephanie, just texted me- another swarm! This time it’s in the bait hive I put near her house, up in a tree. Stephanie is the same friend who called me last time, where we got our first swarm : This time, there is no one around to help…

Can I go collect this swarm alone?

activity in the bee bait hive!

I decide I can. I put on my bee suit, leftover from our days in Bend, OR, when Lily, our then teen was into beekeeeping (busy “adulting” now in nearby Portland, but still a bee enthusiast).

The swarm, if it is one, is in my “bait hive.” I made the bait hive at Bee Club in April, then hung it in my backyard/forest, but never got any action until I took it over to Stephanie’s. She owns, a nursery with some bee hives. We met at bee club and she’s turned out to be an awesome resource for everything from A to Z, or Bees to Friendship at the very least.

But we are both beekeeping neophytes. We meet near the bait hive in the afternoon to discuss what to do next, deciding to wait until dusk when the bees return and go inside. Timing can be tricky for moving bees, and our aim is: No Bees Left Behind!

We think the bees in this bait hive might be part of the swarm we collected a few weeks earlier. In retrospect, I would’ve borrowed the “bee vacuum” from my club, a device that gently gathers up bees that fall off the original swarm. For now, I go back home and plan my next move.

I text my beekeeping friend, Barry, who made the inserts for my Langstroth hive, and ask him a few questions He suggests 7:30-8pm as a good time to move the hive- the scouts should be back by then. This will allow time to re-hive the same evening.

I go home and make sure my hive is ready: I position a ladder so it’s stable on sloping ground next to the high stump it rests upon. I unstrap the holds we put on to keep the hive from being blown over by wind, or knocked over by raccoons. I want to be ready to dump the bees inside without delay. In the past, Lily or John re-hived the bees, while I took pictures. Dumping bees from one source into another creates apprehensive feelings, until you’ve done it, I guess.

I check the weather on an app. It looks good- no storms or rain due (to upset the bees- they want to be inside before weather changes; don’t we all?). I look at the sky, the wind in the trees–the app isn’t always accurate. Then I go back to writing a book chapter due by midnight, and wait for the hour before dusk.

When it’s time, Arielle, my 12 year-old daughter and trusty assistant, is too tired to go with me. I suit up and go alone. I text Lily, my bee girl, who sends me affirming messages, like what an awesome cool mom I am and bee-careful!

upright bait hive ready for transport

But really, it’s no big deal. I bring a step ladder, scissors, and my big blue crate. I climb up the ladder, plug the hole, cut down the bait hive and I’m on my way, keeping the hive upright.

A lovely, earthy fragrance unique to honey bees fills my car as I drive… And I only feel a little bit silly, driving around in a full bee suit. The bees are quiet, but a happy buzz fills me up inside.

It is 9PM when I get home, and while it’s still light out, the dark cloud cover leaves me feeling uncertain; have I missed my opportunity to re-hive? Alone, I’m a bit skittish… Plus, I’m up against that midnight deadline for a chapter in a book on The Mother Wound. I still need to write the cover letter, proof read and edit the chapter, then send it off.

Still apprehensive about dumping the bees out I decide on an alternative plan. I pass it by Barry by text. But I can’t really wait too long for a reply, so I go ahead and decide. Lots of natural beekeeping relies on trying innovative ideas, being less invasive than those using commercial methods.

I open the hole on the bait hive that I plugged with a wine cork and press it to the bamboo opening of my hive. Maybe I’m creating a new alternative method of gentle re-hiving, I think. I haven’t heard back from Barry yet, but this seems like a good plan. Maybe the bees can find their way across the bridge to Queen Guinevere’s Canaan (Lily painted the name on it years ago, and I added the last part).

I strap the bait hive to the mother hive so it won’t blow off in the night and feel pretty good about this new alternative method. On second glance, the mother hive looks like it’s nursing a baby hive; a good sign.

like a nursing hive
A bit strapped for time, I strap the bait hive to the big hive

I get out of my bee suit and back to writing. Then Barry texts. It’s about 9:20 now. He suggests I open the hive and dump them in, since the bait hive is baited- they may not want to leave. The other unknown factor is I’m not sure how long ago they swarmed, if at all- another reason I was hesitant to disturb them.

What if I do it in the morning? I ask.

Barry says there is less chance they’ll stay because the scouts may go out and find a better place.

Well, I think, if they can find a better place than that hive, they are very picky bees, and may not be the bees for me. We decide to “let it bee.” The big hive is baited too, so I’m hoping for the best.

The next day, when I have help, we decide to dump the bees in the hive. There are not a lot of bees, so either they’ve already migrated, or there weren’t that many. I don’t know if there is a queen…

bees seem confused about how to get inside, clustered on the side

The bees that didn’t make it in, or ones that came out, seem confused for a few hours about how to get back in, even though there are bamboo entrances are on both sides. (see for the full conversion). All day long I return frequently to my deck, enjoying the lovely buzzing sounds around me, enjoying their nearness. Now I have a close-up view of bees. This makes me happier than I imagined.

What is it about bees?! …so many things…

By nightfall, the bees have all found their way into the hive. All is well… with my soul and the bees. The next day I leave on vacation…

Lily comes by to check on them… When we return we decide the bees have migrated over to the other hive, that they were the bees left behind the first time. Who really knows? The bees do, but they have a secret life I once read… and I’m not sure I want to figure out their secrets, other than to enjoy their lovely buzz and heavenly scent.

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