Errrr, they really are to “this girl” when it’s actually a swarm of bees in the shape of a diamond…make that TWO diamonds to be exact!
Yes, my bees swarmed. Last sunday. It was a beautiful day, the first beautiful day after a week of cold, damp, and stormy weather. It was my survivor hive.
The day started out with me and Andrew heading down to Eastern Market for Flower Day to pick up some bee-friendly flowers in the morning – if you’re not from the Detroit area just imagine the largest farmer’s market, about 200,000 people, and lots and lots of flowers. Surprisingly, we got in and out of Flower Day pretty quickly and were able to take home some Asters and Verbena for the bees.
This was also to be the day that Meghan would come over to help me split my booming hive, help me with my varroa mite problem, and potentially re-queen my new packaged-bee hive that I picked up from Bob Hollis on Mother’s Day. So, I was busy. Cleaning the house and doing little odds and ends throughout the day, expecting Meghan around 5 or 6:00.
Around 4:30, I’m walking around the backyard picking up doggie-doo so Meghan doesn’t step in it and then I hear it. I hear a low hum to my left, almost a whisper. Just slowly turning my head, I realize that all these scout bees are whizzing past my head to and from the fence. That’s when I see one of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen in my entire life…a diamond of honey bees.
Words cannot describe how I felt at that moment, but I can try: Shocked, amazed, adrenaline, OMG!, hypnotized, where’s-Meghan-?-I-HAVE-TO-CALL-MEGHAN-RIGHT-NOW, wow-look-at-them-all, peacful, one-with-nature, are-they-all-really-holding-hands-like-that?, jeez-that’s-a-lot-of-bees-are-there-any-left-in-my-hive, I-wonder-if-there-is-another-diamond-on-the-other-side-of-the-fence?, hell-yeah-these-bees-ROCK, how-long-have-they-been-sitting-here?, OMG-probably-since-early-morning!, OMG-I-can’t-believe-my-fortune-that-they-landed-in-my-yard-AND-that-they-are-still-here, OMG-where’s-Meghan!!!
So Andrew and I started snipping away at the vines to give a bit of space around the swarm and in prep for collecting them. Meanwhile, I had already texted Meghan and found out she was still tied up with class and wouldn’t be able to come until 6:30. I stayed glued to the swarm, making sure they wouldn’t take off and watching in amazement at the behavior of the bees. Here are two videos of the behavior of the swarm as it sat on my fence.
Here’s the one I posted on facebook, if you’ve already seen, skip it – Iyeiyeiyeiye my voice sounds dumb:P
This one is of the waggle dance:
Once Meghan arrived, we developed a clear plan of how we would capture my swarm so I could continue to keep my bees. Below are a whole bunch of gorgeous photos Andrew took of the event which show kind of a step-by-step of what we did, but this is it in a nutshell:
We took the hive box that I had already prepped for my split and put a frame of comb and food inside, and then held it up to the fence underneath the swarm with the inner cover over the top of the hive with a gap for the bees to get through (making it dark in there makes them feel more warmly invited). And that’s when things got even more exciting. The bees actually started walking down into the box on their own! Meghan was even funny about it and told them to do it beforehand. She knew they would, though, because the aroma of the frame from the old hive was welcoming them in.
The whole process took a while, so we started brushing them in with a turkey feather (much gentler than a bee brush which they easily get tangled in the bristles), and we started to smoke them down at the top of the diamond since those bees had no idea what was going on down below.
Then after most of them had gone in the hive (and, oh man, did I build arm muscles holding that box as it got heavier and heavier) and there were just a few stragglers on the fence, Meghan said she wouldn’t be surprised if there were more bees on the back of the fence. So up she went! And sure enough, there was another diamond shape of bees on the other side of almost equal size! She began to smoke them on that side and they started to come through the spaces in between the fence and down into their new home as I pushed them in with the turkey feather.
Meghan said that there might even be two queens in this swarm, and we actually saw one queen as she went down into the box. She had been hiding directly in the center of the diamond shape.
Once most of the bees were in their new hive, we set it on the ground to allow the stragglers to find their way. The ones inside already set-up shop with their butts up in the air and fanning their pheromones, basically saying, “down here, this is the new home we’ve been looking for.” We had a good laugh at how easy they must all have thought finding their new home to be, like, “see, you just wait long enough and the home comes to YOU!”
Next up, we had to inspect my pink hive, the survivor hive which is where the swarm came out of. We weren’t expecting all that many bees since so many had been on the fence. Boy, were we wrong. It was EXPLODING with bees. Each hive body was completely full, each frame was littered with bees…and best yet, there was tons of capped brood meaning I was likely going to have another swarm result sometime in the not-too-distant future.
As we inspected the state of the pink hive, we had expected to see swarm cells (the little peanut-shaped things that queens hatch out of…but nothing prepared me for how many we would find. I so obviously did not do a good job of searching for swarm cells because there were close to 17 of them…not kidding, I lost count after 12.
So, new plan. We looked through much of the hive and decided on frames to make a nuc out of (which is a small starter hive with 5 frames) which included a frame of swarm cells as well as nurse bees and pollen and nectar. This hive will raise a queen with my survivor’s genetics.
We also found the queen in my new package bees (I’ll call this hive “fire hive” or orange hive). We captured the queen, marked her with a green marker (this year is green queens), and put that in another nuc we were making up for Meghan to take home. It’s a good queen too as it was specially bred in Georgia, but I gave her that queen because I’m really only interested in raising queens with these crazy survivor genes right now.
So then that left my orange fire hive queenless. What to do, what to do – oh! Let’s just take another frame from pink hive with swarm cells on it and give it to fire hive! And that’s what we did. So now, fire hive is raising their own queen, pink hive is raising their own queen if one doesn’t already exist from hatching out of one of the billions of swarm cells, and the little nuc box is raising their own queen. That’s a lot of risk for something to go wrong, but I couldn’t be more excited! And, the bees in fire hive are from the Georgia package of bees, which will be taking care of the new queen once she hatches, and then once the new queen in that hive is busy making new bees and those Georgian bees die off after a few weeks, I’ll have an entirely new hive of precisely my own local bees’ genetics – which is my entire goal in beekeeping! To produce amazing local bees for Michigan! I know this is still the start of my journey, and anything can and will happen, but I am extremely excited and optimistic at these turn of events.
In summary, I have three and a half hives now and Meghan has the other half. Two and a half of my hives are raising queens from the survivor hive. Next steps:
1. The hive that I captured the swarm with has a queen already, so in one week’s time from last Sunday, I will check for eggs to ensure my queen is laying.
2. In two week’s time from last Sunday, I will check my pink hive and my orange hive for a laying queen.
3. If no queen is present, I will pull from my nuc (which is going to be my insurance hive), and recombine or I’ll add a frame of brood. This will help prevent from laying-workers and a downfall of a queenless hive.
4. In two week’s time from last Sunday, I will check my nuc for space constraints and manage accordingly.
YaAYYYYYYYYYY! Isn’t this FUN?!