I was getting sick and tired of the usual shakes I generally have for every meal – hey, fuck you, cancer! – so made some roasted red pepper soup tonight. Bonus: some crisped chorizo to go on top. Delicious!
A small pair of birds built a nest in a ponytail palm we had brought up on the back patio during one of the more frigid evenings in our “winter” season. We hadn’t quite gotten to putting it back out before they started building, and when we realized what they were doing, we couldn’t move it at that point – that would be rude!
The female laid a total of four eggs, and on our occasional peeks, it seems all of them hatched into the usual ugly, reminiscent-of-dinosaurs babies. We have some pics of them both pre and post hatching, but for now, a little clip of one of the parents bringing home the bacon, as it were.
It’s the humidity. And also bee swarms that emerge from a brand new package installation because there was a queen in the bees the provider shook into the box in addition to the (marked) queen they put in the cage. What’s the big deal, you ask?
Like the Highlander, there can be only one. Either the bees, happy with the original, unmarked queen will free the marked queen and then kill her, or they will free her and the other queen will take a bunch of bees with her and swarm out.
The latter is what happened today: a very humid, extended round of wrangling to get that swarm out of a tree branch about 10-12 feet off the ground. In the end, I wound up simply lopping the branch as trying to shake them from that height was not working after a couple of tries. After cutting the branch and setting it on the hive I’d set up, I left them for a bit, to calm down and get themselves sorted. There were a handful of bees flying around where the branch had been, looking for their landing site.
I gave them about ten minutes or so, went back out, and managed to find the queen in the box. Hooray! Now, the question is: will they stay? That question is unlikely to be answered today, as it’s overcast and we’re on our way toward dusk. The other question, which also will not be answered today because the couple hours spent working on that swarm in our humidity sapped me of everything I had left in the tank – no lunch in that tank, either – is to determine where the original marked and caged queen is in the hive from which that swarm emerged. Both questions can and by necessity will have to wait until the morning.
Thinking of keeping bees? Think on it deliberately, and don’t make an instant decision. It isn’t for everyone.
Late yesterday, I had the new (to me) experience of watching a new queen emerge from her cell. Fortunately, I had taken the camera out with me and was able to capture it for other folks to see.
How it came about: I was dealing with a swarm and checking a hive for queen cells, only to find a queen cell, just opened, and the new queen emerging. It took almost 25 minutes for the queen and the workers that figured out what was happening to get the hole opened widely enough for her to get out. Then yours truly, while attempting to bet the worker bees out and keep the queen in the cup so I could mark her, allowed the queen to scurry off into the hive. I did a check for her, but by the time all this finished, my smoker was out and it was dusk. I had to end the hunt as the girls were getting a bit peevish.
Lesson learned: just capture them all, and then go about dealing with getting the workers out of the cup so the queen can be marked.
A word of advice for anyone who thinks they want to be a beekeeper. Think on it twice. Three times. Half a dozen. A million. Then put it out of your head. Otherwise, you’re going to be delighted when you capture an enormous swarm and think how lucky you are, until you realize that giant swarm is probably two when you go in to examine it after hiving it. Then you’ll be cursing them out because you swear that last evening at dusk you found two distinct queens, but today, you can only find (and cage) one. You’ll spend the rest of your day tediously moving the bees frame by frame to the new actual hives, hunting for a swiftly moving, sunlight hating needle in a gigantic stack of buzzing, flying, also quickly moving needles that are basically all the same color. This will make you feel a bit like Captain Queeg in The Caine Mutiny and the search for the second key: did you really find two queens, or was it just the one making a sudden appearance in another part of the hive? I’m hoping for the former and the other queen is not in the hive with the now caged queen, but in amongst all the other bees I dumped into a different hive.
Mother Nature doesn’t give a crap about your calendars, or a groundhog seeing a shadow or not, or anything else puny humans wish to do. When she’s ready to do something, she does it. Spring is here. Of course, now that I’ve said that, she’ll probably decide to kick my ass for it by shoving a random freeze in there, but we only had a handful of those during our incredibly milder than usual “winter”.
I do believe it’s time to go ahead and transplant the brassicas – they’re getting crowded in their flat anyway now that overnight temps are in the 45-55F range. The tomatoes I am more wary about, because there are a crapload of them out there under the lights, and Mother Nature deciding to get buzzed and do something crazy would force a restart, thus delaying our first harvest of tomatoes. The peppers still need more warm overnights, which they can get in the barn better than outside.
The melons, pumpkins, and squashes also need to go out: one of them is already putting out tendrils and trying to capture a lock on the chain the light is hanging from, and if I don’t get it out of there soon, it will probably come to life and kill me while I sleep.
The best gauge for us of whether spring is here? Frog butts on the window across from my desk. They hang out there to nab the insects that are drawn to the light seeping out of the window into the darkness.
Spring is here! Not officially, as Mother Nature has not yet given the all clear sign, and may whack us with a surprise freeze, but it will be in the 80s (F) all week, from the forecast, and we’re just going to roll with that because the girls are getting busy out in the beeyard. The maple back there is in bloom, I’ve seen azaleas and bougainvilleas in bloom during my travels, and the foragers have been bringing in tons of pollen. Unfortunately, their pollen roundup has not included my car, which looks like a fancy dessert that has had powdered sugar dusted over it. But they’re finding it, and that’s good news, because it means the queens will pick up their laying, and the colonies will build as we get to the nectar flow here.
On Feb 29, I split two hives off from hive #9, the giant in the yard. Today, I made two more splits, one from #14, and one from #15. The #15 hive was a package order last year, and actually killed the queen that was caged inside the package. The reason? The provider shook a queen into the package with the other bees, something they try to avoid. Since the bees in the package already had a viable queen, when the new queen’s cage was put in as the package was installed, they killed her.
It worked out well, though: hive #15 is a strong hive, and they built up quickly last year. A routine inspection showed the queen was laying heavily again already thanks to the temperate weather, so I decided that one could be split.
I’d like to keep that genetic line going out in the yard, as they’ve shown themselves to be hardy. While making the split from that hive, I found her majesty and managed to take a few snapshots like a good paparazzi should. She stays in her current hive.
I found a queen cell on one of the frames I pulled out of this hive. As it also had capped brood along with larvae and eggs, and a decent honey/pollen pattern arcing over the brood area, I took that frame to form the basis of the new split. The three other frames I took had honey and pollen for feeding, and more capped brood that will be hatching soon to increase the population of the colony. The bees will recognize they are queenless, and if there is an egg in that queen cup, they will turn that into their new queen (hopefully). If that one is not viable, they have plenty of other just laid eggs to choose from to make a queen. I’ll check back in a few days to see if they have capped off the existing queen cell or started another (or both) and that will let me know they’re on their way.
Once the new queens hatch in all these splits, they will go on a mating flight. There are tons of drones (male bees) in my hives and probably the hives of other beekeepers in the area, so I’m not terribly concerned about the queens mating. Trivia for folks not up on bees: the drones die after mating, not because the queen kills them (a la the female preying mantis) but because their guts are ripped open at the end of the process. Cheery, no?
Here’s to a great season in the beeyard and the gardens.
Be well, everyone!
There is a honeybee in the house here at the ranch, flying in and out of the light fixture in the dining room, trying to get back to the great outdoors. Obviously not the brightest bulb. Yuk yuk.