saving the bees : an adrenaline filled tale

Luckily, since I last wrote, I realized that not all is lost with the bees. After a frantic email out to our group of Sonoma Valley beekeepers, a phone call, a visit and some very wise emails we concluded that my bees got too cold over winter. That what I was looking at was not chalk brood but chilled pupae. The one hive with the queen should be good to go with a little care. The queenless one…well that was a conundrum. My bees were now too old to properly rear a queen (newborn bees are the ones who become nurse bees and take care of the brood). Even if I gave them a queen, there still wouldn’t be any nurse bees to take care of the future eggs. The situation seemed dire.
Not two days after my queenless discovery I received an email from our group facilitator that she and two other women were going to meet to split a hive. If I came, I could take some frames of brood and nurse bees to combine with my older queenless foragers so that they could raise their own queen. Once a hive detects that a hive is queenless (that only takes an hour) they will take a good looking egg and develop it into a queen. Now this process takes some time, 16 days until she hatches, plus another week or more until she is mated and ready to lay eggs. Since I had to go to the bee store for supplies yesterday I asked if they happened to have any extra queens. They did! This would save the hive about three weeks worth of time. So with my queen in a little cage and a small box of nurse bees to keep her happy we headed home.
Today I headed up to Glen Ellen to this amazing property (where all of these pictures were taken) to meet these ladies to do a hive split. Bee people, I have found, are really great, interesting people. The kind of people that you enjoy being with. And today was no exception. After a solid two hours of hive work we split the two tall hives to prevent them from swarming. One split went to me, one to the owner, Lisa. Afterwards we were all beat, it was hot today. Working in a hive is intense. You’re usually hot, you lose a ton of water wearing long sleeved shirts and pants, your adrenaline is rushing a bit, and you are completely ‘in the moment’. I tend to loose all sense of time. We regrouped around this magnificent hand built table with snacks and cucumber water and retold what we had learned.
I left feeling worn out but exuberant. I put the bee box in my van and headed back home. Right away I noticed a few stray bees flying around so I stopped to let them out. Then a few more miles down the road I found a LOT more bees flying around and realized I was going to have a problem on my hands. I stopped at the nearest turn out and brainstormed…the box lid wasn’t fitting on tightly enough. I pulled the box out and put it in the shade of a tree. If I could take off the lid, put my shirt over the top of the box and then put the lid back on, I would be in business. Which is right about when I realized that I had left all my bee gear back at Lisa’s house. I stupidly tried my trick anyway. The moment I took that lid off, I had a box full of angry bees on my hands. I threw my shirt over the box to contain most of them and was immediately swarmed and stung. I walked far away, took a deep breath, got in my car and with one bar left on my cell phone, made an SOS call to Lisa. She not only drove to meet me and brought my veil and gloves, but put the lid on the box for me and wrapped it up tight in a blanket.
Once I got home I was able to combine the new bees with the old (using the newspaper sprayed with mint simple syrup trick) and placed the queen in with the new bees. I put the lid on tight, walked away and fell into a useless heap on the couch. Oy! I’m not used to all this drama. There are a lot of routine-filled and ordinary days in my life as a mother of 3 little ones. Beekeeping takes me out of my comfort zone down an avenue completely unrelated to mothering and I do so enjoy it!


Filed under beekeeping

13 responses to “saving the bees : an adrenaline filled tale

  1. Jennifer

    YaaaaaaaaaaaY! So happy for you! I was hoping for a solution to come along, bees are resilient, and so must we bee!!

  2. I am realizing we are members of the same beekeeping group! I hope we meet someday soon. Until then, Long Live the Queen!

  3. Colette

    What is the mint simple syrup trick and why does it work?

    • asonomagarden

      Colette, you make a 1:1 sugar/water syrup and infuse mint into it. Then, as I understand it, you spray it on the bottom box of bees, then lay down one sheet of newspaper, cut a few slits in it, spray the newspaper, then put the new colony of bees on top and give that a light spray too. The mint syrup calms the bees in two ways. First it gives them something to do (by drinking it) and calms them down and second the mint masks the scent of the queen at first, so if my queenless colony had a laying worker, it would mask her scent until the stronger queen scent from the queen permeated across both boxes. Spraying the paper attracts the bees to it so they can both accept each other’s scent and then tear away the paper. Does that make sense?

  4. Kendra what a great blog entry and fantastic photos you’ve taken! I have high hopes for your hive recovery! I enjoyed working with you and the other stellar beek ladies and if you had any anxious moments you never betrayed your composed demeanor. What an adventure your ride home sounds like – but I’m glad Lisa came to your rescue and that your girls are in their new home. Thanks for sending along your blog, I’ll take some time to poke around!

  5. Jo

    I’m glad you and your hives are back on track; sounds like quite an adventure. Love the pictures, as always.

  6. Stefaneener

    Oh, I’m so sorry. I don’t drive with bees in my car without wearing my gear. It’s just not a chance I’ll take. I remember the days of driving around with swarm gear all the time — box, blanket, etc! Such an adventure. Now you have, what? Three solid hives? Good for you!!

    • asonomagarden

      I thought of you Stefaneer when I was stranded in my car. How you got stung on the chin last week in your car. I still have two hives, I added a queen to this box of bees and put it on top of my queenless hive to revive it. So far it seems to be working! Fingers crossed.

      • Stefaneener

        That chin sting was AWAY from the swarm — they were still being collected on the ground! Dratted bee just hitched a ride, I think. If I put a box in my car, I don’t undress! I hope it keeps working for you. The drought is going to be hard on them, too. Maybe I should put out some water.

  7. hexwines

    If you ever find yourself with excess honey… 🙂

  8. Pingback: It Was Meant to Bee After All | A Sonoma Garden

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