2017, April, Bees

Farm update – 4/9/2017

We’re continuing with our customizable Whole Farm baskets this week, again with two options. Choose from an eggs and greens basket or an all-veggie basket that includes your choice of two greens plus 1 lb of hakurei turnips and a bundle of radishes. For either basket, greens to choose from this week include collards (chopped or whole), spinach, salad medley lettuce, pea shoots, or Swiss chard.

It’s not often that we go into crisis mode on the farm. Really, what could happen? Quick, go block the gate, the lettuce is escaping! Nah, not gonna happen. However, Saturday after lunch we launched immediately into crisis management. Headed out to the barn, I noticed an extraordinary amount of buzzing. I’ve been around bees enough to know what they sound like, including lots of variations: single bee flying around, bee in my hair (this one triggers my panic button), angry bees flying at my veil during a hive inspection, etc. So I knew what I was hearing was honey bees. A LOT of bees. But where? Why? Oh… look over on the fence, it’s a swarm of bees. And thus began crisis response.

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I’ve read about bee swarms and know why they happen. Swarms are how bee colonies reproduce themselves, and they’re most likely to occur in the spring when resources are abundant, especially pollen.  The old queen takes off with usually more than half of her worker bees, and they land somewhere near the hive they just vacated. From there, scout bees venture off in all directions, looking for a suitable new home. Once located, the whole swarm will make a beeline to it in minutes, at which point there’s usually no way of recovering the bees. Knowing that their final flight homeward could happen at any moment was what put some urgency into our day.

The one good thing about bee swarms is they’re totally docile. A mass of bees that big would otherwise be frightening. While they’re swarmed up, they don’t have anything to defend – no honey, no home, no brood. Plus, they gorged themselves on honey before leaving the old hive; not knowing how long their scouting mission would last, they ensured they had full bellies before leaving home. This apparently also makes them too fat to bend their bodies to get their stinger into you.

The first problem in dealing with the swarm is what to give them as a new home. Bee hives are made of various layers: a hive stand, a bottom board, brood hives of various depths, honey supers, and inner and outer covers. Of those components, we had one, a medium super. After some emergency carpentry, and some innovation and repurposing, we cobbled together what we thought would pass as a temporary hive. It’d be up to the bees to decide if it was suitable.

We suited up, in spite of knowing how calm the bees were supposed to be. Better safe than stung, in this case. We then positioned the plywood base and our spare medium super underneath the swarm and scooped them into the super. The main issue here was whether we’d gotten the queen into the new hive. Without her, none of the other bees would accept this as a new home. However, bees do something totally cool that lets you know the queen is in the new hive: they will face the hive, stick their little bee tails straight in the air, and fan their wings like crazy. This sends the queen’s pheromones out into the world to let other bees know it’s ok to enter.

Most of the bees in place, tails skyward, we stuck the whole get up in the bed of a truck and drove this crazy hive down to where we’d less than two weeks ago put this year’s new hives. A quick check on them today indicates that they seem to have accepted our makeshift hive as a new home. So now we have three hungry hives to feed!

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In other farm news, our 3-week-old chicks were moved outside this weekend. They still have their heat lamp to keep them warm at night, but their little world got a whole lot bigger, and they seem to be enjoying stretching their legs and wings a bit more.

Also, beets and kale should soon be ready for harvest, with snow peas not too far behind!

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