The last few weeks have been an eventful time from a bee perspective. I wanted to weed the area around and in front of the hive, so I tried waking up before they became active but was never out early enough. Finally, I went out in the evening, and as it turns out, the bees start to settle down for the night at about 8:30 pm, which gives me lots of time to work before it gets dark.
Beside the hive, I planted the “tres hermanas”, a complimentary combination of corn, squash and beans, which I have blogged about in the past. I made five mounds and planted “black beauty” squash, “fortex” green beans, and “best ever” runner beans (seeds were a Christmas gift from a friend) along with “sweet buns” corn. I have very little faith in the corn (based on past experience) so put a big stick in the middle of each mound for the beans to grab onto. While I was planting, I was crouched right next to the hive and couldn’t hear any buzzing. I put my hands and then my ear against the hive and didn’t hear anything and started to get worried that perhaps something was terribly wrong, that there were no bees.
Turns out that I need not have worried. The bees were just sleeping in preparation for their big journey. The day after I crouched down next to the hive, the queen left with about half of the bees to find a new home. From inside the house, we saw the bees lift off in a big group and land in one big pulsating ball on a branch in the yard on the corner. I called Bryn in a panic and he said not to worry:
- when the hive is overcrowded, the queen departs with exactly half the hive;
- when bees leave the hive to look for a new home, they are fully fed and are very docile;
- if bees are leaving en masse, they generally do so at about 11:00 am and will settle by about 1:00 pm;
- a new queen will soon be born to replace the departing queen.
I paid my kids $20 each to keep an eye on the bee ball while we waited for Bryn to arrive. One of my friends (who kept bees as a child) asked me to try to capture the bees in a big cardboard box for him. Ha ha…no. In the end the bees left the tree and flew into the big forest one block away, where I hope they found a new home.
Bryn arrived and went to check the hive. He estimated that there were about 20,000 bees remaining, which is still a healthy number. He split the existing hive into two and set up a new hive with components he had in his truck. We didn’t see a new queen yet, but he showed us some of the queen cells where the new queen larvae is developing. Since there can only be one queen, the first to emerge will eat the other queen larvae or fight with the others to the death.
Art and Bryn have started to keep a spreadsheet where they record the outcomes of every visit. They record the health and temperament of the bees, whether the queen was viewed, the brood quality as well as a number of other important criteria. Our hive has been very productive this year, which is why we had so many bees. If we hadn’t seen them leave, we would have never known that half of them were gone.
We’re looking forward to Bryn and Art’s visit next weekend as we want to know if each of the hives has a queen.