Tale of a new beekeeper: splits, swarms, lots of excitement, and finally some honey

We sent out an email to the BCBA membership last weekend asking about our members’ honey harvest and received a good number of responses. Many of them are posted elsewhere on this site. None were as detailed as the one below from Barbara Maniaci, so here it is in full:

Honey harvest…hmmmm…weeelllll…….

We had 2 hives that wintered well. Both hives were chock full of bees, and I mean FULL. So we decided to try doing a split, to keep the one which was most full from swarming. So we did that, and we thought it went pretty well. Now we had 3 hives (BeeBabes1, BeeBabes2, and the new split aka BeeBabes3). We decided we would not be taking honey from either hive because we wanted to give them time to get strong again.

We opted to feed the new split, as well. So there we were a couple of days later, looking out the back doors of the kitchen, patting ourselves on the back for having pulled off a split, just like real beekeepers, as we watched our 3 hives , and all the bees flying all about the yard….. But wait…… aren’t there an awful lot of bees flying around out there? What the heck is happening? Are we being invaded? Is there a a whole flock of robber bees out there? Was it a giant mating flight? ( Can you say ‘new beekeepers”?)

There are a gajillion of the little boogers all over the place! It was……It was…….A SWARM! HOLY COW!!!!!! QUICK! DO…….SOMETHING!!!! We went charging around, trying to find something suitable to put them in, to entice them, to romance them……what the heck did the REAL beekeepers tell us to do???? (The REAL beekeepers told us to just let them go….but did we do that? Ooooh nooooo, couldn’t do that.)

So after crashing around the house and running into each other in a pure frenzy, we found a brood box, some frames with wax and an ancient top, and we raced outside to catch the SWARM. The bees, while we were so gainfully engaged, had made their way up to the very tippy top of the highest, most spindly trees in the yard. (And did we now listen to the REAL beekeepers, and let them go? Oh no, nope, not yet…..just couldn’t do it)

We drove the van up to the trees, and carefully placed the hive body on top of the van – this was because we had learned that the bees would prefer that than to having the box on the ground. Well, wait – we only have one vehicle…Oh well, those bees will smell the wax, and be entranced to come down into that perfect bee space in a little while, and we’ll have a new hive! Yea!

The weather was clouding up and it was beginning to rain. We needed to go to the grocery store in town, but, well, we figured we could do without main staples while the bees are making up their minds to come down and settle into their beautiful new home. We thought those bees would really be grateful for a new empty hive right there for them…..The rain came down in a torrent, the bees disappeared from the tree, and the hive was totally empty. They didn’t even look at it – not one bee! (But we could now use the car again, which was good).

Then we saw gobs of bees all over the front of BeeBabes1 ( the hive we split). Goba and gobs of them, all over the front. Well, what are they doing? And who ARE they? Are they BeeBabes1, or are they some(or all) of the swarm? Do swarms change their minds and go back home? We never did find out. We just gave up and went back inside and sulked.

The next day we were sitting in the kitchen (still sulking), looking out the back doors at the bees and…wait..where are all those bees coming from??? They are flying all over the place! There are bees all over! Oh no! Not again! Which hive are they coming from? We just couldn’t tell.

But this time they landed in the lower branches of the apple tree! Hooray! We can reach them! We raced back into the house, hauled out the hive box and set it out there right under them, and boy! those bees were so interested in that box it was amazing! We were thrilled!

We went back to the deck and watched all the bees come and check out the hive, we ran over to Coley’s and bought extra supers, and a good bottom board, and all that stuff we weren’t prepared with the first time, including a couple of frames of honey.

Then we sat and congratulated ourselves, and watched the beginning of our new hive…..by evening, we thought they all must be inside the new hive now because it was getting dark and ready to rain, and there wasn’t much activity anymore. We decided to go out and move the new hive to a good spot we had all set. But wait…why is the hive box so light, and quiet? No buzzing/humming… It was light because mostly it was empty. And I mean to say it was really empty – Not only was it empty of bees, but it was empty of all the wax and honey, too!

The little boogers made off with all the wax in the new frames, sucked down every drop of honey, and then they took off! Ungrateful little so and so’s…….Talk about insult to injury. When we weren’t sulking, we remembered that the REAL beekeepers TOLD us to just let them go – it was usually more trouble then it was worth to try and catch them, but it didn’t help. We were still offended …..and sulky.

So the next day we were sitting in the kitchen, once again, looking out the back doors, lamenting our ungrateful bees, and beekeeping in general, when we see….oh, you can’t be serious…Bees. Bees everywhere, all over the place. NOW which hive were they coming from??? We still couldn’t tell. They ALL had seemed to have come out of the original hive, BeeBabes1 (Is that even possible???).

This time they were even lower down in the apple tree, and eventually formed a huge clump. We didn’t race around this time like chickens with our heads cut off , we morosely gathered all the hive stuff once again, wondering why we would even bother at all. We were disgusted with those darn bees. We loved them, and they betrayed us! How could they! So with leaden hearts we put on our veils and other stuff and proceeded out to the tree. The bees were still there! This time we set the hive body on a piece of 4×6 plywood.

Then my husband got on the step ladder and cut the small branch they were on, while I held the branch so it wouldn’t fall to the ground. It didn’t fall to the ground, but a big wad of bees fell on my head….I could feel the weight of them on top of the veil…it was strange. But they were very polite and docile (as REAL beekeepers had told us they would be). We took the branch and laid it down in front of the hive and they started to march into it! Yea! Then they stopped. Oh No! Not again!!! What were they doing now??? Probably just waiting to take off and deliver another slap in the face to us….They were just standing around with their butts in the air, facing away from the hive.

Finally we thought that maybe the queen was still in the leaves of the branch, so we gave it a good shake. Almost instantly, all the bees turned toward the hive and marched right in! Holy Cow! Hooray! Yea! And all of those beautiful, wonderful, brilliant bees are still there today, and it is a very active hive – we think we may even get a bit of honey from it in the fall. It’s a beauty. Perfect in every way. Probably the best hive anyone has ever had. All our own bees, of course!

So the upshot of all this is that we did, in fact, get some honey this year. Our very first year. So far, we have only taken honey from BeeBabes2, the hive we didn’t do anything with. We don’t think it swarmed, but we aren’t certain because we couldn’t tell where all the bees came from when they swarmed. We got six quarts, and left plenty for the bees. We think it might be possible to get a bit more honey in the fall, but mostly, we just want healthy bees, and bees that don’t need to be fed over the winter.

The honey was clear and light and very mild in flavor. We have given some to the neighbors, and have plenty for our own use this fall, winter and through next spring . We used the 2 frame extractor from the Blount Co Beekeepers, for which we were very grateful. I think we may have done something wrong, because there was honey EVERYWHERE. In the extractor, on the extractor, on the floor, the table, the cabinets, the counter, the sink, in my hair, on my clothes and face and hands up to my shoulders, it was on the dogs and the cat and the rabbit……

Maybe there is a trick to it?

Barbara Maniaci

Key words: honey, harvest, swarms, tale of a new beekeeper, beekeeping, rookie beekeeping, Blount County Beekeepers Association, swarming bees

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