Do you know what is the worst? Starting off blog posts. I’ve been doing this shit for ten years (eleven? It may be eleven years at this point, I don’t even know…) and I still spend an inordinate amount of time starting and re-starting posts because there is just no way to fully capture in words what it’s like to be in the middle of an awesome day– getting things done, spreading a full cubic yard of mulch in your garden– and then it’s like someone pulled the emergency-stop on your entire body, bringing all of the singing and mulching and getting shit done to an abrupt halt because of the buzzing.
You might be asking, “what buzzing?” And so was I. But it was more like .03 seconds of what the fuck is this buzzing?! And then I realized real quick that some shit was going down with one of my bee hives.
Let’s just start here. Some shit went down with one of my bee hives.
Basically after a day of “running errands” which, on the farm, includes filling up the truck with a dozen bales of straw…
And then filling it back up with mulch…
I was just getting in to my groove shoveling and spreading mulch when about twenty yards away from me, this happened…
It doesn’t even capture it.
Thirty-thousand swarming bees make this incredible sound that basically reverberates down to your very soul.
It’s insane. And I caught this swarm mid-well.. swarm.
Here’s a few things I’ve learned about swarming bees in the last few days…
- In the wild, bees swarm to spread their population. When a hive gets too crowded (or has a surplus of food that makes them want to grow quicker than they can build new comb) they decide to swarm. This means the workers build a “queen cell” in the comb (which is larger than a normal cell), they feed the larva in these cells royal jelly (which turns them into potential queens) and then the existing queen takes off with about half of the hive workers and goes to form a new hive elsewhere, while everyone else stays behind with the “soon to hatch” queen… WHAT. You guys, I know, it’s totally crazy.
- Bees are fucking amazing. Can we all just acknowledge that?
- While “swarming” HRH the Queen will hang out on the branch of a tree or something near the hive, and a ton of workers will swarm around her. A few scouts will fly off to look for potential locations for the new hive, and then they come back and essentially do a little dance for the queen, and then the entire swarm of 30,000ish bees just collectively takes off in the direction of the location for the new hive.
So the point at which I heard the swarm was right when all those little shits were taking off for some location that was not on this farm. It was amazing.
I followed a cloud of bees about 50 yards down the street behind my neighbors house and into the woods before I lost them. And then I just stood there listlessly for a good five minutes because apparently that was that… a quarter of my bees just up and left two months after they arrived at the farm.
Now, swarming bees aren’t necessarily good or bad (which basically means everyone has a different damn opinion about this and I can’t tell which is which) BUT it’s a natural part of bees doing what bees do, and I didn’t “lose” a hive… presumably I’ve got a fair compliment of workers and a new queen about to hatch.
If those bees didn’t swarm, however, they’d be spending all of their energy making honey instead of going rogue out into the woods. Now that hive is going to be spending a lot of time bolstering its numbers instead of making food IF they successfully hatch a new queen.
So… I’m learning.
All the things I read about bees told me they’d be spending so much time drawing out and filling the comb in the brood boxes that I’d probably only get one super of honey per hive this year. Well. They’ve already made pretty good progress on that, and, apparently, because they’ve been well fed with sugar syrup (abundance of food) AND we’ve had a couple of very rainy weeks that have kept all the bees in the hive (crowding) on the first really nice non-windy day they were like, hey, we’re getting crowded in here, and there is obviously a ton of food to go around so WE’RE OUT.
There’s so much chance at play here. If I’d known what a crowded hive looked like I might have added new boxes to them last week which might have avoided the “crowding.” Or, if I hadn’t been outside at that particular time I might never have known that hive swarmed. If it hadn’t been raining for weeks, they may not have felt overcrowded. If I hadn’t been feeding them weekly jars of sugar-syrup, they may not have felt secure enough in their food production to swarm…
The truth is, I’m on track to produce 40+ pounds of honey this year. I haven’t eaten 40 pounds of honey collectively in my entire life… so I’m not really worried about honey production so much as I am about learning to read my hives.
Bees are fascinating little creatures, and I’m learning to appreciate them more every day.