Baby swarms are still swarms

And even baby swarms can be a massive pain in the ass. Case in point: yesterday while I was out feeding some of the hives (as they are getting established), I noticed some oddball behavior in front of a couple of the hives. It was getting toward dusk, and at first I thought it was just all the troops returning for the evening. Looking around, though, I saw some flying activity about 25-30 feet east of the hive stands near the Japanese maple in the beeyard. I wandered over to take a look, and at first didn’t see a thing, but closer inspection revealed a baby swarm, no larger than a grapefruit, hanging from a branch just barely over my head. Hooray for easily reachable swarms. Boo for swarms that are very small and thus unlikely to survive if they are too late in the season. It’s still hot as the surface of the sun here, and we have a long season anyway, so I decided to go ahead and drop them into a box. Then the weirdness began.

As I was setting up, I noted that there seemed to be a great deal of fighting going on within the little cluster of bees. I pulled the branch toward the box I’d put on the ground, gave the branch a quick shake, and dropped them. I followed up by gently brushing the bees that didn’t fall off on their own. But, alas, they all flew right back up and I knew then that I had not caught the queen in the drop. I gave them a few minutes to recluster, and then dropped them again. This time, they stayed put in the box and I started to hunt for the queen. Then, more weirdness: the fighting because even more brutal and there were a ton of bees swirling around – far more than could be accounted for by the swarm alone. It seems to have been some kind of war, or possibly attempted robbing (as I’d put some recently extracted, but cleaned, frames into the box), and it was just like a war zone.All this time, I was hunting the queen, and finally found her in a ball of bees trying to kill her – another oddity, and nothing I’d ever seen before in this particular situation. I managed to catch and mark her, and put her into a queen cage so as not to let any of the bees kill her, because who wants to just give up on a queen?

I wound up moving the frames with the comb away from the swarm box itself, but they showed no signs of slacking up, so I covered the swarm bow and kept the top cover braced open just a tiny bit, hoping the attacking bees would go home, and the swarmed bees would join their queen in the box. Just before real darkness got here, I moved the swarm box over to the area in front of the barn, to try to stop the battling that was simply leaving an enormous number of dead bees on the ground. I closed them up for the night, and left them.

Today, first thing (before I had to haul off to the NOC) I checked the queen: she was still alive, with perhaps two dozen bees left, hanging out with her. I couldn’t do anything with them just then, and it was not until this evening that I managed to get back out there, thanks to work. Since it was quite clear the queen would not have enough subjects to hive them by themselves, I pulled two frames of brood and workers from another hive, put them in, got the queen and the remaining attendants over to the top of frames I’d put in a second box above the brood box where the transferred frames were, put some feed on, and buttoned up the hive for the night. I’m hoping the transferred workers will simply continue to do their jobs in taking care of the brood on the frames, and in a couple of days, I’ll release the queen manually as they should be used to her pheromone by then.

Did I mention that it was in the upper 90s(F) both yesterday and today while I was out there, with a heat index of 104-108F?

I hope they stay. And I hope I’ll be able to figure out which hive of mine that little ball of bees came from, if they are indeed from mine. I checked some of the more active hives after I had gotten the queen into a hive with the rest of the hives on the stands, but none of them seemed to be in any dire need of more room, they had plenty of stores, and in general seemed fine. I will need to do a deeper inspection on some of the hives – actually, it’s time to do a full, deep inspection on all of them as we head toward fall – to gauge their relative health, and perhaps find which of the hives had this tiny swarm emanate.

Where have you been??!!??

It was a long July and the first part of August has been as well. We’ve been rearranging servers t the NOC, trying to stay ahead of the weeds (and failing badly), and yesterday I had 15ml of fluid sucked out of my face under my right lower jaw because I have a huge lump there. It doesn’t sound like much, but that isn’t a very large area, and even 5ml would be a huge amount. Not nearly the same as the almost 2L I had aspirated from my right lung a few years ago, but just as painful even with some lidocaine. On the plus side, it was an ultrasound-guided aspiration, and I got to watch it on the screen, so that was pretty cool.  I can tell the fluid was adding some padding to the bulge, because now I’m left with hard lumps instead of kind of squishy ones. It will be back to the doc to see where to go from here. I’m really hoping to not have to have myself sliced up again, but if that’s how it goes, that’s how it goes.

In the meantime, I’m trying to tend my bees – a very small hive I was babying along vamoosed at some point in the past week – and with my sister’s help, trying to get the weeding done everywhere and plastic down to solarize the rows and not have to spend half my time yanking up weeds. For years now I’ve tried to come up with some kind of mulching system that is not hideously expensive, is easy both to maintain and plant through, and that would not cook the roots of the plants when we have three straight months of 100F weather. My thought is to pull back the top layer of soil in each row, maybe six inches or so, throw a layer of hay down, cover that back with the soil, put black plastic on top of that, and then a heavy layer of hay on top of that. The plastic should keep out the humongous numbers of weeds that don’t care what the weather is like, I can punch through plastic easily enough to plant/transplant, the under layer of hay will act as a water wick and retain moisture for the plants,  and the top layer of hay will keep the plastic from becoming an in-frame broiler and help retain the underlayer’s cool/moist combo. This is the theory, anyhow. I hope it works, as it would make life much easier around here.

I have five flats in the barn under the lights: primarily tomatoes and peppers – the peppers took a direct hit from pests while I was down with pneumonia over Memorial Day and they never recovered – some onions, leeks, and brassicas (broccoli, cauliflower). The latter will go under some shade cloth after I get that rigged. I’m also working on rigging shade barriers for the height of the season to go along the frames to help with the insane heat we’ve been having down here. A check of my weather station records, and the notes I’ve kept from before I had a weather station tells me each summer is getting hotter, longer, than the previous one. This year, we hit 100F before the end of May, and that has lasted right to this week, where we are averaging about 93F. The issue with such high heat for things like tomatoes is that we also have high humidity. This causes the pollen to clump, so the plants may grow, and often will also flower, but fruit set is poor, as pollination is more difficult in these conditions. Rigging some shade to take the brunt of the west/south sun may help that (at least I’m hoping it will – only testing will show if it does, so that’s what we’ll do).

My hiatus from social media is still on, and life is much better for it, I must say. I’ve also stopped going to various news-related web sites to avoid getting into time-sucking, useless commentaries with people I don’t know (and in many cases, wouldn’t care to). This has also been a good thing, and I’ve stuck to reviewing headlines at Google news and just zipping in to quickly read an article without getting drawn into commenting on anything.

Life at the ranch continues: the world spins, and we with it, doing the best we can with what we have.