Beatrix hoping to catch a swarm

Beatrix hoping to catch a swarm

Anything that takes us outdoors, whether fetching the mail or filling the bird feeders or, on this beastly hot, late Sunday afternoon, watering the newly planted trees, provides us with a welcome opportunity to stop and visit a bit with Annabelle, just to watch the girls come and go. This time in addition to the steady air traffic to and from the hive there was a towering whirlwind of bees not far to its north. Before we could get a camera, the swirling column glided off to the west, past the empty Beatrix hive, and was lost from sight in the trees. We intended chasing it but a ravine with impassable vegetation including risk of poison ivy prevented us from following. We were left standing with a sense of wonder at having for the first time seen a swarm and then a sense of loss as we realized that it came from Annabelle and we were bidding half our bees farewell.

Nasonov lure in Beatrix

Nasonov lure in Beatrix

Nevertheless we hurriedly fixed our last tube of swarm lure inside the currently unoccupied Beatrix, set her up with ten bars, and moved her to the south side of the ravine, trusting the winds to carry the scent into the trees and call our girls back to us. But this is a desperate act and we have little hope.

A swarm’s journey to a new home typically occurs in two legs. In the first leg the cloud of bees leaves the old home and settles not too far away into a great cluster hanging from a tree branch. Scout bees are then sent forth to locate likely candidates for housing and return to lobby for their choice. After the swarm chooses among the candidates (as described in Dr. Thomas Seeley’s HoneyBee Democracy) the second leg occurs with the cluster breaking up and the entire colony taking flight once more towards their new home.

We do not know which leg we saw. It is possible that we caught them at the end of the first leg, which would mean that they were on their way to cluster, probably within a hundred yards of the old hive. In that case Beatrix may still get the attention of a scout and have a chance of the bees occupying her. But she is in full sun while bees prefer some shade. And she is three feet off the ground while the bees prefer ten. Her main charm would seem to be the scent remaining from having been occupied.

But then we may have missed the first leg entirely and only spotted the swarm already en route to its chosen home, having rejected Beatrix. While a few fortunate beekeepers have had swarms rather directly occupy an adjacent empty hive it is more typical for a swarm to try to get some distance (a quarter mile seems favorite) from its original hive. Being next to Annabelle would have been a disadvantage to selection.

Interestingly we did observe a few bees entering the long ignored Beatrix last week. Was the swarm already clustered somewhere unnoticed by us while scouts were examining her or were they, as some sources say they might, investigating new locations before swarming? Either way Beatrix stands empty and seems likely to remain so. Our loss saddens us but it is some consolation that it takes a strong, healthy colony to swarm. This is encouraging for our remaining bees.

Foil covered roof with new vents

Foil covered roof with new vents

Meanwhile back at Half-a-belle, the stay-at-homes were bearding a bit so we decided it was time to modify the roof for summer. We drilled holes in the gables and covered them with screens as we had done when we built the roof for Beatrix. Then we covered the roof with aluminum foil as we had done last year. The bees should be more comfortable in the continuing heat.

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