Thursday, July 1, 2010

Yes -- indeed -- it's a Gomer Pyle moment in the Backyard of Bird. Or -- I suppose you could also say -- "Just when you least expect it, *IT* happens."

*IT* is happening right now in the Bird Back 40 -- right underneath our very noses -- and to be honest boys and girls: I'm not really sure what to make of it nor what I should do next.

Ideas anyone? Buehler? Please leave them below in the circular file.

I had intended to prepare a special post this weekend -- with some special news indeed: The Hello Kitty Hive was back in action. Although Venus and I had come to a decision earlier this spring to not purchase another colony of bees -- a good gardening friend by the name of Garry Erck had another idea.

Garry -- an experienced beekeeper himself -- had taken an interest in our Hello Kitty Hive and the many challenges we faced last season -- our first as beekeepers. He exulted at the good news that came from the installation of a new queen. He communicated his sorrow when our hive "flew the coop" (Colony Collapse Disorder) last October.

Garry's plan this year was to capture at least five wild colonies -- also called swarms -- which are apparently in big numbers where he lives in the El Dorado County foothills. I say "big numbers" because Garry became so proficient at capturing swarms this spring and summer that he's wound up with nine colonies -- about four more than he really wanted.

Garry -- knowing of our misfortune -- had promised as early as April that he would try to secure a new colony for us. As time passed -- and I watched him blog about capture after capture -- I knew that at some point Garry would come calling in the direction of the Natomas Gardening Birds.

Sure enough -- the good news came in the form of an email about three weeks ago. "How would you like a new colony," Garry asked. Although Venus and I had made a decision to sit the summer out -- we also missed our bees very much. Not a weekend went by without one of us in front of the hive -- lamenting our loss -- or thinking about the colony we had tended the summer before.

So -- when the chance to get another colony landed on our front doorstep? We jumped at it!

That's right -- a new life for the Hello Kitty Hive! A new colony of bees! Would we have better luck this time? We were both certainly willing to give it a try! After all -- we do have that all important first year of experience now. So why not try, try again?

But -- Mother Nature it seems -- had other plans.

Venus and I started preparing the Hello Kitty Hive for the new colony on Tuesday night. We pulled the weeds around it -- wiped the outside down a bit with a damp cloth and also opened up the hive to make sure that no spiders had taken up residence inside (Black Widow spiders love bee hives -- FYI).

While we had the top open -- we both thought it prudent to remove yet one more frame of delicious -- Hello Kitty Hive -- honey. After all -- the previous colony had left us with ten packed frames? Why not take one or two and enjoy nature's bounty? The new colony can have the other eight frames we reasoned. Surely -- they wouldn't miss two?

Apparently not.

Proud readers: This is the sight that greeted us when Venus and I arrived home after work on Wednesday evening. That's right. Your eyes are not deceiving you. That is the Hello Kitty Hive. And yes -- it's covered with BEES.

Did Garry arrive early and surprise us with our new colony perhaps?

Uh -- no...

As I indicated earlier -- Mother Nature had "other plans." Those plans include a wild swarm of bees that discovered our hive -- discovered the open top -- discovered the eight remaining frames of honey and moved right on in and made themselves comfortable inside their brand new -- Hello Kitty Hive.

"No," we both thought. "This can't be." I reasoned that the bees all over the sides and in the frames of the hive must -- in fact -- be "robber bees." I had heard about them. Robber bees are bees from a strong hive -- that will sometimes attack a weak hive -- to get at the honey.

That must be it I reasoned: Robber Bees...

But as I took a closer look at the hive -- I noticed the clusters of honeybees on either side of the hive. That isn't normal behavior for "robber bees." No -- they go right on inside and help themselves to the honey on the frames. However -- it is normal behavior for bees to "cluster" around a new queen. It is the "bee way" of protecting the new leader from attack.

A new queen had discovered the Hello Kitty Hive. At least -- I think it's a new queen. To be brutally honest -- I'm not quite sure myself. But I do know that robber bees will leave and return to their own hives when the sun goes down. They don't stick around at night.

But these bees did. So did the clusters. As of this morning? They were swarming wildly above the open hive. You can actually see a few of them if you look closely enough at the photos.

"No," I thought -- still not believing my eyes. "This just can't be right," I reasoned. After all -- nary a bee had shown interest in the hive -- or the honey inside -- since the last colony left in October. This isn't due to a lack of bees in the Bird Back 40. We get swarms of them from other colonies that have discovered the pollinators in the vast backyard. Honeybees -- Mason Bees -- Carpenter Bees -- you name it and we have them.

So -- why now? At this very moment in time? Three days before Garry Erck was going to gift me with a new colony? Bees suddenly show up? A new queen? An actual wild swarm? I needed help. And when Bill Bird needs help -- he turns to his unfortunate mentor: Farmer Fred Hoffman.

Surely -- Fred would have an answer. Surely -- the guru of Northern California gardening could figure this one out for me. Right? Like so many times in the past?

Not this time. His response? "I only know who to call to get rid of swarms. 451-BEES."

Not that I want to get rid of a swarm mind you. I'd just like to really know what I have here. It appears that I will wait until Saturday -- when the more experienced beekeeper eye of Mr. Erck pays me a visit to tell me exactly what I have.

But as for now -- I give you -- the Hello Kitty Hive 2010 Edition.


Fred Hoffman said...

Now, Bill, you should explain that 451-BEES is the phone number for Sacramento Beekeeping Supplies. They do a great job matching beekeepers with homeowners looking to remove bee swarms. For free!

Bill Bird said...

My apologies Fred. Even I didn't know that!

Greg Damitz said...

Good to hear. Hopefully this colony stays around.

A Deacon's Wife said...

Mother Nature is just full of surprises, isn't she!?!? Lucky you!