The World Cup? It's in My Backyard!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Have you managed to tune into a World Cup game this summer? Do you hear the buzz? It's like you've been caught inside a hive of bees thanks to the incessant blowing of the Vuvuzela horns! Thanks to Diamond Springs gardener and honeybee swarm-trapper extraordinaire, Garry Erck -- I have bees.

Lots and lots of bees. There's an incessant hum emanating from the Backyard of Bird these days. Standing still earns a strafing attack from not one but several hundred bees that are feeding on frame after frame of delicious honey left behind by last year's colony. It's either a World Cup Final or I'm trapped inside multiple hives...

I suppose an explanation is in order...

A new colony of bees is now officially installed at the North Natomas Home of the Hello Kitty Hive. If you look closely at the photo to your left -- that's Garry -- giving the smoke treatment to a very agitated colony that was none too happy about being driven from one place to another.

Have you ever driven a cat to the veterinarian? It's the same type of distress and response. Except that cats don't sting. Bees do -- and they did. It's just what bees do. At any rate -- Garry quickly deduced that the bees that had taken over the Hello Kitty Hive a few days earlier were -- in fact -- robber bees and not a new swarm that had flown in to "take over."

How did Garry come to this conclusion? Because we got up earlier than the bees did man -- like WAAAYYY too early for Bill Bird. At 6 AM last Saturday morning Garry and I were staring into an empty Hello Kitty Hive box. Since the hive was empty -- we instantly knew that robber bees had taken control of the hive -- not a new swarm or a new queen.

So -- as you can tell in the above photo -- Garry removed the honey laden frames from the hive to keep the robber bees away and keep them occupied somewhere else. We put them against the fence instead -- and then proceeded to install the new colony.

Let me tell you something about Garry Erck: This man is committed. Or -- he should be. Garry doesn't believe in "suiting up" before working a hive. He's a "hands on" kinda guy -- as in "hands without gloves." So -- while Bill Bird put his girlie netting on and his gloves of iron -- Garry just smirked.

Our first task? Unpack the bee-covered frames from the transport hive and transfer them to their new -- bright pink -- Hello Kitty hive. And -- at the same time -- inspect each and every frame closely. We were looking for the queen -- which was no easy task. Here's why:

When a novice beekeeper purchases a new hive from a beekeeping business -- normally the queen of that particular hive comes clearly marked with a dot of neon green or blue paint on the backside of her abdomen. Queens ordinarily stand out from other bees if you know what to look for. But if your name is Bill or Venus -- thy name is ROOKIE -- therefore the dot of paint helps a great deal.

But in this case? The new colony was a gift. Garry trapped a wild swarm -- took it home -- adapted it to the standard Langstroth Hive and then delivered it to the home of Bill and Venus. The queen wasn't marked. It won't ever be marked because Bill Bird just isn't that brave (stupid is another good word to use). And I doubt the new queen is going to show up at my back door anytime soon with a sign that reads "PAINT ME!"

But there is some good news here. Garry spotted the queen on the third frame that we checked. Sure enough -- the little gal was there in all of her glory. She's a good looking little lady and sure does appear to like her new home very much. She's surrounded by attentive workers. Pollen sources are plentiful. There's a new pollen patty in the hive itself -- plus there's a fresh quart of sugar water delivered daily.

What more could a lady ask for? A Hello Kitty Mercedes? Don't give her any ideas!

But the news isn't all wonderful. Garry also spotted potential trouble in the form of a queen cell. Then he found another. He proceeded to quickly destroy both. What is a queen cell? The queen cell is actually normal, ordinary brood. But the workers are feeding this chosen brood a special substance called Royal Jelly. So -- instead of a new worker or drone bee -- what eventually hatches out of the cell is -- in fact -- a new queen.

Why are workers creating a new queen when one already exists? To give the new queen some company? Ummm....NOPE! There is only one queen per hive. Don't ask me why -- I didn't make the rules here. I just abide by them. But usually -- workers start creating queen cells when a hive gets overcrowded -- and that's when you get a swarm. The newly hatched queen leaves the hive -- along with about half the workers and the drones -- in search of a new home.

It's just the way Mother Nature works.

Can you stop bees from swarming? In some cases -- yes. The rule of thumb is this: If a hive box gets too crowded -- add another box on top -- a second story so to speak. It's generally thought that this relieves the perception of overcrowding -- and workers aren't so quick to start creating queen cells.

That's the thought anyway. And that's why the Hello Kitty Hive now has a bright pink second story -- filled with ten empty and inviting frames. It does appear that the colony is enjoying its new digs. They've moved right on in and up to the second story -- where we've also placed the sugar-feeder jar.

So -- this is why the Bird Back 40 is suddenly buzzing with activity. In three short years I've gone from no bees at all -- to bees everywhere. I've got thousands of bees in a double-deep (bee terminology) hive -- and thousands more robber bees covering and rooting after those frames of honey set against the back fence. There are bees here. There are bees there. There are bees everywhere.

Buzz! Buzz! Buzz! World Cup fans would feel right at home!


Brown Thumb Mama said...

Fantastic! I think you should paint the second story in Batz-Maru colors.

Anonymous said...

I covet bees, so I love reading about yours (& I read your blog constantly). Plus, what's not to love about a Hello Kitty hive??