Fear This Beard, Brian Wilson!!!

Friday, April 1, 2011

A Beard for Brian? I think not!
Just in time for the start of Major League Baseball season!!! A beard that you won't see Brian Wilson wearing on the mound for your San Francisco Giants anytime soon.

Can you only begin to imagine how they would react when he uncorks one of his famous fastballs?

I hope he has insurance.

My friends -- this is the vision that greeted me and the wonderful wife that is Venus when we returned to home to our North Natomas farm after a quick trip to East Sacramento last Sunday. Know what this is? In technical terms -- it's called a swarm.

It's also the result of a lazy or inattentive beekeeper. In case you're wondering? That would be yours truly.

The Feared Beard of Brian Wilson
In this particular case? This is a Prime Swarm -- which means about 60% of the worker bees have now departed our Hello Kitty Hive. But -- as bad as that sounds -- that's not the worst part. No -- the worst part is they take the old queen with them. And it's the old queen that's responsible for this brood beard that Brian Wilson will never touch.

Neighbor Greg DiBiase greeted us last Sunday with some interesting and distressing news. "Something is happening in your backyard," he told us. "Your bees put up a real racket this afternoon and were flying all over the place."

Bees flying all over the yard didn't neceesarily concern me. I had witnessed this many times before. A vast majority of the worker bees will pick a specific time of day to mass or fly around outside the hive. I've seen it many times before -- and it's just part of "bee behavior." It's also fun and fascinating to watch -- from a safe distance. Bill Bird is many things. Extraordinarily stupid isn't one of them.

But make a racket? Other than a normal buzzing sound -- even large swarms of bees don't put up much of a racket. The decibel levels will increase if I'm inspecting the hive for one reason or another -- but that's a given. Bees don't like intruders -- especially bear-shaped intruders like Bill Bird.

There is only one other instance where bees have been know to put up a racket or a ruckus. I have never witnessed it before -- but I've seen it in clips on youtube and other places. Bees make a high-pitched racket when they swarm out of a hive.

Bee Swarm on the O'Henry Peach Tree
And -- so -- when Greg informed me that he had not only witnessed a cloud of bees in the backyard -- but also reported a high pitched scream -- my first thought was "uh-oh." Upon stepping into the North Natomas Back 40 and turning a corner -- this is what greeted us. Sure enough -- the hive had swarmed. The old queen had left -- landed on a nearby peach tree -- and taken a good chunk of our Hello Kitty Hive with her.

This -- I might add -- was the first dry and sunny day of spring that we had experienced after two-weeks of seemingly non-stop rainfall and cold weather. It seemed our bees had been waiting for the right moment. And when opportunity knocked in the form of a nice day? BUZZ!

Of course -- I was unprepared. I have never witnessed a hive swarm before (and I still haven't to be honest -- because I missed this one). What does one do when a hive swarms? A Happy Dance? I think not. Can you approach a swarm like this? Good question! Do bees that swarm sting if you get too close? Another good question!

Up Close and Personal
I had a lot of questions on this day -- and very little in the way of answers. But the good thing is -- I was armed with the right bit of knowledge. I knew who to call -- and no -- it wasn't the Ghostbusters either.

Although my experience with a backyard hive has been short and sweet -- sweet like honey I might add -- I have managed to make a number of contacts. Garry Erck gifted me with this old queen and several frames of brood last summer from a wild swarm that he had captured near his home in Diamond Springs. I was starting to wonder if he wanted the old queen back.

If anyone was prepared to handle a swarm? It was Garry. But Diamond Springs is also a long haul away from North Natomas. Plus -- it was late Sunday afternoon.

Beekeeper Keith Scott with a gentle brush...
Fate would intervene in the form of another beekeeper -- a gentleman by the name of Keith Scott. Not only do the two plot against the rest of humanity together at Intel -- Keith was the "other half" of Garry's bee swarm collection hobby. I'd never met Keith -- but I sure did love stealing his engineering design for a contraption designed to grow tomatoes from seed.

Without engineers -- Bill Bird wouldn't have any original thoughts. File that one away for later.

But I digress. As luck would have it? Keith was in the neighborhood. Not only was Keith in the neighborhood -- he had everything he needed to catch a wild swarm. Why did he have all this stuff in the trunk of his car? Because Garry Erck told him to "be prepared."

See what I mean about plotting against the rest of humanity? These guys are good.

Keith sprays swarm with sugar water
It's often been said that if you ask ten beekeepers the same question regarding bees -- you're going to get ten entirely different answers. There is no tried and true method. There is no "Bible of Beekeeping." But there is a thing called "Bee Protocol." Part of bee protocol is this: The Beekeeper Who Traps the Swarm -- Keeps the Swarm.

It's not a part of the Ten Commandments as far as I know -- but it's a rule that is followed by most beekeepers religiously.

Plus -- not only was Bill Bird not prepared to trap a swarm -- he also wasn't prepared for a second hive in the backyard. Venus and I practice "The Highlander" form of maintaining a beehive: "There Can Be Only One." Therefore -- Keith got the swarm -- and my old queen to boot.

Plus -- he was prepared. He had the suit! He had the transport box! He had the brush! He had the sugar water. He also had some unsuspecting young boys who were only too happy to "give dad a hand." I'll never forget his instructions on that day: "Boy Number One! Step Forward! Hand me that frame! Now step back! Boy Number Two! Step Forward! Hand me your frame! Now step back!"

It's nice to be prepared...
I've never seen such artful precision out of young boys before. I should have Keith train my cats.

As it turns out -- the safest time to approach a mass of bees is right after they've swarmed. They have no hive to protect, therefore lack the instinct to defend a hive against an intruder. As long as I didn't get close to the queen? I could get as close as I wanted. Another beekeeper (Ernie Buda from the Sacramento Area Beekeepers Association) advised that I should "run my hands over them and let them crawl on me."

No thanks Mr. Beekeeper. I deferred to Keith and his moonsuit.

The former queen of the Hello Kitty Hive is now somewhere in a rural Roseville-area backyard. I have no doubt she is once again building up a champion hive. Perhaps -- if I'm lucky -- I might get her back someday. As for now? I have -- or soon will have -- her queen offspring.

At some point -- and it already may have happened during this past week -- a new queen will emerge from one of several queen cells that worker bees have undoubtedly prepared for just this type of circumstance. The new queen will emerge -- and her first task will be to search out and destroy other queen cells before other new queens can emerge.

If two queens are born at the same time -- there will be a battle royale for control of the Hello Kitty Hive. There is room for only one queen and one queen only.

If I had thought ahead? I'd put the whole kit n' kaboodle on pay-per-view TV and make bank!

But once again -- Bill Bird is not prepared.


Jenn's Cooking Garden! said...

How Exciting! A queen battle royale, I would pay to see that!

Keith said...

Bill, I busted open the hive yesterday and found the queen. She's in good shape but she's at least two years old, which is half of her life expectancy. So, I'll be heading to Strachan Apiaries, in Yuba City, to find her replacement. Then it's time to kill the old queen and put in the new one. Long live the queen.

You may like to know that the bees are doing well in their new location. They are drawing out comb and already storing sugar water in it. There was even some capped comb!

Indoor Fountains said...

The Giants should be fine as long as Wilson isn't out for an extended period of time!!

Laura Bell said...

Your bee swarm has moved to Roseville ? Welcome to the neighborhood !

Someday I, too, will have backyard bees, but this post makes me think I have much to learn before I'm comfy with their care.

Fred said...

As one of your nearby neighbors, I am a little less than amused by a swarming of bees. It seems to be happening again today (Apr 9th)...might have been nice if we had been warned or even given a choice as to whether or not we wanted this influx of bees.
Fred Baucom

Bill Bird said...


It's not like I'm trying to make them swarm. It's what bees do. Italian honeybee swarms are not going to hurt you. They will not attack. You can walk right up to them and run your fingers over them if you please, they will not sting you. Trust me when I tell you that I know it's unsettling to watch a hive swarm. It's not my intention -- and I'm sorry to have caused you any distress. But I can tell you that you, your home or your family are not in any sort of danger.

Bill Bird said...


I'd like to talk to you provided you're interested and hopefully come to an understanding. Please feel free to call me (916) 402-1386. I cannot find your number in the phonebook.