Tuesday, May 26, 2015

I am a Beekeeper

A week ago Monday, a kind stranger I found through the Portland Urban Beekeepers Facebook group--Cory--was kind enough to come over and help me move the bees that had taken up residence in my compost bin into the Warre hive I built from a kit.

It was a beautiful warm sunny day, so the bees were in good spirits, and so were we.  Almost immediately Cory pointed out to me the bees standing near their entrance to my compost bin fanning their wings, trying to cool off their hive.  The compost bin is made of black plastic, designed to help boost the heat of the compost, so while it might have seemed really appealing on a cool overcast day, it's not a good place for bees to live.  She assured me that we were doing them a favor by moving them.  I had suspected as much, which is part of why I didn't want to let them stay in the compost, but it was good to have it be confirmed by someone more experienced than myself.

We suited up and opened the compost bin.  There were 9 combs inside, some already a bit too big for my hive, some pretty small.  She cut them off the compost bin with her hive tool, and together we stitched them onto the "top bars" of my Warre hive.  Cory had never done a cut out to a "top bar" style hive before (normally she has full frames to attach to), but it ended up not being too bad.

I saw eggs, larva, larva half formed into bees in accidentally broken-open sections of comb, brand new bees being "born" out of the comb. 

Unfortunately, we didn't find the queen.  Cory kept scooping bees from the compost bin into the hive, but we didn't seem to get her.  She had me build a "bridge" between the hive and compost bin, which was just a fabric ribbon tied from one to the other.  Supposedly, once the queen is in the new hive and the other bees smell her, they will walk along the bridge from the old hive to the new one.  So we knew we didn't have the queen when we saw bees walking along the bridge as expected, except in the wrong direction.

We made a plan for me to go out and continue scooping bees every half hour to hour, since I figured I could handle that myself, and she could move on with her life.  But by the time we got our suits off, we noticed there was a ridiculous amount of bee activity around hive/compost area.  We walked out to the street and watched as the bees swarmed into a tree at the neighbor's house.  Cory talked me through the procedure to catch a swarm (much easier than a cut out), and went on her way.

I waited an hour or so for the bees to form up.  Then I suited up, brought a ladder to the tree, and climbed up with a cardboard box.  I shook the bees into the box and carried it down to the ground.  I cut a little hole in the box and watched as some bees formed up around it fanning their wings to spread the queen's pheromones and the rest of the bees slowly made their way into the box.  I gave them a while to all make their way inside, then dumped them all into the hive.  I put the cloth over the top and hoped.  There was still activity outside the hive, but not a ton anymore, and I saw bees coming and going through the entrance, so I was pretty sure it was successful.


The bees were completely non-aggressive. They did leave some stingers on gloves, but mostly left us alone. Considering that we were dismantling their home and moving their babies (and they didn't know we were going to do it carefully and give them a better home), they were remarkably chill about the whole thing.

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