My knowledge of bees comes primarily from my dad and is becoming a hobby of my own. My family is very fortunate to live with three generations under one roof. About twenty years ago, my parents came to live with my wife, my children and I on our acreage here in Lincoln. Our arrangement has allowed my dad to develop his hobbies, including gardening and bee keeping. These are complementary hobbies, as the bees pollenate the plants we grow, in turn making our garden and fruit trees more productive.
I’ve been observing Dad in his bee keeping hobby and occasionally am recruited to help. Recently, my wife, Mary, came in from picking lilacs, (she was making lilac jelly ..that’s another story) she mentioned that she thought the bees were swarming because there were a lot of them flying around in an area where we didn’t normally see them in those kind of numbers. I went outside and found a pile of bees right on the ground. (image 1).
My Dad tells me that when the hive gets to have a lot of bees in it, the hive knows when it’s time to “split”. As a collective, the worker bees decide, “there’s too many bees in this box and we need more space”. So they build several Queen Cells which are larger and are “peanut” shaped. The workers then feed the brood in these new queen cells a substance referred to as “royal jelly.” The brood in these cells become queens. One of those queen cells will become the queen of the original hive. (image 2).
As this takes place the queen realizes its time to go and leaves with however many bees want to go with her leaving the original hive to fend for itself. The bees that are leaving with the Queen gorge themselves with honey so they have something to start their new home with. Being full of honey makes them pretty docile. Honey bees are pretty docile to begin with, so when they swarm they are even more so.
When they swarm their main purpose is to find a new location. They send out Scout bees to find a new location. As I stood over the pile of bees, you could see many of the bees doing an interesting little dance in a figure eight with little zigs and zags and jiggles. What they are doing is communicating directions to different locations that they think may work for a new home.
Having an opportunity like this doesn’t happen every day. When a hive splits you don’t always get the chance to capture the bees that leave. So I got a box and put it over the swarm until my Dad got home. (image 3) I was wondering how we were going to sweep all the bees up off of the grass but as it turns out, they all moved to the underside of the top of the box. When dad went to transfer the bees into a temporary hive, all he had to do was pour them in. He placed a couple of frames that provide the structure for the bees to build honey comb inside the temporary hive along with some food; sugar water – a 1:1 ratio. Sweet stuff, but when you’re used to honey it needs to be sweet. (image 4) Once Dad got a “super” (the wooden box that holds the frames and all the bees – a hive) put together, he transferred the bees into this new location. (image 5)
Bees are fascinating and essential. It has been very rewarding watching my Dad and learning (some) of what he has learned about bees.
- Chris Beardslee