Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Missing: thousands of bees and an adventuresome new queen

I was told several times when starting this adventure that we are "bee-HAVERS" not "bee-KEEPERS."

Queen Elizabeth's hive swarmed yesterday and it was a magnificent (though exasperating) sight. I checked the hives for swarm cells as I described in my last 2 posts and was sure I didn't see any last Saturday, but Queen Bess and her ladies in waiting hid one from me.

I came home for lunch yesterday, checked the fish in the water barrel we keep for the bees (bees like rainwater and the fish eat the mosquito wigglers). Said hello to my brother in law, Charlie, who was working on our back deck, and went in for a sandwich. It was a gorgeous spring day, we've had heaps of rain and unusually cool weather lately, but yesterday was one of those crystalline May days when everything looks possible.

So must have thought the new queen, daughter of Queen Elizabeth, whom we will call "Mary Queen of Scots" for the historical Queen Eliz I's rival. I was inside eating my sandwich when Charlie yelled, "you'd better come out here- your bees are acting crazy."

I ran out and the air was literally full of bees, thousands of them careening around the yard in a chaotic vortex. They were marching out of the hive in a river flow and taking wing. If you looked up at the sky you could see them high up at tree top level, swirling. And the BUZZING - it made the hair stand up on the back of my neck. I stood in the middle of it and the feeling was electric.

In about 5 minutes they all balled together about 50 feet up in a tulip poplar tree - not a very easy spot from which to reclaim them as many beekeepers succeed in doing. The queen alights and waits, the other bees cluster around her and scouts go out to find another hive spot. They come back and dance their information to the group and somehow, mysteriously, they decide which place sounds best and they go.

When I got home from work yesterday evening they were gone. The hive still has a small crew of bees (how many I don't know. Why do some stay? How do they know who leaves?), plus Queen Elizabeth should still be there. I haven't checked yet.

I felt like I'd witnessed a birth. I was elated and exhausted all afternoon.

And while I am sad my work force took flight I am also thrilled that I got to witness it - and since the larger point of this for me is to increase the bee population, then things are good.