Our awesome beekeeper, Jennifer from Buck Naked Farm, contacted me while I was out of town and asked if she could put up a swarm box at our place. Since we’ve had plenty of experience with swarms here at the farm, I thought it was a great idea. Rather than trying to explain what a swarm box is, I’ll let the expert do it better than I ever could. See the link below to read about how Jennifer catches swarms of bees.
Two Sunday’s ago, I walked out of the barn and saw a swarm of bees. Jennifer, our beekeeper was over here in minutes and other than a bit of adventure with someone afraid of heights going up in the bucket of a tractor, it was a non-event. Kinda neat but nothing dramatic.
The following week, Spork and I drove to Florida to attend Sun N Fun. A first for both of us.
We had a rather large time. Partly because it was a chance to see airplanes like the above. Partly because we could talk to airline recruiters, aviation college recruiters, and even military recruiters.
Spork says he wants to fly for a living. Or maybe do aerospace engineering.
Whatever it is, as long as it involves airplanes and pays well enough to make a living.
But the joy of this trip wasn’t that it was airplanes, it’s that it was a boys trip.
He and I hopped in the car and drove to Lakeland, FL. It took 12 hours down, and 9 hours back. We shared a room together while we were there. We ate together. We went to the show together. It was a lot of time to spend together and a lot of time with no women. When you are the only other boy in the house, that’s a big deal.
So what does this have to do with bees?
Note the 3 hour difference between our Southbound trip and our return trip. We pushed straight through to get home, barely stopping. Upon arrival I pulled up to the barn to grab the mail my neighbor had put in my office for me (Thanks Dustin!). Mail in hand I headed straight back out to the car to go to the house and actually arrive home. As I looked out, I saw a swarm just getting going in the bee yard.
Sigh. Really, this is happening now?
I told Spork to watch the swarm (we’d just done this the previous Sunday, he’s an expert now) and texted Jennifer, our beekeeper. Then I went to get the bucket truck and my bee gear. The swarm, having no originality, proceeded to work its way over to the same exact tree as the last swarm and landed on nearly the same branch. It really was wash, rinse, repeat.
Ever wondered what a swarm actually looks like up close? Your intrepid farmer found out for you.
Once Jennifer arrived, we suited up and went about capturing the swarm. With the bucket truck and the bees perfect location, it was easy.
It seems scary to be in the air, and dumping 3 pounds of live bees in your lap but it’s actually not too bad. (Says the guy who was standing on the ground filming)
It’s funny to me that there is so much specialized gear for beekeeping, but when it comes to capturing a swarm, we use an old bankers box I had hanging around.
Once the bees were on the ground and in the box, it was time to transfer them to their new temporary home.
Now that we had them safely in their new home we could call this a day. Congratulations were passed around, equipment put away and we all returned to our regularly scheduled Sunday which for Spork and me it meant finally arriving home to see the girls and to start cleaning out the car.
It was a long day but it was great. A safe trip home from a fun trip with the boy, and a new hive of bees to add to our apiary. Once again thanks to Jennifer from Buck Naked Farm for being so responsive and fun to work with.
Last Saturday we were enjoying the beautiful weather and all the goodness that is a busy Saturday. As I was walking over for a late lunch I looked into the pasture and stopped in my tracks. I saw bees flying. A bunch of bees. I’d seen this once before and not known it was a swarm. This time I was older and smarter. I stopped and checked to see where the swarm was heading while simultaneously texting Jennifer with Buck Naked Farm “Swarm at my place!” I grabbed Spork and pulled him into this, while I hoped that the bees would go to the tree they seemed to be meandering towards. About 10 minutes later, the bees had settled onto a high branch in the tree and Jennifer had texted she’d be here in 15 minutes. Since she lives 15 minutes away, that’s a pretty stunning response. That was 15 minutes from when I texted her originally. A swarm is a big deal!
I tried to use our bucket truck but we’d broken something inadvertently while fixing it that week which I didn’t realize till I tried to raise the boom. Oh well, plan B.
I went and grabbed the backhoe and pulled it into place while Jennifer was gearing up in all her bee paraphernalia. We had a funny moment as we were both quickly and professionally setting up when Jennifer looked at the backhoe, then looked at me and said, “Who’s going up in the bucket?” Since she was wearing all the bee gear, and I was garbed in a t-shirt, shorts, and flip-flops I kinda assumed she was going up. However my response was, “Can you run the tractor?” “Um, no.” “Then I guess it’s you going up.”
This is important, because Jennifer is afraid of heights. Like, a lot. However that swarm wasn’t going to get itself so she steeled her courage and hopped into the bucket. You’ll note in the picture that I’ve put down the rear stabilizers so that there was no wobble in the tractor as she moved around. That and moving very slowly was the best I could do.
When you capture a swarm, the way it works is the bees all cluster around the queen and hang out while the scout bees go look for a new home. The swarm is very docile during this period so it’s just a matter of getting under the swarm with a box, and then brushing the bees into the box. No bid deal as long as you don’t mind 20,000 bees falling into your lap.
Then you check to see if the queen made it into the box. If so, you simply wait because the rest of the bees will eventually work their way into the box to be with the queen. Simple.
After brushing the first batch into the box, Jennifer checks for the queen. luckily we got her the first time so this one was easy.
Btw, as an aside, as Jennifer is up there in all her gear. I’m standing on the hood getting this video, in the previously mentioned flip-flop attire. Yes I did get stung. Yes, I need sympathy. The things I do for you folks.
Jennifer was very happy to be back on the ground with a captured swarm. I’m not sure if the ground was the highlight, or the capture. Either way, she was pretty happy.
Swarms are not good for a beekeeper. It means that the remaining hive will not have any real production that year. However swarms are a result of having a really good beekeeper. They are a sign that the hive is doing well. In fact the bees are doing so well that they decide that they should split in half and make two hives. That is what a swarm is, it’s reproduction, almost like a cell dividing. It’s natural and a good thing.
By capturing the swarm and giving them a new, safe, warm home, we haven’t lost production, we’ve gained another hive. Neither hive will have much production individually but having both is a net gain. Couple that with the package bees Jennifer had already ordered, and we have a very active bee yard this year, which is great because we are powering through the honey in the store. I had to do an emergency order with Jennifer because we were out of our big honey and almost out of our mediums. I didn’t realize we sold so much.
It was a pretty cool afternoon. The only downside was the bucket truck not working, but Miguel fixed that the next week so all is good on the farm.
People are often surprised to learn that bees don’t have a ready source of food during the summer. The nectar flow around here is only about a month and a half in the spring. After that the dog days of summer take hold and there isn’t much for the bees to work with. Of course we do what we can for them but that is only so much.
However when July gets here, the bees at our farm get an unusual treat. In July, we start getting watermelons from the market. Often the reason we get the watermelons is because they are cracked or broken. And with Spork and I around, there isn’t much chance that a whole watermelon will stay unsampled for long which means you very quickly end up with the picture above. Bees absolutely swarming over the watermelons getting all the juicy goodness that they can. With our barnyard work area within site of the bee hives, it doesn’t take the bees anytime at all to find out we received watermelons and we have buzzing bees everywhere.
For those of us working the produce, this is definitely a hazard because you have to pick up these watermelons which are covered with bees all day. That means sometimes you grab a bee instead of the expected melon and they will zap you immediately. The other day, everyone working received at least one sting and Adam got stung on his last day with us.
However it does mean that our bees get an unusual nectar flow in a time when all the other bees in Wake County are going hungry. I haven’t talked to our bee keeper yet to see if she can compare our hives vs. the regular hives, but I’m sure she’ll let me know if she sees anything unique in the results.
I wonder if watermelon honey is a thing? 🙂
Last week Jennifer from Buck Naked Farm came out and checked on all the hives. The two that were rehived, shown here above, were doing well. They had emptied the feeders, reattached the comb we placed into the frames, were laying eggs, and bringing in pollen. We had to greatly reduce the hive entrances because the neighboring hive was robbing these guys something terrible but with the hive entrances reduced to the smallest size they could finally defend their hive and start making progress. Jennifer thinks we may have to combine these two hives into one depending on how they do the next month or two. If so we’ll keep the queen in the hive that is farthest to the right because we know she is a new queen. The hive to the left is a native swarm and Jennifer wants to requeen that hive in the spring should we not combine them this fall. The thought is to have a young queen whenever possible.
The remaining top bar hive looked ok as well but not as good as I’d have thought for how good the hive looked all summer. There was lots of honey and brood but they hive certainly wasn’t bursting at the seams. There were about 6-8 bars with nothing on them so there was plenty of room for the bees to continue growing.
One thing we’ve done to help the bees along is to plant pollinator areas with the help of the US Bee Buffer program. We received about 3 pounds of seed with a variety mix I’m looking forward to seeing come up. Pictured above you can see the two strips cut low on each side of the telephone pole. We planted both of those areas, plus another couple of acres in our back pasture. These were planted mid-September. The areas shown above is about 100 yards from our hives so if everything comes up, the bees should have a short flight to a big buffet.
Hopefully our pollinator planting will give the bees a boost heading into fall and help them get through the winter. I’m looking forward to next spring when we can get these hives in production and add some new hives.
Yesterday Jennifer from Buck Naked Farm came by and she and I moved bees from my top bar hives into her traditional Langstroth style hives. The weather, which had looked questionable turned out to be just perfect and the bees behaved surprisingly well considering we tore apart and restored their entire homes. The whole process felt like moving into the dorms the first year of college. Lots of organized chaos.
We had to take the fully built out comb from the top bar hives and cut it to fit into the traditional frames. In this picture you can se the drone comb on the right where the comb is built bigger than the rest. This is something you don’t see in a Langstroth hive because the wax is already drawn and the bees use the size that is provided. This is part of what is attractive about a top bar hive, it lets the bees do what comes natural to them. The down side of the top bar hives is we had to combine two hives that were not going to make it, and rehive another hive that probably wouldn’t have made it through the winter either. Three out of four hives didn’t have a chance. The hives they are in now will allow for much more management and a better success rate for the bees. Maybe they won’t be fulfilled emotionally, but they will be alive, so that’s something.
Here you can see the Langstroth hives in the foreground, and the old top bar hives right in the background.
We chose to leave the strongest hive in place as they seem to be doing very well. Everyone else was moved to new digs and given sugar water. Next week when we check on the rest of the bees and refill the feeders, we’ll also break open this hive and take a look inside to make sure of how they are doing.
We have soap and honey IN STOCK. I’ve been talking about it forever but we finally have it here.
The sales room now smells awesome with the soap sitting here. I’m definitely keeping this stuff around from now on. This soap is from the lady, Jennifer, who will be doing our beekeeping going forward. She will be transferring our bees over to her hives this week and bringing more bees to our farm so that we can finally have all the honey we can use (I hope!)
In addition to beekeeping, she’s been buying my lard over the years and making soap with it. Since her soap looks SO much better than mine, as in it’s actually packaged, had a label, etc, I asked her if she would let me sell some of her soap in our store and she agreed. What you see here is soap made from the lard of our pigs, along with all the other oils and fragrances that make great soap. I know they are different recipes so I don’t know what ratio which one has but these are the real deal. If you want to read more about what they do and how they do it, check out their new farm website, Buck Naked Farm.
In addition to the soaps, we also have an initial order of honey on hand. This honey isn’t from our bees yet, it’s from Jennifer’s bees who live in the mountains of NC. I of course scammed a bottle for myself to taste and it is better than the honey I extracted myself. I’m sure our honey will improve with Jennifer’s ministrations but for now we are blessed to have this honey on hand. Hopefully we’ll get a bit of honey from our farm when we move the bees. Next year we should definitely have honey and honey going forward as well.
You’ll also note that besides having labels, everything is very well presented. When you see what I’ve displayed, it is all white, cold, and without style. Jennifer walked in with not only product, but displays, signs, baskets, flowers, and all the things that make it obvious a woman has been here. I know I’ve been meaning to get some color in our room, but I didn’t know how badly it needed it till I saw her displays. I’ve gone to work on it though, we’ll have some stuff on the walls shortly.