By Dudley Beck
Swarms in June? Nope. Nary a one. Let’s move on.
Our seven managed bee colonies in Bluff are doing well, all bringing in lots of honey now and appearing healthy. Looking to the south, do you remember the Mexican Water Chapter House?
June 21 was our Mexican Water Chapter House caper. I suppose you could call it a project, but caper sounds more exciting, like you don’t really know what to expect while hoping for the best. Jerry Shue came down from Moab with his friend, Denver.
The three of us headed out with tools, bee outfits, ropes and a smoker. If you remember, on May 2, we placed a two-box colony of bees with a queen up on top of the beams above the entry way to the front door of the chapter house. We made a wire funnel to allow the bees inside the stucco to get out but not return. Instead, they were supposed to return (if they read the book) to the two box colony upon which we added three additional boxes with frames, hoping that would be enough space for all the bees.
When we arrived, everything looked good. Bees were returning to our five-box colony. So we closed the gate to prepare for transport. This involved removal of the cone, caulking the stucco openings closed, and removing the barriers we had placed to protect the entry way, as well as a 3-foot by 4-foot shade cover. We tried to fire up the smoker to discover that the propane starter would not work. It turned out that we didn’t really need it. The bees that were flying were gentle and didn’t bother us. When ready, we strapped the colony tight and put a rope on it. Denver held the rope looped over a beam . I climbed part way up the ladder to catch the colony.
“Oooh, it’s heavy,” said Jerry when he tried to lift it. He was able to lower it part way though the beams where Denver and I caught it and took it to the truck. We had to lower it to the ground several times on way to the truck as it was so heavy — a very good sign. We gathered our tools and headed beck to Bluff where we wheel barreled it to my side yard. This was the first time that we could actually see inside.
“Wow! Lots of Bees!” I said.
“Look at that beautiful honey comb on top,”said Jerry. “I want a frame of that Mexican Water honey after it is capped.”
We left the five-box Nuc (small box) colony alone for a few days within two feet of where I planned to house them in a regular eight-frame colony. The bees needed to settle down and reorient themselves to the new site.
Four days later, Wes Shook and I removed each frame, one at a time, and placed them in eight-frame boxes. We now had a colony of three boxes and added a fourth, to allow them to grow and make more honey. A very successful caper!!
A few days later, we checked our other bee hives, adding a new box of frames as needed. Now we sit back and let the bees do their thing. We only need to check every 3-4 weeks to see if additional boxes are needed.
We’ve talked about the lack of swarms this year. All the cottonwood trees are usually good homes for wild bees, along with rock crevices. It is possible that the drought last year killed off a lot of these smaller wild colonies. Time will tell. I just started reading a great book by Thomas D. Seeley — The Lives of Bees: The Untold Story of the Honey Bee in the Wild. “We see that wild colonies are surviving and maintaining their numbers, while at the same time some 40% of the colonies managed by beekeepers are dying each year.”
Well…we just got some wild drones (male bees) from Mexican Water to add to the Bluff gene pool. We in Bluff try to mimic some of the wild bee behavior by avoiding exposure to insecticides, not using chemicals or miticides, not moving our colonies once established, having multiple pollen sources (thank you Bluffoons for your gardens, trees, and flowers), and by leaving plenty of honey on top of each colony in the fall to help them overwinter here in Bluff.