July 10, 2007

As noted a few days ago, the girls did, indeed, swarm, and I was a bit upset I missed it. I mean, if you’re going to lose half your hive to a sudden mass migration, the least you can do is enjoy the show: a black cloud of tens of thousands of bees humming and zooming their way to a new home.

Don’t feel sorry for me to long, they swarmed twice!

Yeah, I didn’t really get it either. Maybe the first swarm was just a dry run and they went back, or maybe there were really two separate swarms (comments from more experience beekeepers welcome), but a couple days later, Michelle came hollering up the stairs that they were at it again. Behold, my backyard filled with bees:

Beekeeping 2351 Beekeeping 2349 Beekeeping 2353
(photos by Michelle, more on Flickr)


As I was home this time, I thought I might have a chance at catching them (though, like the barking dog who’s caught the car, I’m not sure what I would have done had I succeeded), but they never came low enough for me to do anything practical.

Here’s the quick cheat sheet on swarms: when a hive gets overcrowded or otherwise in the mood, they’ll pick a worker cell to feed extra royal jelly and make a second queen. One bright sunny day, that second queen will gather her belongings, along with ten or twenty thousand of her closest friends, and they stream out of the hive like a buzzing yellow and black fire hose. Eventually, they’ll settle somewhere in a thick mass while scouts go looking for a new home. If you can get at them at this stage, you can recapture them just by scooping them into a box (they’re very docile at this point, this can be done in shorts and t-shirt). Otherwise, when they’ve decided a new home, they’ll spread wing en masse and set out to build a new hive.

In past years, I’ve had some success in capturing such migrant hives. This year, however, no luck. They decided to settle for the scouting phase in a high branch of a tree, meaning there was not much else to do but crane my neck from my neighbor’s backyard, my cat fretting and mewling between my feet, and wait for the inevitable.

On the bright side, while over there, my neighbor Lesli offered me some of their delicious home made ginger ale. I got the recipe (based on a recipe here):

  • 2 liter plastic bottle
  • 3 Tbsp grated fresh ginger
  • 1/4 tsp. granulated baking yeast
  • 1 cup sugar
  • water

Shake to dissolve sugar, let sit in warm place 2 days or until bottles get hard to squeeze. Put them in the fridge. Optional – Add some fresh lemon juice when it’s done.

Lesli adds “He makes a big deal about the grater – we just use a regular cheese grater. We don’t like it so fizzy, & just use 1/8 tsp yeast, let it sit just a day. We use more ginger too – maybe to make up for less sitting time.”

Yum. I wonder what it would taste like with honey substituted for sugar…

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