Robber Bees

Do you ever have days where you feel like no one can make a mistake as big as you can, or quite so publicly, and taking several people down with you in the process? That you are perhaps the antithesis of tact? That perhaps the place for you to reside for the next month or so would be under a rock? I was having that kind of day earlier this week.

Then I got a somewhat panicked call from Lorraine. She said that there were several bees in the garage and they were going for the bee equipment and hive boxes. Could this be a swarm? If it was a swarm, was it from one of our hives or was it from a neighbor or even a passing truck? Was is something else? Did Lorraine have a camera?

Lorraine didn't have a camera to document this and she didn't see a large clump of bees that could mean a swarm but assured me a large quantity of bees was in the garage. I decided to head out regardless, I needed the company, someone needed to get photos, and even if it wasn't a swarm, something blogable was happening.

By the time I arrived, the amount of bees had diminished but it was still enough to make me want to put on a bee suit. Many bees were crowded on the windows and surrounding some old frames, but there was no telltale clump that would mean a swarm.

What we had were robber bees. In the above photo, are the old frames from the Kitty Hive that died out this winter--they were covered in bees. Lorraine had left the garage door open and a worker bee found them, went back to a hive, did a little dance that said to other workers, "Holy crap, there's a trashed hive with some frames with honey! We don't even have to gather nectar and convert it to honey, we can just take the honey! Watch me dance!"

And soon several thousand bees followed suit to the garage. We stood outside the garage to watch where they were coming from because we have the Olga and Kitty Hive in one area and Bickman and MimiKo in another area. The traffic flow appeared to head towards Kitty and Olga and my guess is that these are Kitty bees. Lorraine and I decided to head out to do some late afternoon bee inspections. Not the best idea, most of your foragers are back at the hive at that time and they are most likely to sting you, however, we were just going to check the tops of the hives and not dig too deep.

We did dig deep into the queenless Olga hive to check her progress. We found queen cells on June 22 and we were checking the hive on July 8. The queen should emerge in 15 - 17 days after being laid. Hopefully, a queen will emerge by this weekend, kill off the other queen cell, go on a nuptial flight and replenish this hive. Maybe this queen cell was emerging on Tuesday? Note the little notch in the capping at the top? Fingers crossed for this queenless hive.

Kitty seemed well and contented. She's a little behind in production compared to the MimiKo and Bickman hives, but seems well on her way to filling the hive in time for winter.

The MimiKo hive was super calm for so late in the afternoon. We didn't use the smoker on her. Everyone was mellow while we checked honey supers that had been placed on top recently. I told Lorraine that this would be the perfect time to hand feed the bees.

So we took off our gloves and dabbed a tiny bit of honey on our hands and tried to find a taker for our sweet finger tips. Low and behold, we found a taker. Above is Lorraine, without a glove, hand feeding a honeybee. Here is a close up:

The little bee tongue reached right out for her sweet fingers. This was a truly amazing moment if you knew Lorraine before we stared the whole beekeeping operation--she was the most opposed to the idea from the beginning, I seem to recall her shouting several times "Bees are NOT in my job description!" And now she not only goes out to the hives and does maintenance, she's out at the hive during the busiest time, with minimal smoke, bare-handedly feeding worker bees. A testament to how chill the MimiKo bees are and how much Lorraine has mellowed out in regards to beekeeping.

We checked the Bickman hive, she's sorta friendly but not nearly as laid back as the MimiKo hive. Mr. Neil had called while I was in Utah and said that he put a honey super on her and I wasn't sure she was ready, but looking at her third brood box, she was totally full and ready--he was right to add the honey super. Above is a photo inside our Ross Round Comb Honey Super and none of the bees had started drawing out comb. There looked to be a couple of half hearted attempts, but Lorraine and I decided to take a frame from the super and replace it with a honey frame in the top brood box. We did this last year with Olga. Once the bees draw out honey on the frame, we put back in the honey super and they go up and continue the work. Since all of Bickman's frames were full, Lorraine and I had to take back a frame of honey and got to sample and eat it--now we were the robber bees! Truly, there is nothing in the world like taking a bite of honey comb fresh from the hive, it's warm, chewy and sweet.

We also switched out a frame with MimiKo and put in a honey super frame in Kitty so we can put those up in the honey supers. I'm not sure about Kitty, but I'm confident that we will get honey from MimiKo and Bickman by the end of the summer.

Lorraine and I went out to dinner and I was feeling better--working with bees eased the burn of my unfortunate mistake I had been brooding about for the last twenty-four hours. I've been traveling so much this summer that I have not been out at the hives nearly as much as last summer. Unless you have to do something big like search a colony for a failing queen, beekeeping can be a very soothing hobby. I periodically get emails from people contemplating beekeeping and they are not sure. I say that if you have ever remotely contemplated it--do it. Yes, there's work, but it's the most amazing thing.

Here is Lorraine's version of our day...including what honeybees might be journaling about.