30 June 2008

Bee Gone

Our Bee adventure didn't last long. The very next day the swarm was off.

We saw the swarm milling about, on the verge of absconding, and managed to bring them down again by spraying water into the air with a hose. This time they settled on a downright upright branch in the Very Thorny Lemon Tree, so it wasn't easy to shake them off into a box this time. After clearing away some interfering branches, and with the help of a soft brush, We managed to get them back into the nuc-hive -- a small hive that only carries five frames.

Clearly something was wrong, because the next day they escaped yet again, this time for good.

On my trip to Cape Town last week I made time to stop in at the Honey Bee Foundation -- a slightly nutty Belgian gentleman who has made it his mission to teach The Art to new Beekeepers, and incidentally runs a Bee Supply shop. He was most helpful!

Evidently my mistake was in using all fully-waxed frames in the nuc-box. I should have left a couple of empty frames in the middle to give the Bees space to cluster and keep warm. Actually the middle frames should not be totally empty, but need a small strip of wax along the top of the frame to guide the Bees into building mostly worker-bee cells and not too many drone cells.

In retrospect I also strongly suspect that the swarm was too small -- it really was a tiny swarm. Reading Adrian's Bee catching adventure has made me realise just how small our swarm was!

Having now been bitten (stung?) by the bug, I now very badly want to get a couple of swarms! So: catch-boxes are out, well beyond reach of the Honey Badgers, correctly framed, cleaned of all wax-moth, ants, spiders and dead leaves, sterilised with a blast from the trusty blowtorch.

13 June 2008

Bee Happy

We've just captured our first swarm of Bees!

A couple of hours ago, Dale noticed a swarm forming around the Thorn Tree near the house, and called me to come and have a look. As we watched, they moved over to a Lavender Bush growing at the corner of the patio. Half an hour or so later, they had all disappeared. Or so we all thought.

Just what prompted me to look closer, I'm not sure. There they were, in a clump the size of a Melon, clustered around a few of the Lavender branches, no more than 20cm off the ground.

We flew into action: Dale off to find a cardboard shoebox, me to grab an empty beehive and place it on a bench off the ground. Couldn't find a piece of board for a ramp; used one of the beehive inner-lids.


About two-thirds of the bees fell into the shoebox. Lots of bees buzzing around, but it was pretty clear to me -- dressed in my ultra-protective shorts and T-shirt! -- that this was a confused buzzing rather than an angry buzzing. How the hell would I know a thing like that? I've never yet had the privilege of keeping bees in reality, though I've wanted to for some years, now.

Gently shook the bees onto the ramp leading up to the beehive. In theory they should have started walking up the ramp into the darkness of the hive, but instead, just lots of aimless milling about. Gave them 10 or 15 minutes to calm down, and, sure enough, there under the Lavender, was a somewhat-reduced clump of Bees. Obviously we missed the Queen the first time around. Lopped of a couple of interfering branches and tried again. BUZZZZZZZ... lots of Bees in the shoebox again... Dale standing by to whip off the lid of the hive... Unceremoniously DUMPed the whole lot of them directly into the hive, and ("careful, don't squash the Bees!") quickly slide the lid back on.

Almost instantly, all the bees buzzing about outside the hive started barreling into the hive as fast as they could find the entrance. All but a couple of dozen standing on the landing platform outside the hive entrance, looking for all the world like Jumbo Jets revving their engines to the max at the start of a very short runway, clinging on for dear life, as their wings fanned fresh air into the hive. Clearly we got the Queen on our second attempt.

Half an hour later, they seem to have settled into the hive quite happily, humming away contentedly. OB the PhD thinks we've specially arranged a box of Mexican Food Doggie Treats for her -- she loves to eat bees. I guess that they taste like Chillis in a Sweet Syrup -- very yummy! It will be easier for her once I can move them a little further away from the house, but in the meantime she's filled with Insatiable Curiosity about the humming noise coming from the box.

Great fun. Great excitement. And nobody got a stung. I guess I'd better read that Bee book again pretty quickly!

02 June 2008

Signal and Noise

Still barely alive.

Thank goodness my (6 month, software development) contract is finished! I originally contracted to deliver 40 work-hours per month. It ended-up regularly going beyond 90. Utter chaos.

Imagine someone1 calling up a builder. "I want a wall built."

"OK!" says O'Reilly.2

"So can you have it done by Monday, then?" Notice that you have not given him any plans, nor even the slightest indication of where the wall should go, how high it should be or how long, what materials are wanted... But imagine further, that, when O'Reilly quite reasonably refuses to give an estimate, our Customer promptly throws their toys out of the cot in no small way. And a month further into the saga accuses O'Reilly of gross incompetence and/or being and out-and-out crook.

All this and more has been part of my life for the past 6 months. Oh, the money was nice to have for a change, but I'm not sure the cost was worth it. My health is still recovering -- bronchial infection as a direct result of stress... Still, it has been an interesting little sojourn back into Money World. At least we've mostly-cleared the debt piled-up by our son's (still-ongoing) Adventures at Rhodes University. All this is the reason there's been so little action on this blog: Nothing On-Topic to blog about, and I don't want to add to the stream of noise.

The only real self-sufficiency news of any note is the continuing shortage of rain. March and April both produced less than half the average rainfall (5-year average) and May saw us getting a mere 14mm. (Average for May is 71mm!) Dams are rapidly approaching Empty. I put some Carrots into the ground yesterday and cannot be sure I'll have enough water to get them established. I have the Usual Winter Suspects in seed-trays -- Cabbages, some Florence Fennel, lots of Onions and Leeks -- but they're terribly slow and late -- Slugs got into the "on-time" batch so the seed-trays are month-late desperation tries...

But still no rain! Household water supplies are fine. We are so conservative with our water that by the time our water tanks start running dry the entire region will be a disaster-area. But for the garden and fields things are looking pretty grim.

[1] I know that none of you, dear readers, would ever behave in such an unreasonable manner as this hypothetical customer. Take my word for it: They do exist!
[2] And Python fans will be shouting "Run Away!", won't they...

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