24 February 2012

Bees: One More Time

Despite our best wishes and intentions,... despite acquiring all The Right Gear,... despite some brave attempts at catching Bees as documented on the Blog,... we have, to date, been spectacularly unsuccessful1 as Apiarists. It's all very strange, really, since we are surrounded by neighbours who have acquired Bees without any such difficulties2.

Well, we will not be accused of quitting, though it does, admittedly, sometimes take us a while to get around to retries. (Like about 4 years!)

The catalyst has been some new neighbours moving in next door. Owen is a well-known professional local apiarist, and has long offered to help us get catch-boxes set up so that we can acquire our own swarm or two. I finally got around to taking him up on it this morning.

I took one of our catch-boxes for Owen to "paint" with Propolis - the sticky, resinous stuff that Bees manufacture to glue their hives together and protect them. The smell is (supposed to be) irresistible to them when a young swarm is looking for a new home.
Propolis melting. It has a strongly resinous, tarry aroma.
The catch-box is just a half-size box holding 5 frames of wax instead of the normal 10. Swarms that split off from established colonies of Bees tend to be quite small, so it is very difficult for them to maintain their preferred hive temperature if they are placed in a full-sized box, hence the use of the smaller catch-box. The box I'm using lacks a metallic protective cladding on the cover. I'll rectify that over the coming weekend. Owen also believes - though he freely confesses a lack of hard evidence - that the reflective cover usually placed on beehive lids also helps to attract Bees and help them orientate themselves on the hive. He says that the few times he's used other-colour lids are the only times he's been unsuccessful in catching swarms.
Cleanup of frames. Catch box in the background.
The 5 wax-frames were first cleaned. Old wax was hacked out, the support wires tensioned up to banjo-playing twanginess, and new wax strips placed in the frames. It is better to put only a small strip of wax foundation into the top of the frames, since full-sized foundation sheets restrict the movement of the Bees too much while they establish (hopefully!) their new home, refurbishing to their own preferences and spreading the aromas of their queen about the box. A touch of current from a car battery across the support wires heats the wax foundation just enough that the wire becomes embedded in the wax. Too much heat and the wires will melt all the way through the wax, breaking the foundation sheet. The top edge of the wax strips are fixed into the wooden frame by pouring a little molten wax (or Propolis, as in our case) along the groove that seats the wax sheet.
Newly rewaxed frames.
The box itself was them liberally smeared with the sticky, tarry Propolis, paying particular attention to the corners, edges and hive entrance.

Finishing touches.
Not neglecting Propolis under the hive lid, we're now ready to place the hive in a good catch location. Some discussion with Owen indicates that the top of the Pergola on the west side of the house is likely our best bet. Right outside my office window, where I can easily keep a close eye on the box. That part of the house is also right smack in a long-established Bee-path. For reasons not well understood, Bees tend to repeatedly swarm along fixed paths. Some magnetic field line? And we had the poor judgement to place our house right at the edge of one such path.

Right, now everything's in place. Surely we can't fail this time?

You'll notice that, unlike past reportage, this post is not titled with some weak Bee pun. I'm not superstitious; I don't believe that the twee names jinxed things in the past. But I'm taking no chances.
Keep your fingers crossed!

[1] More charitable critics might say "unlucky".
[2] And, in some cases, without much clue about what they need to do, either. We, on the other hand have researched extensively and read widely in an attempt to become reasonably educated about the care and feeding of Bees. There seems to be some sort of perverse inverse-square law at work, here.

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