Yesterday, I was out in the woods under the big butternut kneeling in the earth top-working pawpaw trees when I heard my wife calling. At first I thought she was calling about the geese, who I’d heard honking away and wondered what trouble they could have gotten into, maybe one stepped in a beaver trap. Then she gets closer and I make out clearly, its bees not geese. “The bees are swarming,” she says. “Like actually swarming?” I reply trying to maybe distinguish from some kind of bearding or pre-swarming. “Yes,” she says, “they’re in the peach tree.” And, as I’m winding parafilm grafting tape around the cut top of a small pawpaw, finishing surgical procedure, I think, and this is the key moment of error, “we need to get the nuc ready with frames and then I’ll shake them in there. As soon as that’s ready, a one person job, we can start.” So I ask my wife if she can get the nuc ready and she says she can. A nuc, if you don’t know, is a small hive, half the size of a normal hive body. She says she’ll call my cell when it’s done.
I stay and graft 1 more pawpaw tree then finish the last of my pear grafts with one more out next to the spring pond. It wasn’t more than 10 minutes and my wife hadn’t called. Still, I headed back, a little nervous about the swarm. When I got there I could see it hanging in one of the upper branches of the largest peach tree. We’d need to get a ladder to get up that high. My wife was had gotten a few old, finished frames out of the freezer but still looking for a few additional frames to add wax to and put in the nuc. We decided that we needed a cardboard box to capture the swarm first before putting them into the nuc. And it was right around that time that the swarm disappeared. We didn’t see it fly away. So many of our bees had been in the air that we wondered if it had come back to the hive. It was a this moment of bewilderment that I called my friend Jason, my bee mentor, to get some guidance but he wasn’t home. I opened the bees and put on another deep super.
I’ve been slow to learn beekeeping. The learning curve seems steep. My wife and oldest son haven’t stepped up with any interest. So the bees probably could be managed better. I subscribe to a beekeeping group called Treatment Free and it seems filled with people who are very hands off and against opening the hive, examining frames, and of course treatments of any kind. But I think the successful folks in that group have come to their understanding from conventional beekeeping. So I may have been wrong to jump into their group right away and think I could understand hive health and behavior, as they seem to, simply by sitting at the opening of the hive and observing or by listening. I need to study more. I need to read some standard book all the way through, like Walter T Kelley’s How to Keep Bees and Sell Honey, which has been sitting on my shelf for a year beckoning.
But, I guess I’m choosing to do this instead of that, Lord knows why. I’m choosing to watch La La Land (not recommended) instead of watching Michael Bush beekeeping videos online. There are perhaps only so many things that a person can try to learn at a time and with everything else on the farm beekeeping has fallen by the wayside. Eventually, we’ll get there I hope. We’ve been waiting and waiting for the cows to have a baby and it was the bee hive that had one. And so we gave a swarm to the wild. Hopefully, they found a hollow tree. I had $130 fly away. Maybe my neighbor caught it. Lord knows. The moral of the story is, run home and shake that swarm into a cardboard box and while you’re on the way home station sentries to keep a constant eye on it. Anyway, long story. Now, to go out perform surgery on about 100 pawpaw trees, on the day of rest, heaven forgive me. Hopefully, also, my wife will forgive me. She keeps telling me how she wants honey, she wants honey. She wants honey. I think she was more disappointed than me that we lost the free beginnings of a second hive.