Tuesday, July 31, 2012

HONEY! I'm Home!

This weekend we spent some time moving bees. We have 10 hives on a trailer that has been in town for the past month or so - quite neglected I'm afraid. At dusk on Friday night we drove to town to bring them home.  You have to plan to move bees at night so that all the bees are back from the fields, but it makes for an interesting scenerio. In the heat of the summer many bees will gather on the front door of the hive, in no hurry to enter so we use smoke to coax them in. Timing is everything. Once the bees are smoked into the hive, the doorway is stuffed with cloth or wood to keep them in during travel. If you do this too early, bees returning from foraging are locked out and again you will have a group of bees clustered on the front doorstep wondering what's going on. The less unhappy bees in the work area, the better.  If you wait too late and it gets too dark to see, then you need a light, and bees are attracted to light. This particular evening all went well - just a sting or two. Mine was due to leaning on a bee that I didn't notice on my jeans.
 We then trailered the beehives to the farm overnight.

In the morning, however, we were able to quickly surmise that our hives weren't as secure as we had hoped. It's quite a bumpy, rough trip on the highway at 60 mph and then down the dirt road to home, and though the hives are all cinched down, the wood and cloth in the doorways sometimes gets jarred loose. As the sun rose, unhappy bees began to try to figure out where they were. This wouldn't be a problem if they were parked for a period of time. They would then begin to navigate according to the position of the sun and lock in this location as "home."  They take short flights back and forth from the hive learing their new location, and even if several hives are placed next to one another, their homing skills are so accurate that they will not enter a neighboring hive but fly directly into their own.
Unfortunately, this was not the case today. We we on our way to another farm to drop the hives for the next honey crop, and knew that we would lose any escaped bees, so we hurried to finish morning chores and drive off early.
We brought the trailer to a cotton field 30 miles from home and again, bumped them along over rough terrain.

  Needless to say they were not pleased when the truck came to a stop. The problem was, however, that we did not have time to wait until they quieted down to open the hives. The ideal situation is to place them at night, allowing the honeybees to calm down before opening the hives in the morning, but this day we needed to drop and run, and inevitably, that's exactly what we did.
The plan was that we would start at the back of the trailer and Bob and I would each open the hives on opposite sides of the trailer. Bob suggested that we place the cloths on top of the corresponding hive, but I decided it would be better to move along quickly pulling the cloth out and dropping it as I went. (I could carefully place the cloth on top another day.) Those bees boiled out like lave from a volcano! I was done in no time, but Bob was still carefully placing the entrance cloth on top of his hives - a slow moving target for agitated bees. I'm afraid he realized that a bit late and by the 2nd to end hive this is how he was removing the cloth,

but that doesn't take into account the last hive on the trailer! By this time angry bees had found us and it was time to move! This is not the first time we've had to drop everything and yell, "RUN!"  Actually, today was more like a brisk walk. Away from the bees. And the truck. And the last hive that still hadn't been opened!

Bob went back for the truck a few minutes later, but we decided that it would be wiser to allow the opened hives time to forget us and to begin to figure out where they were. We knew they would settle down shortly, so in the meantime we drove to the other side of the farm and loaded Buttercup into the trailer to take her home. On the way out we stopped and my husband pulled the plug on the last hive without incident.  We'll check back in a week or two - this cotton was planted later than neighboring fields so the timing was perfect! Flowers are just beginning to open and there are acres and acres of plants. We'll bring extra honey boxes and brood hives to transition the smaller Nuks (a five frame hive used to begin small colonies) into larger 10 frame boxes, and we've been invited to bring our remaining 8 or so hives to another cotton field nearby. Rain has been plenteous this summer so we should have a nice crop of cotton honey this fall. Lord willing.

And I think Buttercup is glad to be home.

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