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Beekeeping, Honey Bees, Latin Literature, Pliny, Swarms

Swarm: the Aftermath

Like Plato, I became rather eloquent after the bee visitation, but probably not in quite the same way….

Swarm of bees

Swarm of bees (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

tunc ostenta faciunt privata ac publica, uva dependente in domibus templisque, saepe expiata
magnis eventibus.  sedere in ore infantis tum etiam platonis, suavitatem illam praedulcis eloquii

from Chap18 Happy Omens Sometimes Afforded by a Swarm of Bees

The Natural History. Pliny the Elder. John Bostock, M.D., F.R.S. H.T. Riley, Esq., B.A. London. Taylor and Francis, Red Lion Court, Fleet Street. 1855. 

 (on the right, what the clump on the garage would look like, though about a tenth of the size, if I could take a decent photo)

Avant le Swarm, Lors du Déluge et de la Sécheresse

At the beginning of April, many areas of the UK saw the banning of the use of garden hoses in response to drought conditions after two dry winters in succession.  Of course, the day after the ban, the deluge, those lyrical April showers.  Great for the countryside.  Bad for the bees. After running amok in the unseasonably warm weather of March, the bees have been facing near starvation in April.  So, we, like many other beekeepers around the country have had to resort to sugar syrup as a way of keeping the girls alive.  As of the end of April (24th, 29th) we have given them two feedings of syrup and expect to continue for a bit into May (there has been predictions of cold and snow.  Update:  we did replenish sugar syrup on 6 May).

Draining the fens

Draining the fens (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So, what’s with the cancan?

Bees in both hives out in front fanning during a dry interval during an all-day downpour on 25th April.  It hasn’t really been hot, but maybe they are trying to evaporate moisture?  Can’t be that they are guiding foragers back?

Or maybe it’s something a bit more ominous….


To Swarm or Not to Swarm

Because right after we gave them their first May feeding, it was like they were on a high of some kind.  It was champagnes a’ corkin’ and bees pouring out of hives everywhere (to use excessively confused metaphorical language).  Look back at the post from a few days back for all the crazy details.Anyhow, as of noon 9 May, things are relatively quiet.  The clump of bees on the garage is still there.  This morning they were totally still, but there is a little flying activity around it this afternoon.  I can’t tell if it is from the clump itself, or from the nearby ‘in the doghouse now’ hive.  I have had some words of wisdom from an Association bee guru:

You do come up with some interesting questions.  A 4 yr old queen would be overdue for replacement.  Perhaps the swarm returned because the queen went with them and dropped dead from exhaustion 🙂

More seriously, I would assume that the small cluster out in the open is queenless.  If they don’t return to the hive of their own accord in a day or two I’d suggest you dump them in an empty super on top of their old hive with a sheet of newspaper under them.  If they do have a young queen with them she’ll either kill the existing one or, if the hive itself is queenless, take over as new queen.  Either way, I don’t think you’ll do any harm.

I am inclined to think that this might be the old queen they are congregating around, especially based on this account of a similar clump from Linda’s Bees  (good photos of cluster):

After days of solid rain, the bees below are all that are in the cluster – about two cups or probably one pound of bees. I couldn’t let them just die there and there probably is a queen in the center. I went inside and got a Tupperware storage box (about a 2 pint size) and slipped it under this cluster. Many bees fell into the small Tupperware container. I brushed others into the box.
I took the bees and dumped them into a 5 frame medium nuc. There’s probably not much point, but I had five frames of fully drawn comb and thought maybe they could use it to establish their hive again. The box they are hanging under was filled with ants, wax moths, and vagrant bees. Before winter I may combine them with another hive but for now, they’ll at least have a chance.
Two hours after the transfer, I lifted up the top of the nuc to see what was what and there were lots of bees in the box. Cross your fingers!

If they are not gone by tomorrow, we will probably take the bee guru’s advice and try to reunite them with the original hive.  That’s if they are on their best behavior.  I am waiting for 2pm today, supposedly the witching hour for swarms.

I had been concerned about swarming this time of year, and imagined I was seeing them almost on a daily basis.  Now, I know it’s not so much the sight as the sound that is the give away.  However, before this week, I had found a good article which informed me that I have been using the word ‘bearding’ in the wrong way:  it is not about swarm behavior but temperature behavior.

11 May  Update:  No swarming from either hive, and clump of bees still there.  Today we undertook a complete examination of both hives.  Let’s just say a wild time was had by all. Rest assured everyone is healthy and reproducing like crazy.  However,  too much to report here and some pretty scary photos to include.  So after I’ve got more advice (and hopefully some reassurance that we haven’t traumatized the bees with some of the measures we have applied), I’ll post my summary next week,

Can you say ‘guttation’?

During the warm weather of March, the bees were all over foliage not a source of pollen, for instance all over the turned earth of the kitchen garden.  I had wondered at this behavior, and put it down to the search for moisture.  However, in the latest BBKA newsletter, not only did I find out what they were doing, in terms of the foliage anyway, but also a new vocabulary word:  Guttation.  Attractive, no?

Guttation is the secretion of water from plants.  Nice to know they have these alternative sources of water.  But no sooner did I learn about this new source, then I also learned that it could kill bees!  Seems that these droplets could also contain the very pesticides that are threatening bees.  See BBKA site for discussion of this issue.

Deutsch: Grosser Wollschweber (Bombylius major...

Deutsch: Grosser Wollschweber (Bombylius major) Die Wollschweber (Bombyliidae), auch Hummelfliegen oder Trauerschweber sind eine Familie der Zweiflügler (Diptera) und werden den Fliegen (Brachycera) zugeordnet. English: Bee-fly (Bombylius major) is a large genus of flies belonging to the family Bombyliidae (the bee-flies). The genus has a global distribution. Français : Un Grand Bombyle (Bombylius major). Les bombyles forment un genre cosmopolite et diversifié de la famille des Bombyliidae. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 I also learned a new Latin name:  Bombylius Major

Have I been the only one puzzling over the new type of bumble bee with the savage looking proboscis buzzing about the garden lately?  I tried to discover what exactly it is by searching the web with such phrases as, “bumble bee” and “humming bird”  or “bumble bee” and “big ass stinger”, but no luck.  Little did I know that I should have searched under “bee fly”, for it is actually a fly mimicing a bumble bee.  Things just keep getting weirder around here.

Pliny Translation:
And then, too, it is that they afford presages both of private and public interest, clustering, as they do, like a bunch of grapes, upon houses or temples; presages, in fact, that are often accounted for by great events. Bees settled upon the lips of Plato when still an infant even, announcing thereby the sweetness of that persuasive eloquence for which he was so noted.
For links to Natural History in Latin and English, see sidebar to right of page


7 thoughts on “Swarm: the Aftermath

  1. I’m going to have to print this out and analyze it!! 🙂

    Posted by Deborah DeLong | May 11, 2012, 8:19 pm
  2. I enjoyed dipping back into your archives. I am a third year beekeeper using both the Langstroth (standard ) hive as well as 3 top bar hives. I had my first cognizant encounter with bees making new queens, I had 10 or so queen cells in my original top bar hive in march of this year. I split the hive into one of my ready for occupancy top bar hives. I also had a bunch of bees in a Langstroth hive as a result of a trap out from a hollow tree. Unfortunately I did not get the queen…..Top bar queen cell and brood to the rescue. My top bars are sized to fit the Langstroth hive. I dropped the bar in and now have a growing colony.

    I failed to deal with the remaining queen ceils and the old queen left with half the colony. I did not witness the escape but the subsequent inspection showed greatly reduced numbers but fortunately a laying queen was hard at work.

    Side note……Pliny the Elder is also an awesome Double India Pale Ale brewed in California at Russian River Brewery. The nephew to this beer is Pliny the Younger, a heavily hopped and aromatic Triple IPA.

    Posted by Bishop | June 13, 2016, 3:44 pm
    • Not familiar with the Langstroth or top bar, but have often thought of experimenting with something not quite so regimented as the National. I am sure both Pliny’s would approve of the use of their name in such an admirable endeavor…

      Posted by mylatinnotebook | June 14, 2016, 1:27 pm

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