the swarm and a rumpelstiltskin jig.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

You know when something happens and you immediately think "I'm gonna blog about this!"? Well that something happened today. So here's the blog all about it...

Today was going to be a quiet day - a day to clean, hang out, and be generally pretty lazy. After the last few weeks of madness, we needed a boring day.

But we all know what happens when we plan for a day of rest...

So, just after noon, we headed to the farm to feed the chickens our juice-making scraps. We didn't expect to see anyone there, but, as all "my day started out so lazy..." stories go, we were wrong. We did see someone. In fact, three someones - Abby Baxter, her son (the cutest little thing you ever did see), and a friend of theirs.

And the timing couldn't have been more perfect! See, Abby and I had been meaning to get together for weeks, but it just hadn't happened yet. (Sometimes life is busy and you just gotta roll with it, man.)

I probably need to insert here that Abby and her family are beekeepers. And not just any beekeepers - rad ones. Beekeepers that have lived on a bee sanctuary and keep the bee's best interests in mind at all times. In a nutshell - the kind of beekeepers we could use a little more of around these parts. 

Why was the timing perfect, you ask? Because of this...

What the heck is that?!

Yep, that's what I thought too. Turns out this mass of bees hanging on the bottom of my largest hive was a swarm. As in new, free bees in need of a home. These puppies had come from who-knows-where and placed themselves so sweetly and conveniently at the "feet" of another hive.

Abby comes up to the hives and we start talking about this swarm. She graciously says she'll go pick up her husband, Greg, to capture the swarm and put in a new hive box for us.

(For us! Did I mention that Abby and Greg are the best?!)

Before I knew it, they were back with a spare box and frames in tow. Here's where the hard work began...

Greg, as calm as the calmest of all calm cucumbers, dipped his hand in that mass of bees (we're talking around 20,000 bees), scooped them up like ice cream, then (again, calmly) dropped them into their new home.

This process took over two hours! Poor Greg was dripping sweat from his face, but diligently and oh-so-patiently sticking to the task at hand. He was determined to re-home those bees before they flew off elsewhere.

Another note here: Somewhere, hidden deep in that swarm of bees, is a queen. That's right, one queen for a zillion worker bees. And to move the swarm, you must find the queen. Otherwise, the bees captured cannot form a colony of their own. They have to have their queen. (I mean, they can be artificially queened, but that's a different story for a different day...) So, instead of saying "it's like finding a needle in a haystack", maybe the saying should be "it's like finding a queen in a swarm". Or maybe the cool kids have been saying that the entire time. ;)

Two hours of gently moving the bees and looking for the queen goes by and the weather is starting to get rough. There were storms rolling in and, as we learned, bees don't care to be messed with when bad weather's on the horizon...

Just before the heavens opened up and pure craziness ensued, Greg and Abby decided it was a good idea for everyone to back up and allow the bees some space. The reason? To see if the queen had been moved into the new box. If she had, the remaining bees from the swarm would slowly migrate to the box. If she was still under the hive, the bees would head back out of the box to be with the royalty.

So we waited.

The rain came and we all gathered under the canopy to watch what would happen - would the swarm get all comfy in their new home or insist on being under the old hive?

While we were waiting, the swarm of bees became like a cloud in the air. It was amazing! And what was even more fascinating was what Greg did...

He went to his truck and brought back a wooden box drum with a handle. He sat beside the hives and beat on the drum for a few minutes. The cloud of bees started moving. With each beat of the drum, the bees seemed to settle.

Darn! They were going right back under the old hive. Even though they hadn't yet become cozy in their new home, at least they weren't taking off elsewhere (which was the fear).

Slowly but surely, the bees returned under the old hive.

No worries, though. Greg had a plan. He and my husband, J, would simply lift the old hive, exposing the mesh bottom board that the swarm was attached to, then shake that mesh bottom board off into the new hive.

That sounded fantastic to us. But here's where things went a little awry.

When Greg asked J for help, what I should have said was something like this, "How about I help you do that?" Those seven words would have changed this story drastically. But then it wouldn't have been so good. So confusing. So painful.

I'm going to set the rest of the story up like this: J is a pretty cool, calm and collected kinda guy. He has shoulder-length blonde hair and (nearly every day) wears khaki shorts, flip-flops and a white t-shirt.

So when Greg asked J to help pick up an entire hive, he was down with it, man.

Should we have mentioned that J didn't have gloves? Or that is legs were just so exposed? Or that his surfer dude hair was fabulously whispy? Or maybe that he had never even touched a beehive?

YES. But, alas...we did not.

Instead, J (a little apprehensively, I might say) grabbed one side of the hive and Greg had the other. Both bare handed. And bare faced.

As they lifted the hive, I hear a tiny mumble come from J. It sounded like, "I don't have it..."

And just like that, WHAP! The hive crashed to the ground. And those bees went nutty. They were furious!

Somehow, Greg stayed true to his calm cucumber-y self. It's like the man didn't even move a muscle. J, on the other hand, starts dancing a jig; jumping from one leg to the other. The man looked just like Rumpelstiltskin. (I hope so much that you know what I'm talking about...)

At that moment, I was trying to process what the heck had just happened. It had all been so calm and quiet until now. But my brain wasn't fast enough. I saw and heard it all...but I was so confused. And what do I do when I'm confused? I laugh.

You read that right. I laughed. I promise I'm not an evil wife. And I wouldn't have laughed had I known what was going on...

Then J screams, "WHAT DO I DO?!"

And I realize what's going on...he's getting LIT UP by those bees!

"RUN!!" I yelled back.

Boy does he! He first ran to one side of the field; yelping and jumping with each sting. Then he stopped running for a second, only to realize just how many bees were still on his body. A second later, after taking a sting to the lip, he starts violently head-banging; trying desperately to get a bee from his aforementioned whispy hair.

Then came the run to the other side of the field. On the way, J dropped any (and all) dignity that may have remained. With his last sprint across the field, he was a hopping and a bopping while yelling and stripping every stitch of clothing off (minus his underroos, of course) until he got to the water spigot. There, J doused himself as I picked out the stingers left behind.

After a couple of minutes, we realized how thankful we were that he wasn't allergic!

Soon everything calmed down and we look over to see that Greg had somehow turned the hive back upright and had transferred the swarm to their new home. He was like Houdini. I still don't know how he did it. One minute: panic. The next: tah dah! Done.

With both guys having been stung a several times, the minute or so of craziness probably felt like an eternity... But hey, you live and you learn.

So here was the take-away: honey bees are calm creatures unless you pick up their home and throw it to the ground...then you better RUN like the dickens!

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