Spring is coming and we’re getting excited about bees again. Nervous, but excited. Here’s a little group of ladies from our check-in this weekend.
Oh, and Southern Living ran a little article on our beekeeping things. Check it out.
Finally, a little video on our bee swarms! Amy, check it out!
We had a grand total of 10 swarms, if you include a couple that swarmed multiple times. In the end, we went from 3 hives to 8 hives, lost one swarm (try as we might, we couldn’t find them), and gave the tiniest swarm (fit into a drinking cup) to our friend Jared, who used it to requeen a hive. We moved two of the swarms to a downtown location and have six at the original spot.
Status update on the hives. Everything is looking good! All eight hives seem to be doing well!
We Three Beeks now all have a brand new beekeeping merit badge! Jill, Stephanie, and I have all now captured (successfully??!?) a swarm. Or, more accurately, 8 9 swarms collectively, out of 3 original hives, over 6 7ish days.
(Note that this draft originally started April 6th after our first swarm and is still sort of incomplete, but I’m sick of it being in the queue, so I’m posting it)
Above is Stephanie and Jill on swarm-day 2, with the 5 hives that existed that day, but we’ll get to that.
First…Since all this started happening, we’ve been asked quite a bit about what exactly a swarm is. Merriam Webster says this:
a great number of honeybees emigrating together from a hive in company with a queen to start a new colony elsewhere
So, an established colony will produce a lot of babies and a new queen, and when the conditions are right, the old queen will leave with a significant portion of the bees from the colony. This is how they reproduce. The swarms of bees came from our hives, trying to reproduce, and we did our best to capture them, in part so they won’t be a nuisance to the neighbors, and in part so that we keep our bees—and have more hives!
That out of the way…here we go
Steph and I were out running errands last Saturday evening and decided to drop in on the bees since it was a super nice day. Everything looked fine to me, but Steph spotted a dark blob in a tree nearby the hives then yelled, “A SWARM!”
We were both in shorts and flip flops and had no bee gear with us, much less a place to put new bees, so in an adrenaline fueled flurry, we drove back to the house and got stuff together as quickly as we could.
There’s the swarm up in the tree. That tree is on a pretty steep hill. We put a ladder on that hill and that left us still probably 6 or 7 feet away from the swarm.
I got up on the ladder and held a super up, and Steph grabbed a limb trimmer pole thingy and pulled the branch down and then shook like crazy. We only had a shallow…this is how underprepared we were at a moments notice.
We took the super down to the hive stand and got it set up, then went back to grab as many more of the bees as we could. This was our first swarm ever so we were sort of just winging it.
Once in their new home, the bees will fan their pheromone to help the straggling bees (either our foraging or still hanging around wherever the swarm was previous to capture) find where they have gone. In the photo below, check on the lady with her butt in the air…she’s fanning.
The Lower’s friend Adam came up to check it out. He’s a beekeeper too.
Here are some bees collecting on the back of the hive. The top part is a pail feeder to hopefully encourage them to stay put.
Photo of Stephanie…just..because I like it.
So, since we didn’t have the proper equipment ready to go, we called our mentor from our bee class ages ago, Dr Cobbs, to see if he could help. He left us a deep super full of frames with foundation, which we took back later to add to the new hive.
The hives, all together!
Me looking ridiculous
Stephanie waiting for a bee to land on her so she could take a photo of it.
Here are a couple of ladies on me
So that was Saturday. Sorted out, finally. We had planned on going to the bee yard on Sunday anyway, so the three of us headed over after a fortuitously hearty brunch, only the find that the swarm we’d caught the day before had bailed again into the same tree.
We immediately went into re-recovery mode, which was made a little easier by the swarm clumping slightly lower on the tree.
WHILE WE WERE SORTING THAT OUT….Another swarm kicked into gear. (We have video of this, actually, but will post that later)
Instead of going up into a tree, they headed to a bush about 50 feet in front of the hive, almost entirely surrounded by brambles. (Below is Jill making her way back up to the hives after investigating)
Here’s Steph and Jill with the hives after we got them sorted. Ahhhh back when we had 5.
And a wider view of the area
And we ended Day 2 with putting up a swarm box in the tree that’d had a swarm in it already.
I dropped by Monday around lunch to see if there was a swarm about and I didn’t see one. When we three returned together that evening, next door neighbor, Walter, informed us that there had been a swarm in the pear tree (a different tree, up the hill a bit) since like 9 that morning (which means I’d just totally missed it on my check).
This time we used the same limb trimmer to pull/shake (Steph), and SUPER long pole with a bucket on the end of it (me), which was handed down to a super with frames (Jill). And then there were 6. We immediately screened off the newest swarm for transport the next day (more on that in a bit).
Tuesday….we’re exhausted. Steph took off work early…we took one of our dogs to the vet. I stayed with Fin, Steph went on to the bee yard. She talked to Walter who reported that all had been well and that there were no swarms. She left to come back to the vet because I had to go tend to a house emergency at the we’re working on. As I’m leaving the house, Walter calls me to tell me we have ANOTHER SWARM. At least this time it’s low down in the tree. Waist/chest level—super convenient, expect for not having space or boxes, etc. (On, I think, Sunday started building more frames, etc, mostly to replace the ones we’d borrowed from Dr Cobbs, but also as a contengency for possible future swarms….long term. Ha. Tuesday we made a bunch more)
Swarm from below
(Me actin’ a fool, under the swarm)
While digging around, Jill noticed that one of the previously-captured swarms was developing a queen cell (the little peanut thing toward the top of the cells). We ended up combining that hive with the swarm captured this day and eventually the queen cell was gone (presumably because they now had a queen from the other swarm (?)).
With all this activity, the bees had become a bit of bother to Walter and his wife (100 yards or so from the hives), so we decided to try to move a couple of hives away from the primary bee yard (still generously hosted by the Lowers).
We coordinated with my good friend David who has some land in the heart of downtown, and he cleared some space for us to transport some hives there. After we combined this low hive with the one that’d started developing the queen cell, we loaded up the car with the screened hive from the day before, and drove it downtown. In the Prius.
On the way there, Jill found a bee crawling around on her veil, so she stuck her head out the window. (On the way back, she found a bee IN her veil)
Hive one, in place.
Release the hounds!
Hive in place with super dark cityscape.
On the return trip to the bee yard, we decided to get some food (at this point it was like 8:30), so Jill did some bee-biz in the back seat to activate our official W3B debik kard.
Jill lookin proper in Chick-fil-a. Reppin’ the Alabama Beekeepers Association t shirt too.
After munching, we grabbed the second-newest swarm hive and headed to the railroad yard again. Stephanie drove in her veil.
Here’s a shot from the following morning of both hives in place near the railroad tracks.
Wednesday was going great! No word about any swarms at all! Then we got a text from Lindsey (bee yard host) a little after 5, saying she thought she saw something in the pear tree again. I had a shoot all that afternoon so I couldn’t go help, but Jill & Steph did amazing work. There was a swarm in the pear tree.
In fact, there were two.
I hope to have updated info on what they did—for now, we have these photos.
Jill with their bee-spoils.
After this nonsense we were left with 7 hives.
Thursday it rained, and nothing of note seemed to happen. Stephanie and I went out of town on Friday morning, only to get a text from Jill about 4:30 with more news of a swarm. She had this to say about it (paraphrased in parts):
I tried to help out fake Almon (the name we’d given to the first swarm hive, as it resides where the former hive named Almon used to be) by taking two frames from Francine (hive) and I somehow indeuced a swarm in a hive. Likely in Francine. I went through each box all the way to the deep super to pull frames. Chock full. I stopped counting queen cells after 11. Five on one frame. Found opened queen cell. Caught swarm. In nuc (a small box for raising a new hive) on top of Fern (hive). Ridiculous. No other good place to put it. Cinder block half thing on top, boardman feeder on top. Hopefully I didn’t crush too many bees in doing it—tossed bees in then put all 5 frames in. Thank gods Winslow was with me most of the time.
She added later:
Crazy bee-chains where we were missing frames!
So, with that swarm being put in the nuc, that makes 8 freaking hives. In less than a week we went from 3 hives to 8. What. In. The. Hell.
Here’s a shot Jill took of Winslow (taking a photo of her, bonus!) of the Lower’s bee yard, featuring a swarm (far left), two wintered hives (Francine and Fern), the nuc with the newest swarm on top of Fern, fake-Almon (swarm hive), Dane on the far right, and Winslow sporting the sugar water bottle.
Much later…I think the following weekend?…we came back and did a general inspection to make sure everyone was doing well. We did a bunch of stuff (switched some hardware, added some missing frames, etc) and were basically done. We actually had a pretty good day…saw some queens, saw some bees producing wax. Anyway…we were basically done. Jill grabbed a couple of shims to help level one of the hives and when she turned around she saw a swarm flying around all over the area in front of the hives. We tried to track but eventually they elluded us entirely. The 9th swarm was the first to get away. Sigh.
We looked for ages and went down the hill (which, let me tell you, is steep and quite a decent distance) and even drove around the neighborhood trying to find a ball of bees, to no avail.
Here’s a photo Steph Instagrammed.
She added this caption:
Dag nabit! After a full day at the hives, we walk out ready to leave only to find a swarm in process. This swarm happened so quickly and we have NO idea where it ended up. We walked up and down this hill searching without any luck! The tiniest white dot at the middle of the frame is Cary. He walked ALL the way down the hill.
Here’s a photo of Jill and Steph after we threw in the towel. I can only imagine they were as physically and emotionally exhausted as I was.
And, to go out on a more positive note, here’s a photo of one of our queens! Big Butt Beauty!
I’m amazed and awed pretty much every time we go into our beehives. Earlier this month I was snapping around and found this shot while looking through the shots later. Such an incredible example of genetic variation within the hive. They look nothing alike! Look at their butts! So amazing. Seriously, beekeeping is outstanding.
Above, Jill holds up a frame from one of our hives.
We ran up into spring this year with somewhat renewed gusto for beekeeping (after last year’s defeatlearning experience, we were a bit overwhelmed with sanger*) and took on four hives and doled out high fives left and right (mostly to each other). As I may have mentioned, we bought two new hives and had two of my later grandfathers’. This last weekend we dropped by the hive for our almost-weekly check in and found that the hive that started the season as the strongest had been robbed out and had only a few hundred bees left, trying to pick up the pieces. We really thought we’d been doing everything at least sort of right this time, only to find that there may not be any such thing. The good news is the new hives are doing alright and the other established hive is doing very well. We incorporated the remaining bees into one of the new hives and will press on. I didn’t really expect to feel as strongly about them as I do, but after my reaction when we got a dog, I don’t know how I’m surprised.
*sanger is a delightfully awful mix of sadness and anger.
Here’s a really bad video of our bees flying like crazy this afternoon. Fully unedited, featuring wind noise, shaky cam, and awkward zooming!
We’re getting ready to roll with the pollenpants ladies! We will be blogging about our beekeeping again this year (at the tumblr I’m reblogging) and occasionally tweeting @wethreebeeks, if you’re looking for your sugar spit fix.
We’re so excited to be headed to Huntsville tonight to screen up two of my late grandfather’s to move them tomorrow down to the yard in Birmingham. We have all our stuff together and cleaned up some of our frozen frames and have them warming up for tomorrow. This is Steph holding up one of them that has a loaded up.
Self Assignment. My answer for why I shoot personal work.
Why do you shoot personal work?
Cary Norton: Short answer: I shoot personal work because it’s what gives me the greatest sense of personal satisfaction. Photography is how I’ve learned to navigate life. Photography as a career can be problematic for me—something so intensely personal ones worldview/coping mechanism/raison d’etre (to be overly dramatic) intertwining with commerce sets the stage for conflict (internal, mostly, I guess). The compromises I make creating images that aren’t fully from/for myself (i.e. editorial, corporate, et cetera) creates an emotional need for me to make the work that moves me, whether I recognize it or not. And so I find myself shooting photographs that make me happy.
Longer answer: I shoot personal work because I have to. I found photography in college and pursued that as my career without question—but morphing photography, which has always been intensely personal for me, into something on which I rely for my life, has been a mixed bag. I’ve had several genuinely perfect jobs. Jobs where I was given an idea and the freedom to explore that how I saw fit. Jobs where I’ve been dealt an awful hand (weather, bad subject, et cetera) and managed to pull out beautiful work that I’m still proud of. Jobs that feel more like breathing than working. But they are the exception, obviously. Most jobs are just jobs, but I try to shoot everything as though I were shooting it for me, even if it’s a photo of something I couldn’t care less about. I strive for the FEELING I get shooting personal work no matter what I’m shooting. That feeling is why I take photos in the first place. It’s a fundamental part of who I am now. Making photos of my life is how I’ve come to cope with life. I don’t mean that in a bad way at all. I just mean that, through all the stuff you can go through in life—all the emotions, twists and turns, gloriously beautiful parts of being alive, and all the stuff that knots your gut—it’s all so overwhelming. Photography is how I’ve learned to absorb it all and deal with it. For instance, in retrospect I can tell you almost every girl I’ve liked since I started shooting. I wear my emotions on my sleeves as a rule anyway, but man, the photos say it all if you know what you’re looking for. Also, having a camera, even if it was just my phone, was indispensable last year when my grandfather was passing. I’ve lost people in my family before, but never had the impact been so direct and intense. During his last days, I cut myself off from everybody that wasn’t in my immediate family and used Instagram to communicate what I was going through, more or less without words.
Also, a good bit of the personal work I end up shooting is my every day life. This, for me, is crucial. I don’t get too caught up in shooting that I don’t live in the moment, but my mind works so visually that shooting intensifies my experience. By that I mean something like this: When I shoot it I am engaging the experience visually which means I’m creating in that moment which means I’m more likely to remember it. Not only just recalling what we did at some point in the future (I’m horrible at remember that way), but if I look at the photo I took I can recall my emotional state when I shot it, the what and why of the composition, and all the moments in between. In waiting for the moment I want to photograph, I get to watch the others flit by and it gives the photo I do take in the moment more context in my brain. I don’t know, it just all lives together in my head like that.
Personal shooting also let’s me experiment with photographing in different ways and with different cameras and formats. I embraced 4x5 because I wanted a challenge (and how do you not want to shoot large format after seeing Avedon’s American West?—which is basically inevitable if you shoot for a living) and that’s turned into all kinds of learning. I’ve always shot film but shooting large format has made me slow down even more and learn more about how to interact with who I’m photographing, and it also gives me the ineffable joy of developing the film. That’s another reason I shoot for myself; It’s really fun. I get to be in control from start to finish and don’t have to answer to anyone but myself if the project succeeds or fails.
And I managed to forget probably the most important part of personal work for me—people. As private as I like to be, as a rule, I really love people. Shooting personal work let’s me connect with people and have no agenda except to try to learn about them, and life, and myself through that experience. Having a camera in my hand gives me an excuse to break through the barrier of not knowing someone. Shooting helps me form new relationships and keeps me engaged with the world around me.
Today we put powdered sugar on the girls to hopefully help get rid of these damn varroa mites. We’re trying not to treat this hive so sugar is our best alternative. There were a TON of mites on the bottom when we left. A ton. More photos or whatever to follow, at some point.