Monday, April 29, 2013

A Ridiculously Busy Day Part 2: The Swarm

So after doing that roof cutout it was off to work. Around 6:45 I noticed my phone vibrating, followed by a single buzz that means the caller left a voicemail. I work in a restaurant right now while going to school, so that means no personal calls. Things finally slowed down around 7:30 and I went to the bathroom to check the voicemail. Turns out that it was the Broward association's president giving me a call to let me know that a lady in my local area had called to see about having a swarm removed! I was excited to give her a call, but wasn't sure if I'd make it in time since I still had another hour and a half on my shift. Fortunately things were extremely slow and I was told to clock out early around 7:45.

I quickly gave the homeowner a call from the parking lot. No one had called her back about it, other than professionals who wanted to charge $400 for the job. Pretty expensive for a simple retrieval. She confirmed that it wasn't a cutout, and they were still there! I wrote down her address and rushed home! Only stopping to pick up a headlamp from the store.

Upon arriving home I ran up to the garage, rolled the door up, and quickly tossed everything I could think of into the car. I'd never done a swarm retrieval before, and definitely had never done a cutout or retrieval on my own! Jacket, smoker, matches, nuc box, hive tool, gloves, and ryoba saw.

A bit about the ryoba saw. It's a Japanese style saw, bought at Home Depot, which works on the "pull" stroke of the sawing motion. American style saws generally work on the "push" stroke. This made a huge difference when I got to the property. One side is fine toothed for cutting across the grain, and the other side has larger teeth for "ripping" with the grain.

Back to the story! I arrived at the home, which ended up being only two major streets away (1 mile maybe). I pulled into the drive way and met the homeowner. I asked, "Where are they bees?", and she told me to look up. Sure enough, almost right above my head was a large, softball sized bundle of bees!

The only thing was that they were higher up than the homeowner's ladder, doh! She called her son out and he pulled his pickup truck into position under the tree. We then set the ladder up in the bed of the truck. It was a bit risky due to the plastic liner in the bed of the truck, but we used some bungee chord to secure the legs to the bed. After that I told the homeowner (who was allergic) that she should probably go inside, at least until I got the tree limb taken down. That way she'd be safe if the branch fell for any reason, resulting in a cloud of bees.

Getting up to the top of the ladder it was pretty obvious that this was going to be an awkward branch removal. I had to twist at the waist and lean forward to get a good grip on the branch, resulting in practically no leverage. However, the ryoku saw was exactly what this situation required. With just the weight of the saw and a few fingers on the handle, it quickly sawed through the branch... but it was longer than I could initially see! The whole branch swung down like a pendulum from my hand!

I couldn't see right away where the bees had went, but I also didn't see any flying around in the air... so that was a good sign at least. By then the homeowner had come outside to check out the progress. I asked if she saw where the bees went, and she pointed to my elbow and said look down. Sure enough, there they were, still clustered upon the branch with the nearest bees just inches from my elbow! Phew! I quickly trimmed the twigs off the branch and came down off the ladder. Next step was to trim the limb even further so that only the 3 foot section with the bees remained. That would make it quite a bit easier to manipulate while searching for the queen.

I rotated the limb and brought the top half of the branch (where the bees were) down to the ground. This left the other end resting on the tire. That was a quick five minutes of sawing, leaving the bees sitting comfy on a few feet of branch with no leaves or twigs.

For the next thirty minutes I combed through the swarm, parting the bees with my gloved fingers. The mass of bees was at least seven bees thick from exterior to the bee holding on to the bark itself. It was slow going. But the key with bees is to work slowly, methodically, and with only gentle pressure. Finally after twenty five minutes there was a flash of solid orange in the mass of bees! I tried to clip her, but she slipped out escaped back into the swarm cluster. It took five minutes to find her again, but finally I was able to clip her! Here is her abdomen in the above picture (left side of the bottom "window" of the clip.

After that, it was merely a matter of putting the clip in the nuc box and shaking the bees off the branch into the box. Immediately they could detect the queen was in the box and they all stayed put, even without having sprayed them with sugar syrup to inhibit flight (forgot to bring that, oops). I gave them 15mins to fan out the smell of the queen, and for strays to rejoin the swarm in the box.

All in all, minus the awkwardly positioned ladder for cutting down the branch, things couldn't have gone any better! These bees were also extremely docile. So I'm very glad to have them and will be keeping them in my backyard, on the patio, for a bit. That will let them build up strength, and get their brood comb constructed since I don't have any established wax comb for them to use. That way they don't have to worry about hive beetles maturing in the dirt and then flying up to the hive. They're a small swarm so they need ever advantage I can give them to begin with. They'll be on poured concrete with partial shade as well, which is the best environment they can have for starting absolutely fresh.

Here's the nuc box all set up with the feeder I picked up at South Florida Bee Supplies. It took another hour to get them situated and to put all my equipment away. I was so beat after a very busy 16 hour day. It wasn't until midnight that I actually got in bed. However, there's nothing like going to bed feeling accomplished and productive!

Coming next: Update on the captured swarm