Bees on the Loose

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Footsteps, yarns and little fibs
The hives needed shifting, and there was a complication. Plus a bit about beekeeping and honey.

Submitted: October 16, 2018

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Submitted: October 16, 2018

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Hooks and Henry had half a dozen beehives in a small apiary set up on the flat below the forest headquarters site. It was a good place especially during spring when there was good foraging in the flowers of the willow trees along the river. The ideal is to set up the apiary below the foraging site because then the bee can fly uphill empty and back, with gravity and a bum-full of nectar.  This is important! Helicopters do the same thing if they can, pilots like to take off loaded with the help of gravity because it saves fuel and wear and tear. Of course bees need fuel too but the critical thing is that the harder her wings work to keep her air, the quicker the membranous attachments wear out, and worn out wings are a bee’s death-knell. Beekeepers do their best to make it as easy as possible for their bees by siting hives with this in mind.

So many people fear bees, even when they swarm, but in fact that is the safest time to be near them. They load up with honey to start their new colony, and they know they die when they sting, causing their cargo of honey to become lost to the colony. The colony is all-important to bees. But beekeepers will try to prevent swarming because it results in a loss of bee population and honey in the hive. During the summer, Hooks and Henry checked their hives every fourteen days to destroy queen cells, which prevented swarming. The workers (females) will make special rounded cells and entice the queen to lay an egg in inside, sometimes the queen refuses so workers will carry an egg from another cell into the prepared one. They then feed the egg with royal jelly secreted from glands along their flanks. It’s the food that will produce a new queen. Beekeepers generally destroy queen cells unless they think the old queen is too old or has not been laying well.

Left naturally, if the queen cell develops, the newly hatched queen will fight the old queen forcing her to leave the hive with her supporters, each bee taking a bellyful of stored honey with them. They will protect their queen, by keeping her warm, which is why they usually won’t attack.  Survival of the new colony depends on the honey they are carrying because bad weather might prevent foraging for days at a time. You can identify drones (male bees) easily because they have big eyes. They won’t sting you either, because they don’t have a sting. The new queen will take her maiden flight and the drones with their big eyes have a better chance of seeing her, one will mate with her, on the wing and that’s all she needs. That’s her only flight and her only mating, her life is then dedicated to laying eggs.

On the same river flat as the apiary, although some distance away, Henry, Jack and Albert created a picnic area that evolved into a camping ground, which during the Christmas holiday period, became full happy campers. As all campers do, they brought with them all that sugary stuff in which holiday makers like to indulge, and given the opportunity, bees can become robbers. They will latch on to anything sweet, making them be a nuisance. The last thing they want is buzzing bees around their barbeque. There’s also the risk of bee allergies so Henry and Hooks didn’t want their bees becoming a pest, the growing numbers of feral wasps could fill that role!

They therefore decided to move the apiary during the holiday break. In the busy season, moving hives is tricky, because during daylight, most of the bees are out working, and Henry and Hooks didn’t want to lose any workers. After taking as much honey as they could, they waited until dark when the bees should all be at home, and packed the entrances tightly with newspaper. They loaded the hives onto a trailer hooked up to Hook’s Landrover. It wasn’t an easy lift, the hives were heavy, each box, super, was either full of brood or stored honey and the supers were three high! They couldn’t open the hive, and lift super by super. Luckily the trailer tray was relatively low. The bees weren’t very happy with the movement and began buzzing ready to defend their queen.

According to Hooks, the weight of the hives would make them stable, and they were packed tightly on the trailer, so he considered there was no need to tie them down. Henry had his doubts, he’d seen his share of tipped-off loads! Hooks drove off gingerly, headed to the new site, he slipped the vehicle into four wheel drive to cross the river ford and headed up the narrow road. It was a sharp turn into the gate of the paddock where they had prepared the site, but he made it ok. They drove across an easy, grassed slope, and just as Henry mentioned the height of the hives and the slope of the ground (possibly) making the load unstable, the downhill wheel of the trailer went down a rabbit hole! Whoops-i-daisy, the hives toppled over! Clouds of confused and angry bees rose from the tumbled supers and spilt frames! Many made for the beams of the headlights! To make matters worse, the pair’s protective gear, overalls and veils were sitting on the open deck of the Landrover!

Most of the bees clustered around the boxes, but masses were confused and buzzed, around the vehicle because of the lights! Henry pulled rank on Hooks who copped several stings fetching their protective gear, but as he exited and reentered, several flew into the cab, so Henry had share of stings too! It wasn’t easy suiting up in the cramped cab, and when they were ready, they stepped outside fully expecting to be attacked by the angry bees! Their gear did its job! It’s uncanny but somehow a couple of bees always find their way into the veils, and it happened with both of them! In the circumstances, it was best to allow them to buss around I there, neither were stung. While a few bees attacked, it was too cool for them to be over-active so most sat wherever they landed.

Painstakingly, and doing their best not to mix supers, they rebuilt the hives, frames back into supers and super on top of super. They were going to be late home!  Unattaching the trailer on the slope wasn’t an option, so they left the hives on the trailer and the Landrover parked up for the bees to settle as best they could and they made the trek home. Before heading off, they unplugged the entrances, they discussed the pro and cons of unplugging them, but decided to rely on the bees’ sense of smell.

It wasn’t an easy situation for the bees to sort themselves out, too many of them died for the liking of Hooks and Henry, they left them to settle for a couple of days. Another night-time foray saw the pair plug up the hive entrances once again and move the hives to their prepared spot with no further complications. Phew! This time, however, although the move as but a few hundred metres, the hives were well tied down. Happily the hives recovered, the bees taking full advantage of a profuse white clover flowering in the adjacent paddocks! Clover honey is right up there, high on the list of honey!

 

A little footnote:

When it comes to honey it’s often supposed that runny honey is the most natural, but in fact creamed honey is merely stirred up runny honey. If you leave runny honey for a long time, it will crystalize, and to undo sugariness all you need to do is warm it and bingo you have runny honey again. But if you don’t want to warm your honey, or if runny honey slips annoyingly off your toast, try creamed honey, it’s just as natural. The thing about crystals, the crystals of anything that forms crystals, but we’re talking honey here, is they copy each other. Some types of honey form bigger crystals than others. So to make honey at its most pleasant, apiarists will have their own supply or shop around to find some very fine honey, fine creamed honey, meaning it has really small crystals. The apiarist will put the fine honey into a container and mix some newly extracted runny honey with it. The mixture is then added into the vat of newly extracted honey and stirred in. The crystals of the fine honey will do the rest with the runny honey copying those crystals. The honey is stirred every day for about three days. The more stirring, the softer the creamed honey becomes. The amount of stirring is the apiarist’s preference and down to skill. And all very natural.  


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