Why Is July So Busy?

Quentin holds a frame full of wax-capped honey cells while Miranda looks on.

Quentin holds a frame full of wax-capped honey cells while Miranda looks on.

Whew!  What an early hot spell, and what a lot of things to do!  The daylight is longer but animals, plants and people have a way of filling it all up.  It is almost 9 pm again and still no dinner for humans this night.  It is cooking.  We’ve had a sick kitty, Maow, who we had to put to sleep due to kidney failure yesterday, and our ancient dog Sophie keeps us busy nursing her.  She refuses dog food and only will eat veggie sausage and eggs, but none of our hens are laying in this hot weather.  One of our chickens, Chickpea, had an egg break inside of her and had to have an Epsom salts warm sink bath which worked its chicken magic and pulled her through.  Tonight our partially blind Rhode Island Red, Madge, has been acting funny so into the sink she went.  The hens all like the warm bath so much that we don’t have to hold them down.

The garden produce has been good and keeping up with ripening fruit while beating the birds to it has been my newly graduated collegiate daughter’s role.  Irrigation difficulties have created large problems, however, and lots of seeds never germinated, and several crops have shrivelled due to irregular or not enough water, while some others were drowning because of holes in the lines.  Minerals from our hard water have clogged up holes in the lines, and running vinegar through the system seems to dissolve the calcium pretty well.  If only it repelled the gophers who occasionally nip the underground lines, or the weeding tools that unerringly nick them.

Quentin and Miranda with one of the new  hives of Italian bees put up two months ago.

Quentin and Miranda with one of the new hives of Italian bees put up two months ago.

We have two co-op bee hives, set in place by Quentin Alexander of BeehiveSavers.com.  He performs humane bee removal, and also has the co-op program where he sets up hives in your yard with calm Italian bees. You pay for the equipment, and he monitors the hive for a year to study the bees and see what is affecting  the disappearance  of  European honeybees.  He harvests the honey and gives you half of it, too.  This is a perfect set-up for me since I just don’t have the time to deal with the bees anymore, and because I swell up when stung now.  We had a swarm in a stack of empty bee boxes next to our trashcans for a couple of years and they never gave us any trouble, but I wanted to move them to the Bee Garden.

Quentin beginning to move a two-year hive that had settled in my stack of supers. The bees objected.

Quentin beginning to move a two-year hive that had settled in my stack of supers. The bees objected.

When Quentin moved them a few months ago, he found out that they were an enormous ‘hot’ hive… pretty aggressive.

Bees complaining about having their home ripped apart... I can't blame them.

Bees complaining about having their home ripped apart… I can’t blame them.

Yesterday he came with two ‘nuc’s, or ‘nucleuses’.  A ‘nuc’ is a new queen bee and about a pound of workers devoted to her.  With my daughter’s help, and with me hanging back with the camera, he opened the moved hive.  It was breezy, humid, mid-day and in the 90’s, all bad conditions for opening a hive.

The wild hive wrapped with the 'hot' queen isolated in one of the supers by queen excluders.  She will be replaced by a gentle queen.

The wild hive wrapped with the ‘hot’ queen isolated in one of the supers by queen excluders. She will be replaced by a gentle queen.

He looked for the old queen and couldn’t find her, so trapped her in one of the three boxes he thought she was in, moved honey and larvae over to two new boxes and set up the new queens.  The idea is that the new kinder and gentler queens will breed more docile bees, and in a few weeks the whole swarm will not only have been divided into two but will have produced calm bees.

Explaining this to bees who were stressed from drought, heat, direct sunlight and humidity while tearing apart their hive, taking out brood and honey and looking to kill their queen, was a different story.  A normal hive can have 60,000 bees or more in it at its peak.  This was a larger hive.  The bees decided that Quentin – and anyone else in the area – were going down with them.  I don’t blame them.  Attack my family and I’d come after you, too.  Quentin’s gloves were studded brown with a forest of stingers.  The neighbor called asking about bees because his gardeners were stung.

Miranda surrounded by very angry bees.  No stings penetrated her bee suit, but on a humid day in the mid-90's that suit sure was hot.

Miranda surrounded by very angry bees. No stings penetrated her bee suit, but on a humid day in the mid-90’s that suit sure was hot.

We had to walk the property, roll in some jasmine to mask the ‘anger’ pheramone with which our bee suits were covered, and dash into the house.  Quentin drove off in his suit with bees in his car – not an unusual sight for a beekeeper, but with the BeeHiveSavers logo on the side it looked very appropriate.  We had to stay in the house until dusk when the bees went to bed (they don’t fly at night).  Today the rest of the property was back to normal, but we did stay away from the Bee Garden for several more days. There are peaches to harvest in there, too, but we’ll have to donate some to the birds.

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