hiving swarms

Sunday, May 6:

Cold weather has given way to hot – in the eighties – and this morning we are grateful for the cool clarity of air.  We have been sleeping under fans, and are all sunburned.  We’ve also been quite busy; the warm weather brings with it a number of do-it-right-now jobs that drop into a day already filled and shove preconceived plans to one side.  As witness:  the phone rings.

The caller identifies herself.

“This is Linda with the Toronto police department.”

Oh, great.  When the police call us it usually means we have livestock out on the county road.  Mentally we are already reaching for our boots and keys.  But the voice goes on.

“Ma’am, we’ve got a call from a concerned homeowner on Euclid street.  He says he has a swarm of bees in his front yard and they’re flying all around.  He’s worried about the kids that’ll be getting off the school bus in a little while.”

Oh, God bless the Toronto police.  We love swarms.  For about three or four years they’ve had our number to call when a swarm is reported in town, and we move with grateful speed whenever we hear from them.  Yes, sir, no, sir, we’ll be right there, sir.  The police are reciprocally grateful, since, like most people, they wouldn’t approach a swarm of bees for any money.

“Yes, ma’am.  No, it’s no trouble at all, ma’am.  We understand your concern, ma’am.  We’ll be right over,” making a note of the house number.

Scrap the math lesson we were just reviewing.  Postpone all the work that has to be done before dinner that night, at which we will be entertaining more than a dozen University fine arts students.  Gather veils and gloves and pruners and hive box and throw them in the truck.  When there’s a swarm we wait for nothing, because a captured swarm is the cheapest and easiest way for a hobbyist beekeeper to expand his number of hives, and, purchased, they don’t come cheap.

Now repeat this scenario three times in two days, and you have an idea of swarming season in eastern Ohio.  What signal the bees are responding to, we don’t know.  Why they all decide to move house at the same time is a mystery to us – and in addition to the three swarms we captured there were two others which were too high for us to do anything about. Bees swarm when conditions get crowded in the old homestead.   The mild winter may contribute to the frequency of swarming by increasing the number of surviving bees in a colony, and the early and prolonged blooming of the fruit trees might also mean more honey, and consequently less room, in the hive.  Whatever the reason, the bees are swarming, and that means an opportunity for filling the empty stands in the bee yard.

Seedlings in the green house need to be pricked out to flats, and the young plants in flats need to be separated and placed in larger flats.  Eliot Coleman says to transplant as soon as the plants’ leaves begin to touch — even a little crowding inhibits growth – and to judge by the size of the tomatoes we have given the most room to, he is right.  The young Romas are Lilliputian, but the Super Marzano slicing tomatoes which were moved apart last week tower above them by several inches.  We need to make more flats to hold them all.

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