As new bee-keepers, there are certain words that when spoken, just sort of give Daniel and I the nervous feels (well, to be honest, I can't speak for Daniel for it seems that nothing about farming makes him nervous. I, on the other hand, get nervous about practically everything...).
Let's see... termites... is a word that makes us, sorry, me nervous.
Bears... that for sure is a word that makes me nervous, especially since we have seen one (a big one) on our driveway and have seen how he can uproot the electric fencing... (yeah...)
Sting... that word will always make one a little jumpy
Swarm... that word could probably cause most people to turn and run in the opposite direction.
The word swarm did make me nervous before because I just imagined a huge cloud of bees chasing me when there was no chance of escape. But now, after having experienced a swarm of bees this week, I get nervous about a different aspect of swarming.
Let me explain.
It went a little something like this.
Daniel was out in the garden, weeding, or mowing, or looking for those annoyingly present cabbage looper caterpillars that have been eating their way through our kale and cabbage. Whatever it was he was doing, the noise of thousands of bees circling above him and around the garden caused him to stop and observe. After a call to our bee mentor our fears were correct: we had a swarm.
What is a swarm exactly? A swarm is where a hive of bees will divide itself in half and one half will remain in the hive and the other half will leave and search for a new hive. Swarms occur for several reasons ranging from the hive outgrowing it's home to not having enough ventilation. A swarm is not something to be feared, as these bees are not out to hurt anyone (indeed, I think that is the greatest thing I have learned from having our honey bees here, they simply want to work), but it is yet another aspect of this fascinating creature that points to their complexity.
Think about these swarm facts: 1) the bees will begin preparing for a swarm two weeks in advance. 2) They communicate between one another and decide which bee is going/staying 3). They create a new queen for the bees that will be remaining by choosing one of the several thousands of eggs laid every day to be the new queen. She is then fed "royal jelly" which will make her become the queen. 4). The bees that will be leaving the hive gorge themselves on honey in preparation for their journey and for the hard work of creating a new hive5). On the day of the swarm, scout bees venture out to find a temporary home for the hive until the final destination can be found 6). When a proper place has been found, they communicate amongst the thousands of themselves, the queen departs, and they all fly and follow her to the new hive. 7). The bees remaining continue on their work of making and storing honey and welcome the new queen once she emerges from her larvae cell.
Amazing. Absolutely amazing all the intricacies of this thing we call a swarm.
And we got to experience it first hand this week.
So Daniel got off the phone with Mr. Carlton's parting words: "see if you can find where they went. If not... they are gone." Somewhat promising, I guess?
Well, it just so happened Daniel found them, in that large cedar tree, that one with the double trunk, there behind the garden. And so the adventure of retrieving our hive began. What needed to be done? Climb the tree, cut off the limb which was housing the 15,000+ bees, climb down the ladder without bumping the limb, stretch out a white sheet with a new bee box on top, and then shake that limb as hard as you can.
Daniel will be the one up the tree and me? I will be the one inside with all the doors locked, standing on a chair with binoculars to see what happens.
And truly, just like that, we caught the swarm and now not only had 4 hives of bees, but now 5. Those bees, once shaken from that limb, like an army crawled into that new box and began to make home.
Life. Farming. The chance to enjoy the hard work, the sweat off your brow, the labor that your own two hands have wrought upon the earth. The risk of seeing what you labored over simply disappear...
Daniel checked the new hive in the morning and they were gone. Just gone.
Mr. Carlton said there was no guarantee that they would stay... and they didn't. And we haven't found them again.
But we learned and we gained experiences we have never yet had before in our life. And each morning we get back up and keep working, keep laboring, keep using our hands to bring about good on this land. For despite the set-backs and the sweat and the tears and the fears, this is the good and honest work we love to do. Fears and swarms and all, we continue on.