My mom has kept bees for years. In fact, I have a childhood memory of sitting in a pasture watching her tame a swarm with smoke. With the reassurance of my mom, I wasn't afraid at all. A swarm is a beautiful sight to behold: a large, humming cloud drifting along. Bee swarms seem to have such frightening or negative connotations. In reality, a swarm is usually the result of a queen bee feeling squished into too small of a space, so she'll move her hive. The bees will capture up as much honey as they can in their bellies and then surround the queen as she searches for a new, larger kingdom. Most times, the bees are docile and non-aggressive. I don't know about you, but I think it's hard to go into attack mode when you're full of food.
Anyway, last year my mom and stepdad moved to a new house deep in the woods with more cleared pasture for them to work with in growing their tomatoes. My mom had brought along a few of her hives to their new home. One morning she went down to check up on her hives and one had been torn apart by a bear! Really, really sad. She loves "her girls" as she calls them, so that was really hard. The bear kept coming back night after night and my family had to shoo him off. We still see the bear once in a while...my stepdad watched him run across their pasture in the middle of the day on the summer solstice this year. Fortunately, after the first attack, my mom decided to move the bees back to the slough. So, last summer, I had a few hives along my hillside. Then, winter came and they didn't make it...which is often the case for bees. Although, some hives are hardier than others and can withstand winter. A lot of bee hives have been dying off lately. My neighbor lost 100 colonies this year. But that's another story.
A few weeks ago I was heading down the hill to checkup on my lower garden patch when I noticed bees hovering around one of my hive boxes. I told my mom about it, wondering if a hive had in fact survived the winter. She didn't think so, but said we should go investigate to see if it was indeed a new hive that had taken up residence in the box or a group of robber bees (bees will rob honey-stores leftover from empty hives and bring it back to their hive). We both dawned bee suits and "knocked on the door" of the hive with a bee smoker (the smoke relaxes the bees) and sure enough, there was a thriving hive living in the box. My mom then went through the frames searching for the queen, as a hive cannot survive unless they have their queen. There she was! A beautiful, wild queen (there's a white frame around her in a photo above). We could tell she was wild because she had no paint on her back abdomen, absolutely natural. Purchased queens will usually come with a paint stripe on their back; a color for each year. This allows for beekeepers to keep track of how old their queen is. For example, a 2010 bee might have a red stripe or a 2009 might have a blue. The hive was already developing lots of brood (baby bees) and honey stores.
My mom gave them a few jars of sugar water with a little lemon balm mixed in. The sugar water will act as replacement nectar on rainy days when the bees are less apt to go out looking for flower nectar. I've been giving them jars here and there. I'm hoping that the bees have been finding lots of nectar during the sunny days we've been having. Today is a little rainy, so I'll be making them some sugar water in a little while. I usually do a half/half mixture of sugar and water and lightly dissolve the sugar into the water over low heat. I'm happy to have a wild hive on my property and I hope they'll stay here a little longer.