It has been a strange evening here on the tiny farm. I was downing a glass of water in the kitchen after some chaotic tomatillo salsa canning, when I heard B yell (he never yells!) from the front part of the house “Hey babe, GET OUT HERE! Something is going on with the bees!” Lured by the gorgeous light coming in through the windows, B and the boys were venturing out on the porch to watch the sunset only to find a sky full of bees. I scurried out for a closer look and found the bees darting around in what seemed like giant circles in front of the near hive. Some bees were clustered on the front of the hive with some going in and many going out.
What?!? The other hive was the one that was confusing me the last time I checked out the bees, and suddenly this hive was making trouble! Within a few minutes the bees were gathering on the limb of the Redwood tree that extends over the roof. I was relieved to see this. At least no neighbor would be freaked out by a swarm camping out in their back yard. Unsure of what to do or even what I was really seeing, I figured it would be worth a try to set up a place for these traveling bees to camp out in. This is why all beekeepers are supposed to have extra bottom boards, covers, etc. on hand at all times! Unfortunately I assumed I would not have issues like these until late next winter or Spring when swarming season starts.
When I returned with a medium full of drawn comb (just pulled off the hive during the consolidation 2 days ago) I found the cluster was gone from the limb and perhaps settling down for the moment on the leg of the hive stand. Lots of bees were crawling around on the ground. It was all very fascinating. And worrisome.
With the outer covers from both hives I set up a makeshift spot for the bees to shelter in if the scout bees deem it worthy, but I’m not very hopeful. After settling the boys in to bed I immediately looked online for some info on why bees might swarm so close to winter, and from what I gathered it seems to me more like absconding than swarming. I did not see any swarm cells in this hive, so I don’t think they have made or are making a new queen the way they would if they were swarming. Of the list of factors that might cause a hive to just move out entirely (abscond), my poor ladies have had most of the common stressors to at least some degree: crowding because I just consolidated the hive, hot weather making the crowded hive overheat, bad smells recently from the mite treatment, too much disturbance from the beekeeper, low food stores and a pretty intense wasp situation this year. It’s essentially a death sentence to fly off and try to start over this late in the year, so bees have to be pretty desperate to decide to leave. I feel sad about my part in that!
I’ll have a look again tomorrow and see if the hive seems to have anyone still home. Cross your fingers for us! At this point there is even the specter of Colony Collapse Disorder, but no sense in worrying over that until we have some more information. Perhaps if the worst is true and I have lost all these bees I can figure out how to make the far hive more comfortable so I might at least keep one hive going. If anyone has any thoughts on this new situation I’m again all ears!