Winter is coming (back)

The mockingbirds are nesting, which means spring has probably decided to really stick this time. I trust the mockingbirds. They know things.

But the weather has been a roller coaster of epic proportions lately. I started to qualify that the weather has been nuts in Memphis, but I think this is true most everywhere. Winter has been doing its best imitation of a cat in a doorway. Around here, we’ve bounced from 35 degrees to 80 degrees within a twenty-four hour window on more occasion (with the severe thunderstorms and tornado watches that come with that differential). We’ve also had some lovely balmy stretches, determined to lure gardeners into planting before April 15th.

I was feeling very smug about valiantly resisting temptation when I decided it was safe on Thursday — the 12th is practically the 15th, right? — and put a few seedlings in.

(Sorry, everyone. I’m pretty sure it’s my fault it was 34 degrees Sunday night.)

I distinctly remember planting on Thursday, because my hands were covered in dirt when I answered the phone and the caller offered me a bee swarm. I’d had a pretty terrible day (in defense of my April 12th error, gardening is good therapy!) but realizing I now live in a world where people call me and ask, “Do you want a swarm?” made everything a little better.

Unfortunately, I had to decline. Passing up free bees (heh, heh… freebees...) is so sad! I suavely avoided telling the caller that I had only the vaguest idea of how to actually collect a swarm, and explained that I only had the equipment to keep a single honey bee colony – and since I had already ordered bees from an apiary that would be ready for pickup in just a few days, I needed to save my equipment for those bees.

The next morning, I called the apiary to ask them to mark my queen after all: As my last entry explained, after some hands-on experience trying to locate queens in a hive, I reconsidered learning the ins and outs of beekeeping while also playing hide-and-seek with Ms. Thing. The apiary owner was happy to do so, but regretfully informed me that my bees will not be ready this Wednesday, after all. The wacky weather has delayed production (or maybe delayed reproduction) and my pick-up date has now been pushed back to May 9th*.

Hindsight is crystal clear… and yet, even if I’d made the phone call 24 hours earlier, I would have needed a time machine to realize I should have accepted the swarm. I thought I had made a firm commitment to buy bees from my supplier, so I did not request that my local beekeeping club put my name on their official swarm list. (The swarm list is a popular source of free bees for beekeepers. For non-beekeepers, it is a list of people to call to come remove the giant cluster of bees that has suddenly been discovered on their fence, or on a tree limb, or … say … hanging from the wing of their plane.) I didn’t expect anyone to offer me a swarm, but Thursday’s phone call taught me that might happen. That — and realizing that the supplier was already having trouble meeting their commitment — was the only reason it occurred to me to to ask the supplier if I could cancel my order if I got access to a swarm. They said that until about two weeks prior to the pick-up date, cancelling isn’t a problem at all.

At the moment, everything is still (heh) up in the air. I still have bees on order, but if  swarm came my way — literally — I wouldn’t say no. I’m not sure I want to try to transport a captured swarm in my car (which, as previously mentioned, does not involve anything resembling exterior transport capability). But it’s entirely possible there are swarms in my area, looking for a new place to live. My hive boxes should be finished this afternoon, so I think I’ll put one out, and see if any scout bees come by.

I’m going to come right out and say I’m not entirely sure what I’m doing here. But a lot of Beekeepers on the Internet© (if, indeed, these are real people) catch swarms this way, so I see no downside to giving it a try. Most of the sources I’ve seen recommend putting empty drawn honeycomb inside the box, then adding a cotton swab with a little lemongrass oil. For honeybees, this is the chemical equivalent of a neon sign flashing, “apartment for rent – inquire inside.” Lemongrass oil contains citral, a chemical compound that also occurs in Nasonov pheromone – which is a combination of seven compounds that worker bees secrete to draw swarms to new potential nest sites (among other things).

There are commercial swarm lures that more closely approximate Nasonov secretions than do lemongrass oil, although a lot of beekeepers don’t bother with the commercial stuff. Since I don’t own commercial swarm lure, but I do have food-grade lemongrass oil, I am going that route. It’s also worth mentioning that I don’t have the advantage of using drawn comb, and will have to use my undrawn frames in the box. Lots of beekeepers catch swarms in plain cardboard boxes, though, so I think this is fine, too.

But the more I talk about it, the more I feel a little bad about not rolling out the red carpet for passing swarms! So… maybe I should revise my mental image of inviting tired swarms to the Ritz-Carlton. Maybe my advertisement looks more like this:

At least all the letters are lit up.

Let’s see what happens.

In summary:

  • Takeoff aborted! New countdown to Bee Day: T minus 23 days.
  • For the next week and a half, I’m in the market for a swarm, provided that swarm will come to me (or the collection location is set at Level 0 Difficulty).
  • If I do get a swarm, I will be the very ironic possessor of a free unmarked queen, almost entirely as a result of a phone call I made to buy a marked queen.


*I’m not the only beekeeper who’s feeling the effects of this year’s spastic spring. Just yesterday, a heartbreaking picture in a beekeeping group on social media showed the remnants of someone’s apiary, boxes shattered and scattered by a tornado, bees clustered around the remnants of their home. I’ve seen other pictures of someone’s yard under a foot of snow, with the sad caption, “My bees arrive tomorrow.” It’s a tough spring for beekeepers. A little delay in receiving my order seems relatively mild, by comparison.

4 thoughts on “Winter is coming (back)”

  1. If something happens like that again (no extra equipment), just shake the swarm into a temporary container like a five-gallon bucket with a hole in it. You can let them set up shop in there and cut them out later (or just leave them in there, in the shade of course). A cut-out is a very good learning experience, especially when done with free bees. Or, if left alone in the bucket, you can capture them after they re-swarm. Just a suggestion. 😁

    Liked by 1 person

  2. And it sure looks like another taste of winter is on the way.. your little delay may actually bee one more blessing in disguise..


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