Actually , new bees! Those of you who have been following this blog may remember the great adventure of the Haengekorb, in which my friend Laurie and I went to Sebastapol and bought a unique hanging basket hive, because I wanted bees and she had a swarm. we set up the hive, Laurie donned her bee suit and dumped the swarm in, and they seemed to settle happily. But several months later, after building a small amount of comb and storing some honey, they disappeared.
I moved the Haengekorb to a new, sunnier spot, with a new roof. It’s not nearly as elegant as it was hanging from the tree, but much more practical. Even romantic farmers need to take reality int account from time to time. For one thing, I don’t need a ladder to get into the hive now, and it’s much more protected from rain. I finished this project last Saturday, and on Monday night, got a call about a bee swarm. I grabbed my veil and gloves and drove out to El Sobrante.
The neighborhood could have been a set for Stepford Wives–orderly, manicured ranch homes. But behind one facade was a lush garden, a beehive, and a giant swarm of bees in an olive tree.
Laurie’s friend, George, had a taped banker’s box with a hole at one side. He put bee pheromone in the box, and thousands of bees were crowding from the tree into the box. By the time I arrived, he felt that the box probably couldn’t hold anymore bees, so together we brushed away the remainder of the swarm on the tree, taped a screen over the hole, and then brushed all the bees clinging to the outside of the box onto the hive, hoping they’d return once the new queen was gone. (We did hear from the owner of the hive, that the rest of swarm dissipated the next morning, hopefully returning home.) I put the box in my car, and drove home, setting the box down for the night by the hive.
Early the next morning, I went out to check and saw that bees were starting to come out of the box. I quickly drove to Laurie’s who lent me her bee pheromone bottle and bee brush. I came home, suited up, and took the top off the haengekorb. I sprinkled a few drops of bee pheromone in the bottom, and covered the bottom exit with cheesecloth. Then I opened the box and thumped it gently upside down into the hive. Most of the bees dropped in, and I left the box upside down on top for several hours, till the sun warmed things up. Then Gary (Laurie’s husband and now chief beekeeper) came over with his smoker and brush, and we smoked ourselves and the top of the hive, and brushed in all the remaining bees. The tricky part was setting the frames on the open hive with the bees inside. But we managed that, put on the protective cloth, and closed the hive. You can see what this all looks like on Beehive Journal blog. There are also some amazing videos of Mihael Thiele and has bare skin handling of bees in his haengekorb. (He covers his hive in a paste of cow dung. I haven’t gone that far myself.)
A swarm of bees is a truly awe-inspiring sight. And it reminded me of this strange and beautiful poem about a moving swarm. (And if you want to see Sylvia Plath’s wonderful poem, “The Arrival of the Bee Box,” scroll to the end of my original bee post.
The bees came out of the junipers, two small swarms
The size of melons; and golden, too, like melons.
They hung next to each other, at the height of a deer’s breast,
Above the wet black compost. And because
The light was very bright it was hard to see them,
And harder still to see what hung between them.
A snake hung between them. The bees held up a snake,
Lifting each side of his narrow neck, just below
The pointed head, and in this way, very slowly,
They carried the snake through the garden.
The snake’s long body hanging down, its tail dragging
The ground, as if the creature were a criminal
Being escorted to execution or a child king
To the throne. I kept thinking the snake
Might be a hose, held by two ghostly hands,
But the snake was a snake, his body green as the grass
His tail divided, his skin oiled, the way the male member
Is oiled by the female’s juices, the greenness overbright,
The bees gold, the winged serpent moving silently
Through the air. There was something deadly in it,
Or already dead. Something beyond the report
Of beauty. I laid my face against my arm, and there
It stayed for the length of time it takes two swarms
Of bees to carry a snake through a wide garden,
Past a sleeping swan, past the dead roses nailed
To the wall, past the small pond. And when
I looked up the bees and the snake were gone,
But the garden smelled of broken fruit, and across
The grass a shadow lay for which there was no source,
A narrow plinth dividing the garden, and the air
Was like the air after a fire, or the air before a storm,
Ungodly still, but full of dark shapes turning.
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