Monday, November 21, 2016

Musings on Bees in the Cemetery



I went for a walk the other Sunday to stretch my legs with Scooter, my dog. Of all the possible routes we could have taken, I decided to head for the town cemetery. I wanted to also go looking for some stingless bees. The cemetery is a good place for this. 

The older mausoleums begin to deteriorate and crack, so it gives the bees a place to enter the tombs. Most are small native stingless bees but occasionally you might find a colony of Africanized bees.


I didn’t even cover half of the cemetery. I found five colonies with four different varieties, including one with Africanized bees. 

The stingless bees got a little upset when I tried to get some photos of them. They started flying around and getting into my hair. They don’t sting but they do bite, sort of like an ant. Bothersome.

I won’t touch these bees, even though I would really like to have some of those stingless bee colonies (those are on my “to do/to have” list). There’s enough other ways to get bees, such as capturing swarms and splitting hives. 


Stingless bee colonies in the graves. One characteristic of many of them is the entrance tubes they make with a combination of wax and propoleos.

And there’s something that’s not quite right about entering a grave to get a colony of bees. It doesn’t sit well with me (and probably with most people for that matter). I’ve done it before, however, but at the request of the family. 

Many a year ago, a drunk guy pulled down the entrance plug of an old mausoleum in the town cemetery, which had cracked all the way around. This tomb had to be more than 50 years old. A colony of Africanized bees had moved into it. He wanted a bit of honey but instead got all stung up before high tailing it out of the cemetery. He left empty handed.

I was contacted to see if I could help. The colony had been causing problems anyways by stinging people when they would go to clean around the graves. Now it was opened.

It was a big colony and the first comb was right in the entrance of the grave, forming a wall of bees and wax that went from the top to the bottom. It was a bit bigger than two deep frames in size. There were about five of these before I got to the wooden casket. Some smaller combs continued over that. 

Two Langstroth boxes got filled with brood comb and bees. This old comb eventually got weeded out as the bees filled frames with new comb. The honey got dumped.

It’s kind of unnerving to go into a tomb but at times beekeepers are required to do this type of community service. I won’t go looking for the family of this newest mausoleum colony in order to ask them if I can remove it. But I suspect, if they come looking for me, I’ll say yes.


The mausoleum with the colony of Africanized bees. It looked like someone may have actually tried to remove the bees since the entrance plug is loose. But since there is no marker on the top part, maybe it’s empty—waiting to be filled.

Part of my plan was to find that first mausoleum to see if it had bees again. It’s in the old part of the cemetery, but I didn’t get that far. If I remember right, it got cemented shut but maybe it’s cracked again. It will have to wait for my next walk.

---Tom


A simple mausoleum in the town cemetery. The stingless bees had their entrance tube coming out of the upper left edge of the rounded plug for this grave.


An old grave in the cemetery, unusual for its shape. It was the only one I saw like this. The marker had if dated in 1948.




Some graves are humbler, marked with a simple wooden cross. Others have a small metal fence around the mausoleum and shrubs or flowers planted.


For more posts about my bee adventures in the cemetery, see these past entries:


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Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Musings on a Survivor Hive



There’s this little hive I have behind my house. They came on their own, moving into an empty trap hive I had stored back there. But that was two years ago. I haven’t done anything with them. I haven’t even peeked inside their box. I guess at this point it makes them a survivor hive.

I just let them be, coming and going as they maintain their little colony. It gives me something to watch, especially the abundant activity in the morning as they bring in pollen. The afternoon entertainment is the orientation flights of the new field bees.


My house always seems to be a magnet for swarms—mainly because I have empty equipment stored around it. Before I know it, a swarm has arrived and moved into one of the empty trap hives. 

Sometimes I see bees checking out the swarm traps a head of time. Other times I don’t notice anything until the loud buzzing of the bees indicates a swarm is moving into one of the boxes. Other times it is as if they have magically appeared overnight. One day there is an empty box and then the next I see bees coming and going from the entrance.

My wife saw this one arrive. She was on the back patio washing clothes when the swarm arrived. They moved right into the empty box with causing a problem. I came home from school that day to the surprise.

Even though I’ve never opened their box to peek inside, I know they have to be Africanized bees. That’s what we have in Honduras. That’s what everything is. And that’s probably the main reason I haven’t opened it. I don’t want to risk a neighbor getting stung since I live right in the middle of town.

But they don’t cause any problems. The colony can only grow so big because the box is small. A couple puffs of smoke keeps them calm when it comes time to cut the grass in front of them.

This means that I have no idea what they’re doing inside of their box. All the comb could be nice and straight or maybe it’s a curving mess. The trap hive is a rectangular-shaped Tanzanian-style tbh. I use to manage several of these types of top bar hives and I made some trap hives to catch swarms for filling them.


There are four frames with wide top bars (I can see the nails that go into the side pieces.) On either side of them is a normal top bar. This gives them a space equivalent to six deep frames.

It’s not much room. They’ve swarmed, at least once. There may have been other times that I haven’t noticed. It keeps them small and less defensive. It should also keep them with a young queen.

If I remember right, this box has never caught bees for me when I’ve hung it up in a tree. I’ve dumped a swarm into it several times but it never worked when I was actually trying to bait a swarm into it. I specifically remember this trap because one of its entrances is just a knot hole. It makes this box unique.


So you could almost begin to call this a survivor hive after two years of zero manipulations. But maybe it has to go at least another season yet. What makes a colony a survivor can be debatable.

They always have lots of activity around their entrance meaning they are probably healthy and populous. This morning they were bringing in some pollen. Most was a pale cream while others were yellow or even a bit gold in color. Definitely they are surviving.

It will eventually get moved. Not right now, however. We’re still in the dearth. It will be less stressful once the flowers really begin blooming in force in another month. If I decide to take them up to the coffee apiary in the mountains, it’ll be Christmas time. 

In the meantime, I will just let them be, paying them an occasional morning or afternoon visit. I sip a cup of coffee and watch them.
--Tom 

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