Mom! Dad! Something is HAPPENING!
Mom and Dad (my collaborators and problem solvers) followed me out to the area where one of my bee hives was located. They stood a fairly safe distance away since there was a large number of bees surrounding the hive. I was all up in the craziness due to my newfound comfort with the "buzzers". The bees were definitely leaving the hive. There seemed to be a few flying around a tree branch close by. Sure enough, after a few minutes of observation, we found a clump of bees attached to a tree limb in that same tree. We were witnessing our first swarm!
Swarms are a natural and healthy part of a colony's lifecycle. Bees will swarm if they've outgrown their space. The old queen will fly off with half the hive while the remaining half will stay behind and raise a new queen. There are 2 downsides to swarms from a beekeepers perspective:
I was actually pretty ecstatic to witness my bees swarming. I lost both hives in 2015. (Hawaii never recovered from the laying worker, and Iceland died of starvation during the winter months.) I'm at the point where I feel I should be experienced enough to STOP losing hives, so each loss is a pretty big hit. 2016 seemed to have incredibly healthy hives. What was the big change I made in 2016? I fed them! During installation I had a feeder set up. This seemed to give the bees the energy they needed to get established and start looking for food. I only fed them one quart size jar of sugar water. It was dry by the time I took it out a few weeks later!
The winterization done to the hives was pretty minimal. I counted the number of honey combs (topbars) that the bees had. One hive had 11 while the other had 13. Considering that a few of the combs still didn't have honey in them when I was checking them, I was assuming 9 and 11 for actual food. According to what I have read, this should be sufficient for them to get through the winter. I am prepared to feed them a little in the early spring if I need to.
I still have a few efficiencies I need to make surrounding the bees, but they are becoming a little less drastic. The first addition is being prepared to capture a swarm. This will require something to attract them and catch the swarm as well as a permanent home if I can catch them. One thing I learned this summer is that swarms happen, and you need to react fast. The second update I need to make is around the topbar itself. The bees are definitely creating a lot of comb, and it isn't too organized from topbar to topbar. I either need to have better guides, or figure out a different way to be able to better inspect each comb.
I have a feeling 2017 is going to be another great year for bees! I'll be sure to update once I figure out the bees' statuses after the winter.