This past weekend we got out for a little Christmas concert, and by the time we made it back home it was already dark. As we pulled up the driveway and my car's headlights swept across our bee yard, something strange caught my eye: there was an odd blob on the side of my smallest hive ("Middle Hive").
So in heels with the car pointing into the apiary I slipped over to check it out... it was a swarm. A tiny swarm in mid-December, clinging to the north side of my weakest hive.
The bees inside the hive were very agitated and unusually active given how dark it was. It also seemed to me that there was a higher-than-normal amount of dead bees outside the hive.
Now I either don't know much about bees, or I know juuuuuust a little more than nothing about 'em, but either way it's enough to make me freak out about stuff like this, so I called my beekeeping mentor immediately. There were so many possible explanations... were these my bees, swarming because one of my hives had a pest or viral load I'd failed to notice? Were these Africanized bees moving in on one of my hives? Was I seeing a robbing party that had been fighting it's way in to my weakest hive to steal their winter stores, but had been caught by the dark and were unable to return home? Were they a diseased swarm from a neighboring hive? Or could they possibly have come from a bee tree in the acreage that's currently being bulldozed for a housing development just a few blocks away?
The short answer is no one can say for sure in the middle of the night.
So I grabbed an empty nuc box and my bee brush and swept them into the box for the night.
The next morning I went out to check on my box o' bees. My plan was to open up the box and let the bees warm up in the sunlight, then watch which way they went when they flew away. If they headed back to my bee yard, maybe they were my bees. If they took their orientation flights and headed off in a "bee line" somewhere else, I'd feel safe guessing they were a robbing party.
They did neither. They just stayed in a ball on the lid of the box.
So I did what any normal (ha) beekeeper would do: I started poking the ball. And you know what? I found a queen bee.
First of all, high five to me for spotting my first unmarked queen without help (woo-hoo!). Second of all, I freaked out again and started texting this picture to everyone I knew in my bee club. My text was something like, "NOW what do I do?!"
Everyone's answer: put frames in the nuc box, feed 'em, and when the weather is warm enough CHECK ON YOUR HIVES.
So that's what I've done, in the most slapped-together, improvised way... I still have no idea where these bees came from, but they're sitting out in the bee yard now, strapped to a cinder block and awaiting warmer temps so I can go play bee detective.
If I find out they came from one of my hives, I'll have to figure out why they left, and I'll probably end up dumping them back in.
If they're not from one of my hives, I'll probably rob a few frames of honey from my strongest hive ("North Hive") and try to get them through the winter.
Either way, there's nothing like a little excitement out in the apiary in mid-December, amirite?