Kick-About #37 plus Bees!

The prompt for the 37th Kick-About could hardly have been more suited to me and my natural inclinations. It’s inky and leafy and Australian. It’s Peter Mungkuri’s Punu Ngura (2019)

Punu Nura (Country with trees) © Peter Mungkuri, Iwantja Arts. 2019.

From the Yankunytjatjara, Southern Desert region comes this beautiful black and white ink drawing on paper by Peter Mungkuri. I’m glad this prompt was chosen because it has introduced me to Mungkuri’s work, which is perfectly balanced, sumptuously decorative and calmly natural all at the same time. It is well worth a visit to the Art Gallery of NSW website to see a collection of his work. Swoon!

What strikes me most is the combination of the loosest of ink splatters with far more careful and detailed patterning. I was going to explore some inkiness yesterday (Yep! Last minute again!) to see where an observation of Mungkuri’s work might take me, especially with regard to the use of white ink patterning over the top of the looser ink layers. But before I could begin something happened.

Our bees swarmed.

This happened last year and we weren’t prepared. The hive became overcrowded, and half the bees took off to find roomier accommodation. This time, we had not only added an extra box to our existing hive to give them extra space, but we had prepared a separate hive in case they swarmed, and had it ready for the new colony to use. Well, not perfectly ready. The frames were in, with wax and wire for the bees to build on. But I wasn’t completely finished with my exterior paint job.

This is the old hive with a new box added on top. But this colony is thriving and they needed more space than this.
New hive, unfinished. Artist dissatisfied.

This is our new hive in the middle of my paint assault a couple of weeks ago. I had to stop when the paint was so thickly applied that it needed a few hours to dry before I could apply anything more with a brush. Alas, other tasks have called me since then. I hadn’t yet reached a satisfactory conclusion when the bees swarmed.

I should be annoyed. Pesky bees. They sent me no email, no letter and didn’t phone to say they were leaving that day. Just… buzzed off.

But I’m not annoyed. Far from it. My spring day with the bees was uplifting, empowering, mindful and full of joy. So I’m ok with the paint job. In fact, we have installed the bees in the brood box only, so I can tweak the top box before we put it in position. The roof and base are harder to alter… but who knows what might be stealthily achieved at night with a daylight bulb…

So here is what happened in pictures (and just a few words).

We were lucky with the location the bees chose to hang out. They congregated in the empty block next door, just by a storm water outlet, hanging from a conjunction of branches in a Desert Ash. It might have been over the storm water drain. It might have been up too high to reach without a ladder. But they chose a spot just reachable from the ground and just far enough away from the concrete drain that we didn’t risk falling into it. Phew! (I could have done without the blackberry canes though.)

First we suited up. Hugo, sorry about the shut-eye photo. It was you or me. (Blogger’s prerogative.)
Then I sawed through the main branch in order to lift the swarm down to the box. It was a bit tricky because there were several branches tangled together and the bees were dangling lower with every jiggle. The blackberries bit me. They have no respect for bee suits.
We gave the branch a firm shake and most of the bees dropped into the box.
Hugo and I then gently scooped as many bees as we could up and dropped them into the box. Hugo worked out where the queen bees was (inside) and we gently placed the lid on the box, whilst blowing bees out of harm’s way in an undignified manner.
With the tricky part over, we decided to sit in the sunshine (on the handy concrete drain) to watch the bees for a while. Some of the bees were fanning their wings near the entrance on the right. We guessed the queen was on the inside near that point and we were hopeful that all was well.

After this we stepped away and shook the bees off our suits. But then I had to go back to have another look. Just because.

This is what it looked like straight afterwards. The bees were slowly moving towards the entrance and going into the box.
A couple of hours later, almost all were inside the box. We moved them into their proper location beside the other hive after dark and all seems well today.

That evening, I had a bit of a go at my inky exploration of Peter Mungkuri’s plant drawings, but my mind was full of bees. And joy. So it became an illustration of Hugo and me, arms uplifted to the swarming bees.

In painting it, I was tumbling three things together: what happened last year (they swarmed and disappeared) what happened this year (they swarmed and we were in the middle of it) and what happens every year (we have a dead tree stump that disgorges thousands of tiny moths once a year and they spiral upwards into the sky in the early evening attracting a feeding frenzy of bird life. It is quite the annual spectacle.)

Finished painting. Scanned in 6 parts and assembled.

Thanks again, Phil Gomm, for hosting the Kick-About. Sorry I’m late!

11 thoughts on “Kick-About #37 plus Bees!

  1. lizkingsangster

    Wow, what story, so fascinating! We sometimes get swarms arrive here and we telephone beekeepers to collect them, not so many the last few years though, bee numbers have dropped by 50%. The bee men always suspiciously ask where they are, in case they’re impossible to get at. The last one was at a very handy height just a metre off the ground on our plum tree, and the bee man said it’s because it was an older queen, the higher the swarm the younger the queen. He also told us that if it’s raining and they’ve swarmed before they’ve found a suitable home, all the bees point there heads up so their wings form “tiles” so the rain can drip off. Such clever creatures….
    I love your ink drawings, full of atmosphere and wonder, very beautiful 😍

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    1. Judy Watson Post author

      Hi Lizzie, thank you. I’m behind with my online messages because I’ve been mostly outside or driving the teenager around for Year 12 exams. That is terribly sad about the numbers dropping so drastically. Scott was telling me about the invasive varroa mite which we don’t yet have in Australia, but it’s just a matter of time. I’m glad I’m learning more about bees at last, although I’m only just beginning. I didn’t know that about the height of the swarm relating to the age of the queen. Although… now that I think about it, that’s probably the opposite to what has happened here. We lost our original old queen with half the colony last year when they hung themselves way up high in a tree. This year, all the younger queens have been low to the ground. But perhaps it’s just chance. I’ve done the Gypsy drawings a week ago by the way! I started to post them, and then life happened. So you can expect to see her soon. :-)

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      1. lizkingsangster

        Maybe it’s the age old hemisphere opposites, and the old queen bees in Oz fly high instead of low! Your life sounds incredibly busy, I don’t know how you find time to do what you do, so how you managed to fit Gypsy in I don’t know! looking forward to seeing her though…no rush😍

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  2. Pingback: The Kick-About #37 ‘Punu Ngura’ – Red's Kingdom

    1. Judy Watson Post author

      Thanks Graeme. It is a wonderful place. It’s a huge amount of work for my husband, Scott, who is trained as a landscape architect but is working a very demanding desk job for the Department of Transport. He’s gradually updating the garden design, rebuilding the hard landscape and controlling the environmental weeds on our big block. But it gives us all a lot of pleasure.

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  3. Pingback: The Kick-About #38 ‘White Alga On Orange & Red’ – Red's Kingdom

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