SWARM!

I am SO excited!  For once, The Blog came to me.  Last Monday, my visiting sister-in-law, Margaret, spotted a honeybee swarm on our property!  I came home from work to find the house a-buzz with the talk of bees.  Monday morning the bees began arriving and attached themselves to a cross-bar on an old arch that leads into an even older, untended garden.  I ran down the driveway to check it out.  There were BEES.  LOTS OF BEES.  HUNDREDS OF BEES.  I was reluctant to get too close, lest they were an angry little mob.  I like bees, and intend to keep them some day, but I don’t know much about swarm behavior.  They paid me little or no mind and I got within 10 feet.  I came back to the house for binoculars and got a closer look.  Yep… honeybees!  Interesting to watch – they formed a pear-shaped ball and it buzzed softly.  Every so often, a few bees would fly off and about the same time a few would return.  The returning bees would land and burrow into the swarm.  It was pretty cool to watch, but I wouldn’t want to be 5 bees deep in that buzzy mass.

We (my hubby John, and our guests Margaret, Kathryn, and Phil) were a little concerned about the glob of stingers.  We were discussing the options; concerns about the honeybee decline, the wish to avoid spraying, when Margaret hit upon a logical idea.  Call a local beekeeper and ask if he/she wanted a swarm.  (DUH, Mental Farmer.)  I knew my sister had a beekeeper friend.  I called her, then her friend Rodney, and he said he would be happy to attempt to capture this swarm as long as they were fairly close to the ground.  They were 5 to 6 feet up, within easy reach.  Rodney said bees swarm when hives become overcrowded or more than one Queen is present and that the bees would probably not stay put for more than 24 hours.  He said they send out scouts to look for hollow trees or other perfect habitats and that once a scout found the right place the bees would leave our garden arch.  Who knew?  Rodney said he would arrive Tuesday a.m. by 8:30 or so and hoped the bees would still be in the same spot.

I got up early, excited!  So did everyone else.  My sister Dana came over with her hubby Paul.  Rodney arrived and the science project began.  The excitement in the air was like that of a kid’s field trip, only with grown ups and coffee.  Rodney brought a cardboard box with a screen insert that allows air to circulate.  Inside the box were 5 wooden frames for the bees to get between, as in a permanent hive.  He put on his bee-proof helmet and jacket and he said the trick would be to get the Queen into the box.  If successful, the bees would poke their rear ends up and dance around the edges of the box, sending up a scent to let the rest of the swarm know the Queen’s location.  He said their sole purpose was to serve the Queen.  I said “As it should be.”  Dana’s husband’s eyes rolled all back in his head.  (Dana said this meant the Queen had all the serving she was going to get for the day.)

Rodney spread out a tarp and set the box on it.  He took a few minutes to figure out how to approach the situation.  He began cutting the brush and vines away that might prevent lowering the swarm to the box.  The bees clustered on an arch support and I told Rodney he could pull it off altogether if it would help.  He gently pulled the support away and about a quarter of the swarm flew up, buzzed remarkably.  They were obviously annoyed by the disturbance.  The bees really weren’t interested in us, though.  Some stayed on the arch, a bunch fell onto the box and the tarp, and the rest stayed on the post.  None of it felt threatening or scary.  The ball of bees that fell on the box sounded heavy when they hit, though it was a soft landing.  Many crawled immediately down between the frames, some flew up.  Almost instantly, a group of bees moved to the outer edge of the box, lifted their butts, and began a dance.  This meant Rodney had successfully captured the Queen!

Rodney said we needed to leave the bees alone for a while and let them find their way into the box.  He said he would probably get the majority, but that a certain number of bees were doomed.  Turns out the Queen is their purpose, big time.  Without her, they don’t really know what to do.  (Sound familiar?)  If they approach another active hive, they will be attacked and killed by the protectors of that hive; but if they stay put, they have no purpose and will die anyway.  We retreated up the driveway to refill our coffee cups and give the bees some peace.  We talked about bees, mites that attack bees, and the future of this swarm.

Once the bees arrive at their new home, they’ll stay in the temporary box for a couple of weeks, until they orient themselves to their new home.  After that, they’ll be moved to a permanent super and begin producing honey and offspring.  I hope to taste some of the honey produced by our little swarm when the time comes.  Rodney said it will be a year before he harvests the honey from this swarm.

It’s Saturday night now, and we still have a patch of a hundred bees out on that garden gate…  Beginning to wonder if I should have a Queen overnighted to give those little guys a purpose?  Seems a shame to let them expire, especially since pollinators are so threatened.  I don’t even know if that would work, but I may try it if they’re here Monday.  Anyway, it was an exciting week here at the Flying L.  Nature gave us another fascinating lesson.

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4 Comments on “SWARM!”

  1. artsouth Says:

    This was awesome! I too love bees and have long wished to be a keeper, but apartment life is a high hurdle to clear for beekeeping. Do you remember Jimmy Owen? He keeps bees. I also have a funny story about bees south of Boone used as part of some hillbilly speedballing, but am waiting for you to come visit me in person one day and will tell you over wine. 🙂

    Like

    Reply

  2. Patti Coultas Says:

    I heard there are almost no wild honeybees anymore, it is so cool you were able to help a swarm with queen find a home.

    Like

    Reply

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