Matt and I have both been super busy over the past couple of months. I had a very productive semester of classes and am almost finished wrapping that up. I passed my BIG test and am officially a full-time student again in the Interior Design Program at CSU. Check out my update in the Design tab of the blog if you’re interested. Matt is extremely busy with work these days and will be starting shift work again real soon…he can’t hardly wait ; ) Needless to say, we are both ready for summer and getting back into the garden. We started planting some cool weather crops last week (peas, spinach, lettuce, chard) and even built a whole section for raspberries with a trellis system and everything. More blogs about Raspberries to come!
But enough about us, now for the real story THE BEES……..
The bees have been super busy today and it made for a very eventful afternoon. If you didn’t already know we have a little openspace area basically in our backyard complete with stream, deer, fox, hawks, blue heron, you name it we got it…including bees! The church near our house created a community garden that lies directly behind our backyard in that openspace area and in this garden they have two beehives. These beehives showed up a little over a year ago and haven’t been a problem, until today.
I got home from class around noon today and went outside to uncover our newly planted raspberries, let the dog out, check on the chickens, the normal. Everything seemed fine until about an hour later when I noticed a lot of bee sounds. So I looked out the window and saw this huge swarm in our garden area along the back chainlink fence. The swarm was interesting to watch, but pretty scary at the same time considering I had no idea what was going on. Within what seemed like only a few minutes that swarm had landed on a little shrub in our garden area and created a mass about the size of a basketball!
I figured the bees came from the beeboxes that belonged to the church so I immediately raced over the the church to let them know what was going on. Of course when I got there no one knew what to do or what was going on with their bees either. The head of the church said he would call their “beekeeper” to find out more and that he would get in touch with me. Of course, this wasn’t enough so I started my research….haha!
As soon as I got home I looked up bee swarm online and within 20 minutes I think I already knew more than anyone at the church did about their own bees. If you can’t tell I’m a little frustrated at how this particular community garden is handled, but that’s a whole other story. Anyways, I learned that swarms are a natural occurrence and a means of reproduction of honey bee colonies. Every Spring a new honey bee colony is formed when the queen bee leaves the colony with a large group of worker bees, a process called swarming. In the prime swarm, about 60% of the worker bees leave the original hive location with the old queen. This swarm can contain thousands to tens of thousands of bees.
In preparation for the swarm, the worker bees create queen cups throughout the year. When the hive gets ready to swarm the queen lays eggs into the queen cups. New queens are raised and the hive may swarm as soon as the queen cells are capped and before the new virgin queens emerge from their queen cells. A laying queen is too heavy to fly long distances. Therefore, the workers will stop feeding her before the anticipated swarm date and the queen will stop laying eggs. Swarming creates an interruption in the brood cycle of the original colony. During the swarm preparation, scout bees will simply find a nearby location for the swarm to cluster. This intermediate stop is not for permanent habitation and will normally leave within three days to a suitable location. It is from this temporary location that the cluster will determine the final nest site based on the level of excitement of the scout bees.
When a honey bee swarm emerges from a hive they do not fly far at first. They may gather in a tree or on a branch only a few meters from the hive. There, they cluster about the queen and send 20 -50 scout bees out to find a suitable new nest location. The scout bees are the most experienced foragers in the cluster. An individual scout returning to the cluster promotes a location she found. She uses a dance similar to the waggle dance to indicate direction and distance to others in the cluster. The more excited she is about her findings the more excitedly she dances. If she can convince other scouts to check out the location she found, they may take off, check out the proposed site and promote the site further upon their return. Several different sites may be promoted by different scouts at first. After several hours and sometimes days, slowly a favorite location emerges from this decision making process. When all scouts agree on a final location the whole cluster takes off and flies to it. A swarm may fly a kilometer or more to the scouted location. This collective decision making process is remarkably successful in identifying the most suitable new nest site and keeping the swarm intact.
Okay so you get the picture….this is natural…the bees don’t want to harm me…..I get it….but they are still in my yard and I’m not getting near them. So I did the next best thing I called the local SWARM HOTLINE . Of course we have a swarm hotline…I remind myself, I live in Boulder! Actually most counties probably have local beekeeping associations that you can contact if you have a honeybee situation. I was going to say Honeybee problem, but Honeybees aren’t a problem, they are really good to have around. They account for 80% of all insect pollination and without them we would see a significant decrease in the yield of fruits and vegetables. I just wish that our local church beekeepers knew how to manage their own honey bee hives. It is considered good practice in beekeeping to reduce swarming as much as possible. Just think about it, if you were a cattle farmer and your cattle felt overcrowded and just got up and walked off your farm you probably wouldn’t be a very successful cattle farmer. That is exactly what happened with these bees. They felt crowded and left the hive in search of a new home and I found them one.
Well, this is turning into quite the read. So after much calling around, talking with the church, speaking with the president of the local beekeepers association and going back and forth all day long we all agreed that we needed the assistance of an experienced and knowledgeable local beekeeper. That is where “Hans and Frans” come into the story….our local Danish Beekeepin’ Buddies from Longmont. They were the nicest Father and Son bee caretaker team that I had ever met, not that I have met many. They showed up at my house around 5pm and were so appreciative that I contacted them to take the bees. They said that most people just try to kill the swarm themselves and that if they hadn’t gotten here that evening to take them away that the majority of the swarm would have died due to the cold temperatures that we were expecting that night. So we spent the next 3 hours saving our little bee friends.
So here is a funny little tidbit. The two beekeepers show up and proceed to put on their suits and protective clothing then they ask if I would like to watch. So of course, I say yes, but where’s my protective clothing? Then Frans of the father, son duo proceeds to tell me that it’s okay, just stand back when I start shaking the fence with the swarm of bees on it……okay!!! So I took this picture only feet away from them as they were examining the swarm. After a few minutes I decided it was in my best interest to leave them to their beekeeping duties and to watch from my own backyard.
This swarm was very large and very hard to get to considering that the bees were intertwined in a shrub and two layers of fence. They said that most of the time the bees land in a nearby tree and they are easy to get to because you can just cut the branch and place the bees into the box, ‘piece o’ cake’. Well, this particular bee collecting task was no ‘piece o’ cake’, it took them a little over 3 hours. It was a cool process to watch though. Their goal is to get the queen bee into the box, but that’s like finding a needle in a haystack. So they collect some and wait, collect some and wait, and repeat. As they wait the worker bees follow her scent into the box. Once they think that they have the queen and the majority of the bees in the box they wait some more. They rigged up the box to the same height as the residual members of the swarm so that they would make their way into the box on their own. This beekeeping business requires a lot of patience. They managed to get almost all of the bees that night and they said that any bees that don’t make it into the box with them will most likely die from the cold.
Well I certainly learned more about bees than I thought I would ever need to know. Matt made it home to watch the last two hours or so of the bee collecting. It made for a very eventful learning experience and certainly an interesting night for both of us.
Thanks Hans and Frans!
Oh and I have their number in case this happens again next year…