Sunday, July 4, 2010

Beekeepers to the Rescue

Friday morning I got a phone call from Jim,  a fellow who lives about a mile away,  who  had a swarm of bees in his tree. Did I want them?
I told Jim I am a novice beekeeper and didn't have an extra hive box or any experience capturing a swarm but I would make a few calls and see if any other beekeepers wanted to capture them.  Happily, my friend Joe agreed to drive up from Lanesboro for them.  I  was thrilled to see a swarm captured and I offered to assist and take photos.
The swarm  was clustered in this little tree in Jim's front yard. The night before when bees were flying everywhere looking for a place to land, the neighborhood was worried and as much abuzz as the bees, but now they were curious and some gathered nearby to watch.
Joe suited up and climbed up the stepladder he had brought. The hive box has frames inside  that the bees construct their comb upon, and Joe had sprayed the frames with sugar water to help entice them inside because nothing draws a crowd like free food.
Joe  balanced the uncovered box on the top of the ladder, grasped the sapling and shook the tree hard.  Most of the bees tumbled into the box.
Joe decided to leave the covered box on the ladder all day in the hopes that the rest of the bees would move inside. Most importantly,  we didn't want to take the box away if the queen wasn't yet inside.  There were probably lots of bees out scouting for a new home for the hive; we hoped this box would be more lucrative than any other potential home.
 Joe  watched to see if the bees were moving in.  Jim's 10-year-old son Michael  had been watchinghet  capture and asked some very good questions about the bees.  As the Director of Eagle Bluff Environmental Learning Center, Joe is tickled by youthful  curiosity.
He invited Michael to suit up in one of the extra protective  beekeeping suits he had brought. It was a bit large.
Joe gave Michael a little one-on-one beekeeping instruction.
Joe asked me to  come back  in the evening and  pick up the box of bees. But then, just as we were about to leave, a big gust of wind knocked the bee box off the ladder and it fell to the ground dumping out thousands of bees. Joe and I scooped up handfuls of bees (holding a handful of vibrating bees is a very cool sensation) and poured them back inside, then left the box on the grass hoping the remaining  bees would move down to the box even though it was on the ground and had just proven to be a bit shaky.
That evening while I was out milking the cow,  Jim called and left a message that the bees were all in the box.  Rog and I drove over (with the pickup this time--I didn't want to risk an entire hive of bees loose in my car!)  Except for a few stray bees, the tree was empty. The box was full of bees.
I plugged the bee entrances with grass so they couldn't get out on the way home. It is a very bumpy gravel road from Jim's house to our farm so I drove very slowly to try not to jostle the bees too much. When we got home, I carried the box out next to my hive, set it on a platform of concrete blocks and hoped for the best--the best being that the bees would settle in happily.
The next day I went out to check on the new bees and was disappointed to  find the box was totally empty. They must have re-formed a swarm and taken off for a more appealing home. Darn. I hope they didn't head right back to Jim's yard!
I want to to thank Jim and his wife Sara for staying calm and reassuring the neighbors when a swarm of thousands of honeybees invaded their street.  Bees are critical as pollinators and are facing such challenges. It's wonderful that instead of reaching for a can of Raid, Jim and Sara went to the trouble of tracking down a beekeeper1


katiegirl said...

Oh shoot, all that work for nothing! Well, hopefully the bees settled in a more rural place where there aren't any people around!

sargrota said...

Thanks for the great story! We have shared your blogspot with our friends and family in WI. They have found it quite interesting. I was sorry to hear they were gone in the morning, but FYI there is still a baseball size group buzzing around and hanging out on our tree. MayBEE the queen is still here? THanks again. Sarah Grota

Susan said...

Thanks Sara! I was wondering if maybe the queen wasn't in the box and that's why the bees left. I have a call in to Joe. I'd be happy to come back and get that cluster of bees if there is a chance the queen is there and it might make it with so few worker bees.