“First find your bees a settled sure abode…”
~Virgil, The Georgics, IV
Honey bees swarm. It’s a fact of nature. When their colony gets too big for their space they will raise a new queen to stay with the original colony and the old queen takes off with a portion of the bees to find new digs. It’s an amazing sight to behold and hear as the buzz from that many bees moving in unison is loud.
Sometimes their new home happens to be in your home. I’ve never heard of a case where the homeowner will actually go for that. Hmmm, what to do? Mostly the freaked out homeowner will just get a can of nasty spray poison and be done with them. It is understandable but unnecessary and undesirable from any viewpoint.
Happily this was not the case with a homeowner on Tyler Street. Her’s is an older home, not insulated like they are today. Homes used to be built with just big air cavities between the inner and outer walls. To remedy this holes are drilled into the outside wall and loose insulation is blown in. Then the hole is patched up. Or at least it should be. In this case the hole was not patched, nor was the cavity filled with any insulation which left a nice, protected, warm, perfectly sized space for some bees looking for a new abode. When the bees moved into this house, the homeowner wisely contacted her local beekeeping club to find help. And naturally my challenge-loving-dad answered the call.
We went out to look the situation over. Dad decided to try the cone method of removal, where he formed a cone from aluminum mesh, attached it to the house pointing up (bees naturally move upward), and provided an empty bee hive up close to give them a place to go. The worker bees can leave but they can’t get back in, so they eventually move into the hive close by, which we ‘baited’ with 2 frames of sealed brood (developing pupae) and 4 frames of honey. The queen on the other hand will not leave, which poses some problem which is why the wall must be opened up. You could leave her in there with the handful of bees that won’t leave her, close it up whereby they’d die, or you could take the wall apart after most of the bees are out to capture and transfer her into the baited hive that now contains the rest of the bees. That’s what we did since neither of us liked the idea of leaving the queen with a handful of her loyal attendants to die.
This kind of swarm capture obviously involves some structural tear out and repair to remove the bees. You may have trouble finding a beekeeper that is willing to do that because all kinds of liabilities get in the way but if you have a handyman or handywoman to work with the beekeeper, the bee removal can go quite smoothly. Such was the case with the Tyler Street bees. The homeowner had a handyfriend up for the challenge and he went to work on the wall after most of the bees had now moved into the baited hive.
And that’s what the inside of a natural honeybee colony looks like. Sheets and sheets of overlapping wax comb in which they store their honey and raise their young. Incredible sight isn’t it?
The white arc across the top is capped cells of honey. The tan cells in the center are capped brood which is the term for sealed pupae in stages of development. That is typical of how bees arrange their combs in the wild.
After the wall was opened up the sheets of wax were cut out and dispersed. The wax with brood was put into the bait hive so they could emerge and join their colony, as was some of the wax with honey. The remainder of wax with honey was put in my hive. By laying it out horizontally over the frames of a hive, the bees will clean out the honey and store it in their frames we beekeepers use in our standard hives. Then the cleaned wax was removed and melted down to sell to local entrepreneurs who make lotions and salves with beeswax.
Bees are truly remarkable. Maybe I’m just a bee geek but I never get tired of seeing these kinds of amazing situations when bees and people cross paths. All in all this whole process took over a month to complete. Once we transferred the queen and her handful of remaining bees we moved the entire colony in their new hive to my dad’s apiary. Presumably the handyman patched up the wall and made sure that hole was closed this time.
So if your path crosses with a swarm, please grab the phone and call your local bee club instead of grabbing a can of poisonous spray. You’ll do the world a favor.
In bloom in my garden today: Armeria, Ajuga, Calluna vularis ‘dark beauty’, Canna, Coreopsis ‘moonbeam’, Caryopteris, Cyclamen, Gaillardia (blanket flower), Kniphofia, Agastache foeniculum (anise hyssop), Alyssum, Begonia ‘bonfire’, Borage, Daphne caucasica ‘Eternal Fragrance’ and ‘Summer Ice’, Echinacea, Fuchsia, Lobelia, Kirengeshoma palmata, Nepeta, Phygelius ‘new sensation’ (cape fushia), Russian Sage, Salvia, Schizostylis ‘watermelon’, Star Jasmine (trachelospermum jasminoides), winter pansy, Rose, Eupatorium rugosum ‘chocolate’ (joe pye weed)