When Bees Split the Hive
I am a man awed by nature, the steadfast magic around me that continues to seep into my psyche leaving me delighted, gobsmacked and feeling like there are more questions than answers in this world. Yesterday, nature proved inspiring and dazzling and inexplicable once again, as my bees swarmed, leaving the old queen to exit the hive in search of a new home, while the new queen stayed put, undoubtedly measuring for new carpets and drapes.The bees getting organized; assembling to protect the queen, and perhaps reconsidering their choice of a tender young grape vine as a temporary outpost. (You’re looking at 6.75 pounds of bees.)
My friend Jon was visiting, trying not to wince after his first sip of sweet tea, when he said, “What going on down there? Looks like there’s some giant swarm of flies going crazy.” I turned to look, and immediately recognized that flight pattern: bees, thousands of bees creating a spectacular show over the treetops in my orchard. The hive was beginning to swarm.
The closer we got, the greater the frenzied buzz. (This should have been our clue to step away from the orchard.) Like a wild fire out of control, golden embers dotted the sky in frantic dances. The bees flew free and fast in patterns only nature and they could translate and understand. The usually gentle bees let us know we weren’t invited to this party, so we backed away and watched the best show in town from a safer distance.
My whirling wildfire was now turning into a concentrated winged cyclone, as the bees circled in closer and closer, moving as one unit around the orchard. Within an hour, the bees began to land on my grape arbor, forming a sculptural moving mass of golden brown bees. The worker bees began to locate the queen via her powerful pheromone presence, and created a living and layered fortress around her.
An hour later the orchard was serene, the frantic activity a mere memory with the original resident hive foraging about their business. The departing bees calmly amassed on a couple sinewy grape vines, resting and planning their next move. While scout bees were out looking for the perfect new home, about 20,000 bees swayed in the wind in temporary housing.
I called my beekeeper pals David and Heidi for guidance. David was at a WSU Beekeeping seminar, but Heidi was happy to help when she returned to the island from her day job in Seattle. PR professional by day, Superhero beekeeper in her off hours. I watched, I listened, I learned and I thanked. Heidi suited up, somehow still remaining cute as a bug’s ear. I always look like a walking talking marshmallow or cotton swab in my bee suit.
After trimming off a few in-the-way vines, she gently lifted an empty 5-gallon bucket up and under the entire swarm, carefully coaxing in a majority of bees as if moving mashed potatoes into a bowl. With one or two brisk shakes of the vine, the remaining bees dropped into the thoroughly vented bucket, filling it completely. The lid was snapped on top and we waited for the straddlers to may their way into the bucket through the side portals.
Gracie took one for the team, her deafness and curiosity about food-grade buckets did not serve her well that day. She sauntered in for a closer look when I wasn’t looking, and met the sharp end of a dutiful bee. I moved her away quickly, and she’s fine now. Boz kept his distance, resting up under the apple tree too exhausted to budge after a day of awesome dog adventures and milk bones. (Had this been a deer or squirrel roundup, he would have been all over it.)
Heidi took the bees back to her and David’s place where they will set them up in a top-bar hive and then return them to my place, because as the beekeeper saying goes, two hives are better than one.
Thank you Heidi and David. You two bee dazzle me with your knowledge, generous natures and sweet as honey dispositions!
Video of the Event: When Bees Swarm