As you’ll remember, a couple weeks ago I shared with you the sad tale of the disappearance of my colony of honeybees from my backyard top bar hive. Like some frightening tale of colony collapse disorder, one day the girls were there, the next they were gone. The colony was a strong one without any of the usual honeybee woes (nosema, chalkbrood, varroa mite, etc.) and they were pretty mellow ladies, so it was sad to see they hadn’t liked where they were living. I mean they could have at least said goodbye or left a note.
Still, it gave me a chance to clean up the hive and this clean up brought in plenty of bees who I was hoping were looking for some new digs, but was pretty certain were just cleaning up any left over honey from all the comb I had cut off. Turns out maybe a few of these bees were indeed in the market for a new hive and had contacted their realtor.
All Was Quiet, Until….
Last Sunday we had marvelous weather here in Portland. Sunny, clear skies, temps in the low 70s. So, my chores done for the day, I was lounging in the backyard reading while my husband was trimming up some of his scraggly ferns.
Out of nowhere, I hear this light buzzing that turned into consistent and louder buzzing. I said, “Do you hear that?” My husband had just been about to ask me the same question. Then, we both looked up to see the air not too far above the yard dotted with bees. My husband said, “I think you may have new bees.”
The Swarm Moves In
Over the next 20 to 30 minutes we snapped picture after picture of the swarm. It started as a relatively loose cluster and then honed in on the hive. Clearly, thousands of bees trying to squeeze into three one-inch holes causes a bit of a traffic jam, so they bunched up on the front and legs of the hive as they slowly worked their way inside.
Of course, we were a bit eager to see what was going on, so not long after they settled in, I opened the viewing window. I couldn’t see much, but none of the new ladies seemed to mind me getting up close and personal with their new home, so I’m hoping these bees will be just as mellow as my last batch.
Later that evening, our curiosity got the better of us and we did a bit of a beekeeping no-no: used a flashlight to peer into the hive through the viewing window. It was only a brief peek, but there they were, clustered up on the bars. I checked again yesterday afternoon and can already see the start of some nice comb!
A Little Promo/Soap Box Moment
While my sad tale had a happy ending, not every beekeeper is so lucky. Please keep in mind that every chemical you dump onto your yard is harming these fascinating critters (and other critters…and you), so please stop buying things like Round-up and try to make your garden as pollinator and wildlife-friendly as possible.
My book Going Native: Small Steps to a Healthy Garden has plenty of tips of how you can reduce your chemical use (and the frightening things chemicals really do) and the super simple steps you can take to make a healthy garden.
About Bee Swarms
For those non-beekeepers out there, swarms may seem like a scary thing. Theoretically they are. I mean, thousands of stinging insects in one cluster? Scary! But in fact, swarmed bees aren’t aggressive at all (despite what the Bugs Bunny cartoons would have you believe). The bees have no home and no honey to protect, so unless you purposely try to piss them off, they aren’t in the mood to go on the attack. Case in point, all the pictures for this post were taken less than ten feet from the hive and the bees completely ignored us.
If you see a swarm, you can just leave it alone and they’ll likely move on. Or, you can call your local beekeeping group and they will come catch the swarm and deliver it to a waiting beekeeper. What you should never do if you see a swarm is to throw anything at it or spray it with pesticides. They’re not there to hurt you, so why would you want to hurt them?
Attracting Bees to Your Hive
When I was first starting my hive a few years ago I didn’t want to have to buy bees that were trucked up from California. I had read that attracting a swarm to your hive was like trying to lure in a fish in Japan with a tiny piece of bait on the Oregon coast…impossible, or at least very unlikely.
Well, this is twice now that I’ve lured in a feral swarm, so I’m doing something right.
If you have a hive that needs bees, you can get on a swarm list or you can try to attract one yourself. First, if the hive is brand new, you should find some clean beeswax (preferably from bees that weren’t treated), then rub some of that wax on the inside of the hive (and on the bars or frames depending on what kind of hive you have). Second, get some lemongrass oil (Beethinking has some high quality stuff) and rub a bit on the inside of the hive. I have no idea why, but bees are supposed to LOVE this stuff…and apparently they do. Third, be patient.
Have a great rest of the week!
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TAMMIE PAINTER IS THE AUTHOR OF THE TRIALS OF HERCULES: BOOK ONE OF THE OSTERIA CHRONICLES AND AN ARTIST WHO DEDICATES HERSELF TO THE TEDIUM OF CREATING IMAGES WITH COLORED PENCILS.