I was just thinking about laying down for a Sunday afternoon nap when my doorbell rang.
I retreated to the bathroom and let my husband deal with it. As usual, it didn’t work. When I came out of the bathroom, he heard the door open and came upstairs. R, the adorable six year old son of one of our neighbors on the alley, was waiting on our walk, with his bicycle, and urgent news.
“There’s billions of bees flying around and dead bees on the driveway.”
I have a beehive, and so, even though it is only a small hive that I don’t do very much to, and I have only had it two years, and opened it once, and have to call on a more experience beekeeper to do anything with it, I am the gal to call.
“I had to hurry so fast I took my sister’s bike!” R is blond and blue eyed and adorable, and six, and with just a bit longer hair he could be Christopher Robin. He and his sister ride bikes and run and play and draw on the driveway most days. I am more of an EEyore, but listening to them does my heart good.
So I went to the driveway, which is a private dead end alley shared between five houses, and did not see a billion bees. But there were an unusual number of dead bees on the concrete. I got a dustpan and swept them up, there were about 30.
R’s dad was sitting on a bench they had set up under a Bradford pear tree that was at the corner of their fence next to the garage and the driveway, and we talked. He kept batting away dazed bees, and then he looked straight up, and saw that
a branch was completely covered with bees–there was a football shaped mass of bees, called a swarm, directly above him. Swarms happen in the spring when food is plentiful, a queen bee hatches, and she does not want to have a duel to the death with the the queen that is already established. Almost all bees are female, but only one is fertile and lays eggs, and she will kill a rival–so often, the rival sends some sort of signal for her neighbors to eat as much honey as they can, then the group picks up and flies away in search of a new home.
The bunch of bees, all huddled together to keep warm, perches on a tree or the side of a house (I had one on my house once) until the scout bees find a good new place. A swarm is prized among beekeepers much as wild salmon and free-range poultry are prized among gourmets. They are seen as hardier and apt to be more successful.
I could not gather in the swarm, because I have only one hive and that hive is full, in fact, was probably the source of the swarm, but 24 hours later, the bees were carted off by a volunteer beekeeper from the Santa Clara County Beekeeper’s guild, who had climbed a ladder, sawed off the branch the swarm was on, and shook them into a portable hive IN THE POURING RAIN to take somewhere else.
So if you see a swarm, call your local beekeeping guild. They will happily take it away for you.