The other morning when I stepped out the front door on my way into the office, I heard a loud noise. Was a neighbor using a chainsaw?
No! It was the sound of thousands of bees!
They hung from the mesquite trunk in a cluster the size of a laundry basket.
Fortunately, I used to play in an early music group with a fellow cellist who is a beekeeper. I messaged him from the office, and he arranged to drop by that evening.
He came by about forty-five minutes before sunset.
“It’s a swarm,” he said. He explained that the old hive had two queens, and one flew off with a portion of the colony to form a new hive. “Even if they’re Africanized, they’re still quite docile at this time of year,” he said. “They don’t have any honeycomb or eggs to defend yet. The scouts are still flying around looking for a better place to have the hive, and chances are, they’d dissipate within a few days, or twenty days.”
But, he went on to say that, while they prefer a more sheltered location for the new hive, there was always a chance they could build the hive here.
I suppose if we lived in the middle of the desert, rather than on a residential street with frequent pedestrians, I wouldn’t mind a bee-hive on the property. I do love pollinators, after all! But in the city, with scores of people walking by every day, this is probably not the best place.
So, my beekeeping acquaintance set about removing them.
We used my extension ladder so he could reach them, pruned away lots of obstructing branches, and then he hung a bucket near the swarm.
“Smell this,” he said when he was bringing the bucket from his car. It had lemongrass oil inside of it. “Lemongrass has the same chemical compounds that bees use to claim something as ‘this is home.’ This will encourage them to stay in!”
With his beekeeping gloves and hat on, he placed handful after handful into the bucket.
“If I’m lucky, I’ll get the queen,” he said. “Then, they’ll all want to come into the bucket.”
I watched from the living room window, as the beekeeper scooped them into the bucket. Now and then, he descended the ladder, shook off his shirt, and walked around pensively. Then, up the ladder again!
Eventually, he came to the front door.
“Well, I’ve got about as many as I could,” he said. “You can see they’re getting testy! It didn’t go as smoothly as I’d hoped. Not my best work.”
Yet I was amazed! He’d gotten thousands into the bucket, and only a few remained on the trunk!
“I’ll be back after dark to see how many more I can get,” he said. “I might have to squirt them with soapy water if there are too many I can’t get. It’ll kill them, but at least you won’t have so many flying around.”
When he came back, he found that most of them were trying to get into the bucket. That’s where the queen was! He took the bucket and the new colony back to his place. He’ll get them established in a bee box, and then, he’ll replace the queen with one that he knows isn’t Africanized. He says that she’ll replace the genes of the colony with domestic genes to keep the colony more docile. It feels a bit traitorous to me, but at least we were able to have them removed without harming them.
By the next morning, the clump of bees was the size of a lemon. Two days later, the clump was gone, and all the bees had left.
The beekeeper says the lingering bees will likely find a new colony to join up with. Since he doesn’t live too far from me, I’m hoping they find their original group!