Last week I was out running errands when I received this text from my neighbor:
A swarm of bees has moved into your fusebox so please do not park in the driveway.
From her bedroom window she had seen (and heard) an entire swarm of bees searching for a home which they found in our backyard fusebox. This was the sight when I arrived home:
My neighbor also let me know about an organization of volunteer beekeepers that offers live removal of hives. I would be lying if I said I did not rack my brain thinking of any way possible for me to keep these magnificent creatures, but considering I have no equipment, a 19 month old baby, a landlord and a complete lack of knowledge when it comes to beekeeping, I thought the next best thing would be to turn them over to the experts. I called the bee rescue hotline and left a message. A volunteer named Yvonne, who lives in the area, called me back and we made arrangements for her to come to the house on Tuesday to get them. Yvonne has loads of bee knowledge and it was fascinating to pick her brain. She was so nice and patiently answered my many questions all the while she was carefully collecting, oh, about 10,000 bees.
She arrived with all of her gear and set up her smoker. The smoker is essentially a tin can with something smoking inside, you can see she was using the bellows there to really get it going. Yvonne uses small burlap bags that she gets from local coffeehouses in her smoker because they smoke for a good long while, but she let me know that anything that will smoke will work, like twigs or dead leaves. The smoke is used for two reasons, if the bees smell smoke they think there is a fire and they will fill their honeybellies. This makes them more docile and some scientists think that a bee will not sting with a full honeybelly. Secondly, when a bee is going to sting it releases a pheromone to let the other bees know that it is time to sting, the smoke helps to cover the smell of the pheromone. While she was getting herself set up, a few of the bees came over to her and were sniffing her out. One even bumped up against her, which she told me was considered a warning. They were telling her to get lost.
I was nervous enough out there myself, shooting from several feet away with my zoom lens, so I left Rylie inside to watch all of the excitement from her window. She was really interested in all of the commotion, and especially Yvonne's suit and veil.
This is how it looked when Yvonne opened the box. I asked her how many bees she thought were living inside and she said 10,000 - 15,000, which is a small hive. Hives usually average between 40,000 - 80,000 bees.
The process of collection was pretty straightforward. Yvonne had a small metal tool that she used to coax the bees from the hive and into a small box. She would then empty the small box into a larger box below. In doing this it is impossible for her to avoid disturbing the honeycomb, and in a twist of sad irony, some of the bees drowned in their own honey as a result.
This is the view inside the larger box. Yvonne knew she had gotten the queen because the bees were staying inside the box even though it was opened and because the bees were fanning their wings as if to say: Here she is! The queen is here! I learned that if more than one queen is born in a hive, they will fight to the death to determine who will be the sole queen of the hive. She then takes her one and only mating flight where she is inseminated by several male drones. The fuzzy-bodied males will die after they have mated with the queen as they have served their sole purpose in life. All of the worker bees in a hive are female. A worker bee's life span is six weeks, wereas the queen can live up to five years. I found that to be utterly amazing for an insect.
The brush was saved until the very end because the bees really hate it and they tend to fly wider and more erratic as a result.
Honey production rates vary from hive to hive. It is possible to harvest between 20 - 40 pounds of honey from a hive in the summer that was set up that spring. However, Yvonne mentioned that she acquired a hive in October of 2010 that is still not ready to harvest. The reason being that some bees produce slowly, and they also eat the honey themselves. Just depends on your bees I guess.
Once she had collected all of the bees, Yvonne taped the box securely and put a mesh screen over the holes. She was planning to deliver them to a beekeeping friend whose hive had recently absconded. There is always a chance that the bees will leave a location that they do not choose themselves.
Rylie couldn't stand inside and watch any longer, she had to come out and see what was happening. My neighbor came over and helped me keep an eye on her while I was fervently playing photojournalist. Yvonne gave Rylie a piece of the comb and she loved the soft supple feel of the wax. And we weren't the only one mesmerized by the bees.
Yvonne said the bees were very nice compared to how aggressive they could be in that sitaution. Later that night she sent me this photo of the bees in their new home. I hope they are comfortable there and love it as much as our backyard fusebox.
Please stay, little bees, please stay.