FIRST THE SWARM
A bee swarm is the natural means of reproduction of honey bee colonies. A new honey bee colony is formed when the queen bee leaves the colony with a large group of worker bees. The process is called swarming. Swarming mainly occurs in the spring. While the bees are in a swarm (pictured below) 'scout bees' are sent out to look for a new location for the hive. When one is found, the swarm will fly together to make a new home.
Friday, May 13th was the first day for this swarm of honey bees pictured below in the extraordinary shape of a heart. The weather was sunny and warm. The home hive was located in a nearby tree about fifteen feet above ground.
The next day the swarm had grown and reshaped. The photo below was taken on the morning of March 14, 2011 -- Day 2. It was healthy and thriving at that point. The scout bees were no doubt out looking for a new home. But nature had other plans. A spring storm was fast approaching and within hours the temperatures plummeted and the rains came; torrential rains. They lasted for two straight days.
I worried about the bees over the weekend, but I didn't know if I should intervene or let nature take its course. I thought about somehow putting a tarp over the bees and at least protecting them from getting soaked, but it was a public park and I didn't think the tarp would last long. I also didn't want to smother them. What I should have done was call a bee keeper that day.
What I learned came at the great expense of these beautiful bees...
I waited until the rains stopped to check on the bees and by then, less than half had survived. They were all on the ground and looking very weak. I made the call to a bee keeper at that point to come get the survivors. I didn't even know if that was something beekeepers would do. I found out it definitely is.
The beekeeper, Matt Ketner, pointed out the queen bee. I'd seen her when the swarm was first forming. Wherever the queen goes, the worker bees will follow. Matt put the branch of bees in the box and then put the box on it's side to let the other bees crawl in on their own, which they began to immediately do.
Some of the bees were so exhausted from little food and all the energy expended to keep warm that they couldn't even walk into the box. They were scattered around the ground so Matt gently tried sweeping them up, but he had another job to go to, so some bees were left behind.
A CUP OF BEES
The day after Matt collected the swarm, I went back to see if any of the bees left behind were still alive. I'd read that swarms can only last 4 days without getting to their new home. This was Day 6. I wondered if I could return them to their home colony located in a nearby tree, but the hive entrance was 15 feet up a tree and I couldn't reach it without a ladder.
When I got to the bees, I found they had huddled together into another small heap, and I was surprised that many of them were still alive. I just couldn't leave them to die. I retrieved a coffee cup out of a garbage can (the same cup I'd picked up off the ground the day before that was just left as trash by an uncaring park patron) and gently scooped up the bees with my hands and moved them into the cup. When I got them all safely inside, I called Matt. Thankfully, he was at home. The rain was just beginning to fall again. I asked if I could bring him a "cup of bees" to add to the hive. He said yes.
I dropped the cup of bees with Matt and picked up one of his $10 jars of honey. Later in the day I discovered one bee left over in my car. I felt sorry that she didn't get to go with her family. I was with my daughter running errands when I found the bee walking along my door. My daughter is adopting my love of bees and asked if there was a way she could take the bee home and wondered what she could feed it.
My daughter has always been one of the most compassionate people I've ever met. She would do anything (good and loving) for a friend and has been an animal lover from the time she was very little. When I taught her to fly fish and she caught her first trout she was so excited. She came running up from the pond below our cabin with the fish cradled in both her small arms asking for a bowl of water to put him in. When I explained that he was for dinner, she was aghast! All she wanted was to have him as a pet. She never fished after that. At the age of 9 she became a vegetarian. But that's another story for another time. This is my bee story.
So, back to the lone bee in my car. I was going to let the bee out but the last time I saw her she was on the back seat. I couldn't find her after that. I like to imagine she flew away and found her way home.
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