18 August 2009

One bee makes no swarm...

But thousands of them definitely do!

Imagine yourself spending an industrious afternoon mowing a vast expanse of lawn. It's not a bad job. After all, it's a ride-on mower! So there you are minding your own business, mowing away, when you turn a corner and see this:

What lovely Hydrangeas, you say. But what's that dead branch there on the left? Being the conscientious Professional Gardener Student that you are, you decide to take a closer look...

If you were me, you might ask yourself, "What's that turkey doing hanging from the Hydrangea bush?" But you are not me and you know it's not a turkey or any other barnyard fowl, for that matter. You know without a shadow of a doubt it's a swarm of bees!

This is exactly what happened to my esteemed colleague Kerry-Ann last Friday evening. Being of sound mind and judgement, she immediately sought out my classmate Emma, who is an experienced bee-keeper. I happened on the scene a little later in the proceedings but was in time to watch as Emma set up a new hive in hopes that the swarm could be coaxed back into it.

Here's what happened: the existing hive behind the student greenhouse had gotten a bit cramped for the bees already in residence. When this happens - sometimes a few times a season - the bees within rear a new queen and prepare to swarm. Those who are about to set off and establish a new hive drink as much honey as they can as fuel for the journey. When everyone's ready, they follow the new queen to her chosen destination and set to work building a new home.

In this case, the queen didn't go very far - only about 30-feet from the original hive. Luckily she went toward the student gardens to a shrub that was manageable as far as height. Had she gone toward the woods or into a taller tree, retrieving the swarm would have been much more difficult and dangerous.

Once the pallet and boxes were in place and level, Emma spread a sheet on the ground under the swarm. Now, keep in mind, we in the gallery were standing about 20-30' away. Far enough that the swarming bees took no interest in us but close enough that we could see hundreds - nay, thousands - of them forming a cloud around Emma as she worked, and none of it seemed to phase her. She moved with care but also seemed completely relaxed and confident in what she was about to do. I'm not sure the rest of us would have been so brave.

Once the sheet was spread below the swarm, the branch was lopped off and the whole thing fell onto the sheet. Needless to say, this made the bees a little agitated and the cloud around Emma thickened as they began to flurry around.

Folding up the four corners of the sheet to envelope the branch, she carried it over to the new hive.

Laying the sheet and branch carefully at the hive opening.

Mission accomplished, Emma slowly walked away from the hive and let the bees get used to their new home. She very wisely used inserts (the part the bees make the combs and honey on) from the original hive, so the swarm actually smelled their own pheromones and honey and immediately began marching into the new hive!

Now, the bees that were swarming were still hot on the trail of the queen bee's scent so the cloud followed Emma and her bundle but others continued to swarm onto the cut branch in the Hydrangea. What to do about them?

The smaller swarm was cut and taken to join their comrades at the hive. Here it is up close, and you can see the bees entering the box.

This was one of those spectacles that you simply had to witness first hand to appreciate. If our adrenaline was pumping - and it was - I can't imagine what was coursing through Emma's veins! In the end, the swarm adopted their new home and now, thanks to Emma's courage and heroism, there are two active hives here on the Row.

Saint John Chrisostum once said, "The bee is more honored than other animals, not because she labors, but because she labors for others". Today I give honor to Emma, who labored for others - not just the bees, but in consideration of the safety of those who live on the Row. Kerry-Ann proclaimed that Emma is the bravest person she's ever known and I have to say I agree.

Bravo, Emma! You're awesome!
*Special thanks to Kerry-Ann for allowing me to use her photos.

1 comment:

jimmy said...

interesting...they swarmed to the same exact spot when i was a PG.... strange. jimmy