6.30.2011

Power Bees


Dylan, Mom and Charlie

If PGE finds a swarm in a utility box, they call Philip. Philip is our bee Maharishi, and if there’s anyone who is calm enough to remove thousands of wired bees from a public place, it’s him. He has ten hives in his yard, as many as he wants, so he shares what he seizes. All you have to do is bring over a box. We dropped off two.

If you’re going to stress out the bees by sucking them out of a utility box, stress them once. People often catch swarms by knocking them off whatever they happened to land on, usually a tree branch, and into a bucket. After traumatizing them once, they shake them from their bucket and into a hive box for a second round of trouble. That’s more stress than necessary, Philip says. When he removes a swarm, they go from utility box to hive box, leaving the bucket under his sink.

Philip caught us two PGE swarms. The first one, a monstrous seven-pound swarm, came home to our roof. The second was a combination of a couple of small swarms he’d collected.  These girls were going to my mom’s. They’d build faster over there, in her lush garden acre with real, authentic summer weather (sun instead of fog, in other words).

As long as we’re bringing a colony to my mom’s, we put our two struggling hives in the car and brought them along, too. These two hives were swarms we caught: the Golden Gate girls and another one too small to have their own name. Combining them in to one hive would make them stronger. Warming them up would make them stronger still. Everything does better in the sun.

Smoking bees
Both of Philip’s colonies seemed bitchy. Even inside the box, they were bumping and buzzing, clearly cranky like teenagers on a road trip. The last thing they remembered, they were in a PGE utility box, getting comfortable. Without any kind of warning, they all of a sudden got sucked into a shop vac (okay, a “bee vac”) and now they were trapped in a box with a mesh screen stapled to the entrance.

Looking at the mesh screen, the bees stare back as if they were in jail. They stay close against the mesh, their faces pressed to the screen, their tongues lashing out. It’s like they’re at the starting gate, waiting for the gun to go off, hyped up on ‘roids, saying, “Let me at ‘em! Let me out!”

Hoping to get it over quickly, Charlie yanked the entrance screen off like a band-aid, but one of the staples stuck. They didn’t care. They poured out of the half hive entrance like water out of a faucet, dive bombing Charlie’s head and face while he struggled with the staple. Seeing how angry they were, he ran off. Half open was good enough until they calmed down. Twenty minutes later, the rest of the screen came off in the midst of World War Bee, the bees not letting up on the dive-bombing. They made the Oakland girls look like kittens in comparison. Charlie didn’t get stung but it’s a good thing these bitches were staying here on the roof, far away from my 80 year-old mom.

Before Charlie pulled the screen off the second PGE hive we were setting up at my mom’s, he put his bee suit on. He’d learned his lesson.

Playing with hives
He ripped the mesh screen off with one strong yank, hoping these girls weren’t as aggressive. They were, and worse, they were smart enough to know Charlie was somehow responsible for their entrapment. They escaped and raced after Charlie like they were after their kidnapper. He raced down the steep, wooden stairs on my mom’s hill, a dark cloud of bees chasing closely after him. This wasn’t what we envisioned when we wanted to keep bees at my mom’s.

For the rest of the day, there was a huge swirling black tornado of bees surging above the PGE girls’ new home, over fifty feet in the air like a bee eruption. They never calmed down. We told my mom to stay away for a few days but she wasn’t listening. She really is one with nature. “At least don’t wear dark colors,” we told her. “The bees will think you’re a bear. And don’t stand in front of the hive entrance for the same reason.”

We knew she wouldn’t listen but there isn’t much you can do. If she gets stung, she’ll learn. Knowing her, she’ll be standing in front of the hive wearing dark colors tomorrow morning. Without getting stung.

In the midst of the PGE bee tempest, we had to set up and combine the two struggling wild colonies. Had we known we were bringing down a fusillade of angry power- infused bees, we would have done this first.

The Golden Gate girls, our first trapped feral swarm, weren’t growing at all. In fact, they were barely maintaining. The other swarm we caught recently was just a tiny colony and worse, wasn’t laying. They had a virgin queen, Philip surmised, and they were going to meet a worse fate than England.

Philip’s advice was to dump them in with the Golden Gate girls and let their queen kill the virgin queen. You can kill her yourself, if you want.

First you have to find the queen. Virgin queens are skinny, so even if you happen to see her, you might overlook her. Besides, try finding one bee in a baseball-sized clump of wiggly insects, all squirming on top of each other. You want to pick them apart to get a good peek, but that would be too disturbing.

We gave up and, instead, dumped both hive boxes together. They’ll both die on their own. Let’s join them up and see what happens.

What happened was the opposite of what we expected, once again. Philip says, “Bees like numbers. They like to be part of a big, successful group.” It must be true. The bees approached each other like long lost relatives, touching each other and sniffing each other like puppies. They seemed to enjoy their new family.

After a few hours, we watched the entrance to see if the undertaker bees had brought out their dead queen. Nothing. All we saw were forager bees going out to collect pollen, and we saw more of that than at their old, foggy, home on the roof: a normal colony, finally.

We left for our foggy home, the PGE girls still swirling in a blizzard above the tops of my mom’s huge oak trees. It’s a weird feeling drive away after leaving your own mother with the gift of a back yard full of terrorist bees.

My mom called a few days later and said they were still bumping and buzzing her when she stood by to watch them. How many times do you tell your mom to stand off to the side, don’t wear dark colors, don’t act like a bear?

“Have you been stung?” we asked. That would teach her. That is, if she needed teaching.

“Oh, no,” she said. “But I think they might want to go back to San Francisco. It’s been in the high 90’s since you left.”

You had your chance, bitches. Now stay away from my mom.