7.20.2011

Swarming in Sausalito


Philip belongs to the Marin Beekeepers Association and he's on their list for swarm response and rescue. Someone in Sausalito found a swarm had moved into their house, under the roof and behind the fascia boards. They called Philip, and Philip invited Charlie to come along.

When they arrive they see a little tiny hole, no more than an inch in diameter and twelve feet above the deck floor below, with only three or four bees crawling around. “I think this is a tiny colony," Charlie says.

“You never know until you cut away the wall,” Philip said.

Charlie isn’t convinced. It'd take a long time for a swarm to get inside there with that little hole, wouldn't it? And with only a few bees flying in and out, if it is a swarm in there, they must be pretty laid back.

Philip pulls out his heat sensor and points at the hole to take temperature measurements. "This is how I learn where the clusters is," he said. His readings were hottest right below the hole. “That’s where they are,” he said. “Right there.”

He began to cut away the outside of the house. The bees, few that there were, didn't mind that he'd powered up a circular saw and was opening up their wall. They didn't even bother to bump him. 

When he finished cutting, he pulled a piece of the exterior off and they both had a look inside. It's a huge cluster, like a basketball, hanging between the roof joists.

Time to begin sucking. Philip made a bee-vac, like a shop-vac, to extract bees. The machine sucks bees up through the hose and they land in the box. To lessen the impact, the landing spot is fitted with carpet padding.

The hose wasn’t long enough to stretch all the way to the ground so Charlie's job was to hold the box up high enough to reach.

Philip turned the bee-vac on and slowly, with a gentle, circular motion, started sucking bees. The bees, again, were calm. They seemed to be waiting for their turn to be shop-vac'd, watching as he went from the bottom up.

When he was done Philip said, “We’re going to have to wait for foragers to return, even though it’s early in the morning. We'll have to see if a new cluster forms. They may be in the next cavity over, too.”

They waited. Sure enough, a cluster began to form on the other side of the adjacent roof joist. Philip cut out the next section to see a softball-sized cluster. “I bet the queen’s in that cluster,” he said.

“How do you know?”

“The bees, if they sense they’re being compromised, rush the queen off and hide her.”

After slurping up those bees, Philip and Charlie shop vac’d each other since there were bees all over them and that wouldn't make for an easy car ride home.

Philip took out the inner box where the bees accumulated. He showed it to the homeowner while explaining the swarming process. That little box was so full of bees that, looking through the screens on both sides, it was impossible to find a vacant spot.

The box rode in the back of Philip’s pick up truck, along with a few unsucked-up bees holding on along the outside. They must have held on all through Marin, all the way over the bridge, all through the Richmond district, to Noe Valley where they were transferred into one of Charlie's hive boxes.

It’s a crime to make such nice bees reside in the soppy, foggy side of San Francisco. Especially when they had the option to live the cushy life in my mom’s back yard. We brought them down the next morning. When Charlie removed the screen on their hive entrance, they they flew out like, “We’re here! We’re here! Yay!” 

Standing right in front of the hive and wearing inappropriate colored clothing, I didn’t get bumped once. Sausalito bees are too posh for that sort of behavior.