8.04.2011

We're In Business


Cat, our new best bee friend, called to say, “Would you mind responding to a swarm call? It’s in San Francisco and I’m too busy to drive all the way up there.”

A real swarm capture? Not just reclaiming our own bees? 

“Sure,” Charlie said and put down his mouse for the first time all morning. He now had an excuse to quit hanging out on the bee chat groups, writing passionate comments while drinking strong coffee: his morning routine until, well, lunch.

When he arrived, George the homeowner told him, “I was out in my garden yesterday. I heard this thunder-like sound. I looked up and there was a cloud of bees landing on my cherry tree. It was so exciting to watch but now I feel sorry for them. They’re not moving.”

“This is perfect,” Charlie said. “I've got a queenless hive.” 

The first swarm Charlie ever caught, our Slacker swarm that escaped across the street, don’t have a queen. After capturing them we gave them a new box on the other end of the stand and named them Slacktivists. They never got around to making babies so we wonder if that queen, the one who swarmed, gave up her wild ways and went back home to her old, familiar hive. 

The rest of the swarm stayed in their new box and started building up honey, hoping she’d come back. She never did. She most likely killed the Slackers' new queen and went back to work laying eggs. Somebody’s laying a lot of eggs in that hive and from the looks of it, it’s someone who knows what she’s doing. There are frames full of babies.

Back at the swarm, George took Charlie back to his garden, a beautiful sunny oasis with huge pots of flowers, planter boxes lush with trees and green growing vegetation everywhere, like only a garden with lots of sun can be. No wonder the swarm stopped here.

The bees made their temporary home up thirty feet high, even though Cat was told it was fifteen feet max. Bees balled up about the size of a volleyball.

“I have a big extension ladder you can use,” George said.

Charlie propped it up against the neighbor’s fence and brought out his nuc box. A nuc box is a cardboard box in which frames can be put in, used only to capture swarms or starting a nucleus colony. He’d only used it once before to capture the escaping Giants girls who swarmed ten feet from their hive onto our squash plant. The box was barely big enough to hold all those girls, so it probably smelled a lot like sweaty bees, like an apiary gym locker.

Charlie held the box under the swarm and lifted it up until the whole swarm was inside the box to minimize the drop distance and the potential bee trauma.

Thwap! Charlie hit the branch and they all fell in.

He put the lid on and held it in place. A couple of tiny clusters congregated by the entrance, proving there was a queen and she was inside the box.

He couldn’t stand there for the several hours it would take to make sure the stragglers got in. Instead, Charlie left it tied onto the highest part of the tree that would support the box, about five feet off the ground. It’s better to do that than have them fall. That happened already with the first swarm Charlie caught: the Slacker swarm. A gusty wind came up and knocked the whole nuc to the ground. Perhaps that had something to do with the reason the Slacker queen went back into her old hive?

“I’ll come back tonight about 7:30 to collect the box," Charlie told George. "It’ll take that long to make sure they’re all inside.”

“Do you get paid for this?" George asked. "How are you spending all this time without earning any money?”

“As long as people call me instead of an exterminator, I’m happy to do it for nothing.”

“Well," George said, holding up a hundred dollar bill. "I thank you and Ben thanks you. I can’t wait to tell all my gardening friends about this.”