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Freebees In Bend 

Perfect swarm technique!Over the past five years or so I have had the pleasure of coming to Bend every spring (from my home near Sisters)

click to enlarge Perfect swarm technique!
  • Perfect swarm technique!
Perfect swarm technique!Over the past five years or so I have had the pleasure of coming to Bend every spring (from my home near Sisters) to capture swarms of bees.

This spring I received several calls from various people wanting to be rid of a swarm of bees within their trees, and house. The first came in from a person living in the West Hills with a swarm, then came a call from a women with bees in her rental home, and then about a swarm on Minnesota in downtown Bend.

I found the calls interesting, as last year I received a nasty letter from the Bend Police Department telling me I had to remove a box of bees I had in the West Hills, as it is (allegedly) illegal to keep bees in Bend. Someone better get busy and tell the bees that, as there are probably 20 or more wild bee colonies thriving within city limits. I know that to be fact, as I found another huge colony with at least 50,000 bees in a brick building not more than a half-block from the swarm on Minnesota.

One very good thing about a swarm of bees is that most exterminators will not touch them. They realize the biological value of bees as important pollinators, and would rather see the bees picked up by a beekeeper. Before I tell you the fun and games I had extracting bees from that home, I must share what a "swarm" is all about.

Worker bees (all females, incidentally) and their Queen survived winter without starving, or freezing to death, by keeping their happy home at 90 degrees Fahrenheit. At the first blush of spring, the queen starts laying eggs like mad. She has to, as the 10,000 or so bees that kept her fed and safe throughout the winter are not long for this world. Their last job will be to gather pollen and nectar and tend to their replacements growing in the cells.

As it is with events in Nature, there is most always a surplus in the reproduction process. While thousands of additional bees are required for replacement, the queen is busy laying more eggs than necessary. That way, she is guaranteed to have plenty of workers to sustain her empire.

Soon the colony grows to a point where the surplus causes the queen's pheromones (perfume) to be diluted. At first hundreds, then thousands, of workers become agitated. "Is the queen dead?" they wonder instinctively. "Could be," a thousand or more answer, and panic sets in. "The queen is dead! The queen is dead!" shout the workers. Without a queen, the colony will perish, so they build five new queen cells, in which each will have a special egg, and when they hatch, they will be fed "Royal Jelly," a special honey for the huge, growing queens.

The queens will all emerge at once, and each will posses her own special kind of pheromone. As soon as one queen becomes dominant, the other four are eliminated. While this was being worked out, another type of bee emerged from the brood: drones, the male bees that will mate with the virgin queen. (Listen up, all you drones. Once mating is accomplished, the workers usually will not allow them back into the colony, and they die. Got that guys?)

Now there are two queens occupying the same colony, a social situation that will not work. One of them will have to go, but they both have a huge entourage, and the group of bees that leave the colony is known as a "swarm." Within the departing swarm is the new queen and 100 or so drones mating with her. Flying along with them are the queen's guards that provide her with protection and warmth, and a bunch of scouts who are out looking for a new home. They cannot stay on the wing too long, as the queen is a huge, lumbering flyer, so they all come to rest on something like the end of a branch on a tree.

The swarm is a formidable looking object. There are about 8,000 bees in the ball-shaped mass, with workers buzzing about constantly. This scares the daylight out of most people, but the truth is they are not quarrelsome, and in fact, easy to handle as they do not have a home to protect. It is at this point (hopefully) that a bee-keeper will come along to snatch up the swarm and place it in a hive where the story has as happy ending.

More Bees, Please!

"Is this Jim Anderson, the bee-keeper?" asked a woman's voice. Without waiting for the answer, she blurted out, "I have bees in my rental home... will you come and get them?"

This wasn't the first time I heard about bees in that home. Two years earlier the residents of the house next door asked me if I could come and get the bees. But at the time no one else seemed interested in removing them. Now, however, was a good time, as the house was vacant and new renters were about to move in.

As it turned out, a bedroom wall was occupied by about 100,000 bees. To get to them I had to remove the inside wall. This meant a major disturbance to the bees, so I employed lots of smoke (smoke helps to calm unhappy bees), wore my protective clothing and hoped for the best.

After several trips to and from Bend, removing additional walls between studs, I found the queen and placed her and as many of her entourage as possible in a hive. After making several more trips to gather up stragglers and finally plugging the bees' entrance hole(s), the builder moved in to repair my destruction derby and the deed was done. It was a success.

My personal interpretation of "success" is: "Do what you want to do; do it the best you can, and get paid for it. If what you do is a benefit to Man, it's even better." I now have three new colonies of freebees; I was paid to extract the bees from the woman's home, she's happy, I'm happy, and so are the bees.


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