An interesting experience to start the year

On the first day of 2024 I had an interesting experience.  While pottering around the garden in the early afternoon, I came across a swarm of insects in our lime tree.  Although they looked like bees, I was unsure whether they were bees or wasps. A number of them were flying to and fro, but most were just attaching themselves to the outside of the swarm.

As we all know, Facebook has the answer to any query, and sure enough, the response to the uploaded photo came back as definitely bees, followed by how we should get rid of them.  One sad person suggested spraying the tree with petrol and setting fire to it.  The more sensible and helpful respondents gave us names of who we should contact to have it removed, which in turn has led to a new association and hopefully an informative one for you, our readers.

Within a short time we had a message from Ken Brown offering to come and remove the swarm free of charge.  Ken’s wife, Sandra, had seen the Facebook post and alerted her husband to our problem.  Ken, it turned out, is a beekeeper in our area; he is also an Apiculture Tutor with Land Based Training and President of Auckland Beekeepers’ Club.  Clearly his knowledge of bees is extensive and his explanation of their behaviour had me spellbound.

Ken described our swarm as fairly small, at an estimated 4,500 bees, and told us that the bees would be swarming around a queen. They give off a pheromone that attracts their sisters to settle in the swarm. He described our swarm as very docile and expected them to be easy to handle. Ken had brought with him a homemade wooden hive, the size of a banana box, to put the bees into for transport. He laid a white sheet on the ground under the lime tree, held the box under the swarm and gave the tree branch a brisk shake. The majority of bees fell into the hive which Ken then put the lid on and laid on the sheet.

Obviously, this process led to numerous bees now flying around somewhat disorientated. Some bees returned to their original branch, so Ken sprayed the tree with air freshener to interfere with the “home” pheromone that was on it.  It is important that all the bees stay together, otherwise they would not survive long by themselves. Meanwhile the bees around the entrance to the new hive were giving off pheromones as before, and gradually attracting the returning forager bees to the hive to join their friends.  Ken left the bees to settle into the box and returned around dusk to collect the hive.  By this time there were virtually no bees left flying around.

Ken has kindly agreed to provide readers with future articles about these fascinating insects that are so critical to human life.  In the meantime, should you have an encounter like I did, please take the opportunity to arrange for the bees to be collected by a local beekeeper or Auckland Beekeepers’ Club to help nature continue the wonderful work it does, without us even being aware of it most of the time!

PS: The hive has been treated for varroa mites and is now happily thriving in its new apiary feeding off clover and manuka. There should be a good late honey harvest from them, of course leaving lots for them for over the winter.

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