Sunday, July 21, 2013
Seeing a honey bee swarm
A swarm in May — is worth a load of hay.
A swarm in June — is worth a silver spoon.
A swarm in July — isn’t worth a fly.
If the old English poem is correct, then the swarm of honeybees I recently saw isn’t worth much. But I thought it priceless.
Having grown up on a farm and now living there, I spend a lot of time outdoors. When I’m not in the office, you usually can find me either gardening or farming.
But in those nearly 50 years, I have never witnessed a honey bee swarm until recently.
I was working in the garden, putting up hog panel fences to support our tomatoes. It was a hot day with little breeze. The valley was quiet.
Suddenly I heard a droning sound that grew louder. I looked at the sky as a cloud of bees approached from the south. It was a living twister at least 30 yards wide and 20 yards deep flying above my head.
A few bees landed beside me as if to say hello, but quickly flew back up to join their colleagues. Clearly this bipedal creature was not a place for safe harbor.
The twisting maelstrom of bees churned violently as it passed by in a buzzing crescendo. The murmuring music started to fade as they flew past.
I watched with astonishment as the swarm flew over the creek and headed west into the woods.
We do not raise honey bees and do not have any domestic hives nearby. So the swarm likely was wild bees simply looking for a new location.
Swarms occur when the queen bee leaves the nest — usually due to overcrowding or congestion — and the worker bees follow. It’s nature’s way of relocation that is part of the life cycle of bees.
It’s a dangerous journey. Bees can survive only a few days without food. They gorge themselves on honey and nectar before leaving. A new food source is a critical part of their new home.
Some bees stay behind and a virgin queen is coronated. Both colonies can prosper. Or both can fail. It’s one of life’s risks.
Beekeepers try to prevent swarms because it would be akin to raising livestock and leaving the gate open. Capturing a swarm was considered a treasure for pioneers, who would put the valuable honey to good use. But not — according to the old poem — in July.
The swarm came and went in less than 30 seconds. It’s an experience I will never forget.
(Posted by Chris)