Thursday, April 5, 2012

A Bee Story

shared with permission
*originally published at Inside My Head, by Tracy Million Simmons, 5/7/2009

Farmer John of Shepherd's Valley shared this story along with our share yesterday. I wanted to pass it on, first, because bees fascinate me and I (as yet) know very little about them and second, because I've actually seen a swarm of bees (photo below) and I had no idea what I was seeing. I thought they were stuck to something. I guess I assumed it was some some kind of giant fly strip or something. (I didn't harm them, I just walked away!)
Our late morning planting of sweet corn on Friday was interrupted by a sound – a sound different than the tractors planting in nearby fields. The sound a beekeeper has learned to train his ears to hear – the sound of a swarm of honeybees. I followed my ears to find the trees along the creek alive with the sound of music! I watch the swarm form, move up and over and around, from treetop to treetop, then finally settle right along the freshly mowed path along the fence – in the shade, no less, about 4 ft. above the ground. A beekeepers dream!

It was a huge swarm all clustered together in the lower limbs on an elm tree. And although from my position I could not see the bees settle in, I watched as the limbs bowed beneath the weight of the bees, then later discovered their landing spot. It was almost lunchtime, so I gave Ben the signal to gather up his “bee stuff” and we’ll all eat a quick lunch, and then tackle our unscheduled afternoon task. Ben and I successfully lowered the 3½-foot long by foot wide ball of bees carefully into a hive body. We will transfer the hive to Ben’s new place in a few days. Ben caught another swarm over the weekend and we are now fielding calls from several local communities about honeybees. Guess word gets around fast!

If you see a swarm of honeybees (big ball/cluster of bees) hanging from a tree, roof eave, picnic table, or wherever else, DON’T PANIC - call us and we’ll come get it. Don’t call 911 (it’s NOT an emergency) or the Exterminator (who will likely charge you several hundred dollars and kill these wonderful creatures). Don’t do like one lady who recently called the police in a nearby town. When the police got hold of me, and I got there, she said, “the neighbor took care of it. She poured gasoline on ‘em and threw in a match.” Aarrgghh! I get very perturbed when I hear things like that! When honeybees are swarming, they will NOT sting. Just watch them settle and call me: 620-787-2380. I can entertain you with my antics, and educate you and your family and friends on the value of the honeybee. Lots of folks call their neighbors and bring out lawn chairs to watch the retrieval process and videotape the fun!

Here are some sad stats pertinent to the lady that burned a swarm of honeybees. At an average of 5 gallons/year (you could get lots more) x10 years, she burned a potential 50+ gallons of honey, current retail value: $2,000. Pollination benefits @ 20% yield increase per year x 10 years retail value: another $7-10,000. That swarm would likely have produced about 6-7 more swarms, and grandfathered maybe 24 more, each worth about $150+ each x30 = $4,500. Each of those swarms would then have produced honey and pollination benefits over several years, worth approximately $400/hive/year x 30 hives = $12,000. With inflation and standard price increases, add another 5%/yr. x 10 years = $14,000. So that little burning action cost about $40,000+ in potential gross income over the life of the colony. It makes me sad to see such beautiful, helpful, and valuable creatures destroyed by such ignorance.

Here’s a picture of the first swarm we caught this season. It measures approximately 3½ ft. long x 1 ft. thick.

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