Talk to people about keeping urban beehives and two things invariably come up as concerns.
One is the belief that the bees will now flock to their picnic or patio barbecue. The other is a fear of swarms. The first one is a complete non-starter. The other is a periodic issue that is vastly overblown. Let me explain.
That nice salmon steak or chicken that you put on the barbecue is of absolutely no interest to a honey bee. They eat only nectar and pollen. Not meat. What you’re seeing around your picnic table are wasps and hornets, the carnivorous side of the flying insect world. They also aren’t honey-generators. If you have wasps around your table, you likely have a nest somewhere close by.
As for swarms, bees naturally swarm once their hive gets too crowded. A swarm is essentially a split in a colony, with a new queen being generated by worker bees to then lead off a large number of new bees to create a new hive.
It can be an alarming site to see upwards of 20,000 or more bees head off in a dense mass for parts unknown. What happens, however, is that they generally find a nearby tree for a while while they congregate. They make a heck of a racket – described by some as akin to a jet engine – and they are pretty predictable, swarming between about 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. on a warm, sunny day.
But dealing with a swarm as a homeowner is pretty simple. Call your municipality, which normally keeps a call-out list of beekeepers who will come out and capture the swarm without trouble. You don’t want to call for an exterminator; they’ll use chemicals, and that just isn’t necessary. What the beekeeper will do is give the swarm a new home – which is essentially what the bees are looking for. (Oh, please, call me; we’re looking for new bees!)
Here’s a great news video out of Calgary about a swarm that was captured over the Canada Day weekend. You can see from the images that these are not dangerous but rather bees simply looking for a new home. Thankfully sane heads prevailed.
Here’s also a great Youtube video on capturing a bee swarm.
I’ll use gloved hands; it’s amazing how this person is using bare hands to pick up bees. We’re keeping an eye on our own hives for signs of swarming. We’ll post more on this phenomenon later.