by Donna Torrey
Swarm. What do you conjure up in your mind when you hear this word? Peaceful? Harmless? Healthy? Probably not.
Swarming, a natural process occurring each spring and summer the world over, is what a healthy beehive does in order to replicate. Until I started studying bees, I really didn’t understand the process at all, so I’m quite confident that most of you don’t either. Well, you are missing out on one of the most amazing feats of nature, so please allow me to explain.
A honeybee colony is what’s called a “super organism”. It’s made up of tens of thousands of bees, but acts as a single unit. Each member has a specific job to do with a single minded purpose, and that is to thrive and replicate, thereby carrying on the species.
A honeybee colony is totally dependent on a good queen. The queen is the only one in the colony that mates and lays eggs from which all the workers and drones are born. However, it’s the worker bees (90 percent of them female) that determine whether the colony survives. If the queen isn’t laying eggs of good and sufficient quality, or is somehow sick or dying, they can actually make a new one! They do this by feeding a newly hatched larva for a specified number of days a product they make called Royal Jelly, to ensure that a new queen will be born to carry on.
In the spring, when the nectar starts flowing and the hive starts to get crowded, they will make special queen cells called Swarm Cells. When this special queen cell hatches in 19 days, half of the girls (and we’re talking in the thousands) will leave with the old queen and the other half will stay with the new queen. Ta-da! They have replicated in a giant, wondrous swirl.
I had the good fortune to witness a swarm take flight last summer, and it was like being part of a sacred mystery. When half of the colony flies out of their home in search of a new one, they usually head for the closest tree in order to regroup and decide where to go. Now, pay attention, because here’s where YOU come in. Perhaps you have seen this globe shaped ball of bees hanging from a branch or house or other object. The good news is that when they are in this state, they aren’t aggressive, for they have no home yet to defend. They are quiet and vulnerable. Usually, in less than a day or so, they will fly away to a new home, so please be patient and don’t molest them.
If you see a swarm, you can contact one of the Beekeeping Associations in the area. There is one in Broward, BrowardBees.org, and one in Palm Beach County, PalmBeachBeekeepers.com. They will send someone to gather the bees in a box and give them a safe home.
A swarm of bees is looking for a nice dark cavity to nest, so be sure to plug up any holes in your roofs, sheds, soffits and fascia boards. It’s when they settle in inappropriate places that they become a nuisance. You can help avoid this by giving your property a little “bee check”. Even holes less than a quarter of an inch can be used as entrances.
Most importantly, remember when you eat your next meal that two of every three bites of food depend on a honeybee for pollination. Swarming is nothing to fear; it is something to revere.
Spring is here, may the swarms be with us.
Concerned with all things organic and sustainable since 1997, The Garden Gate is located at Pompano Citi Centre, corner US1 and Copans Road, attached to Sears, DonnasGardenGate.com. See ad page 57.