I saw the kids first, and then I recognized her, but I couldn’t recall why. I was reaching for the doorknob when her daughter knocked, causing my dogs to explode in their yappy Pomeranian way.
“Hi Dawn. Do you remember me? I live behind you.” Oh! That’s why I recognized her. We share a back fence, and in the summers we talk chickens and raspberries and kids. We usually do it while barely able to see each other, over the 6’ fence. Picture Tim “the Tool Man” Taylor and Wilson.
“I hope you don’t mind but I need to get in your back yard… my bees are out, and they’re on your fence.”
I didn’t even know she HAD bees and what did she mean that they are on my fence? We walked across my front yard and around the side of the house, to the back. I spotted them before I had walked more than a few feet into the yard.
A huge dark blob along the top of the while vinyl fence that we share. Thousands of them.
We go to the Interstate Fair every year, and we always stop at the bee display and try to find the queens in the clear plexiglass hives. It’s amazing to see them all busily going about their little lives, oblivious to the crowds of people who pressed in to watch them working in their hives. It just never seemed like there were THAT many of them.
I’ve watched documentaries on bees, where the keeper wears the protective suit and the hat with netting on it, puts queen attractant on himself, and the bees cover him like a giant black, moving ooze.
Seeing it on my fence was more than a bit unsettling.
Apparently what happened is that while most winters they see die-off of a percentage of their hives, this past winter wasn’t cold enough for that, and the population swelled instead. My neighbor explained to me what she thinks happened.
Sometimes when the hive becomes overpopulated, the bees that aren’t in closer contact with the queen lose the scent of her. They can’t smell her and can’t find her, so they think they don’t have a queen. They create a new queen so that the hive will survive.
When this new queen is mature, she has an instinct to leave. She is only able to fly a very short distance. This queen’s maiden flight took her about 9 feet from the hive box. As all drones and workers are programmed to follow and protect the queen, they went with her.
She landed on top of the fence, and so they did too. Those bees were completely surrounding her there in the sun, fanning her with their wings and guarding her from harm. They were at least 2 inches deep on the fence. There are still more than this many left in her hive boxes, on the ground behind the fence.
After they taped plastic wrap around their wrists and taped their netted bee hats to their shirts, they began. A cardboard funnel was fashioned with duct tape, and the guys set to work.
“You might want to stay back,” the neighbor’s father told us, “because if we drop this or something spooks them they will probably head your direction.”
GREAT. We stayed back.
They carefully slid the cardboard funnel underneath the mass on the fence. It seemed to take forever, but they wanted to get as many of them into the funnel as they could.
After what seemed like an eternity, the dripping wall of bees just… slid… right down the cardboard funnel and into the bee box. My camera battery died just before that, so I missed it. There were a few bees left on the fence and a few irritated ones left buzzing around in the air, but they deposited 90% of them right where they needed them.
As for the few stragglers, they said they would probably make their way back to the original hive over the fence. This was a good hours’ worth of apiary education for the boys and I. I don’t think we could have ever come up with that great of an impromptu nature lesson on our own!