- Author: Janet Snyder
Published on: April 26, 2021
We are lucky enough to live at the end of a court with an empty lot next to us. My son was mowing the weeds on the lot today, so I was able to walk around the back half and take a look around at what other cleanup needs to be done. Lots of branches from our backyard are poking through the fence - a Japanese maple, a Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus), the Artemisia - and the Podocarpus gracilior have grown a lot since I trimmed them last year. I surprised by all the bees buzzing around one of them. My son mentioned there were a lot of bees while he trimmed along the fence. I walked closer and was floored by the sight of a huge swarm of honeybees hanging inside the middle Podocarpus tree! After leaving some messages with a local honeybee keeper, I did some reading. As it turns out, it is a swarm cluster of European honey bees.
In the spring, an older queen and half the worker bees (5000-20,000 bees) will leave their current colony to establish a new home elsewhere. 'Scouts' will locate a new site, and then lead the others to the new home, which is typically only a few hundred yards from their current nest. The ideal site is a dark cavity, with a volume of 4-9 gallons in size, at least 9 feet off the ground. An entrance that can be easily guarded is perfect (a hollowed-out tree, shrub interior, soffits, eaves, barbecues, utility meters). Once at the new site, the bees fan their wings and release a chemical signal to lead the others to the new home. "My" swarm is in a thickly shaded cavity of branches. I can see the wing fanning as I watch them inside. The bees are typically very docile unless provoked. It was very relaxing to just stand there a while and watch them up close in the warm sun.
The bees are a wonderful reminder of all the surprises my garden can still bring. It's why we love being out in them, year after year. While I love having the bees here, I realize a backyard is not the best place for them. The swarm, estimated at a 'small' 2000-3000 bees, was carefully collected by the local honeybee keeper for almond crop pollination and honey production.