- Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey
Well, how about "bees in the bell tower"?
The Epiphany Episcopal Church of Vacaville, Calif., has just that: bees in its bell tower. (See Bug Squad blog, Blessed Are the Bees.)
When consulted, veteran bee scientist, author and former professional bee wrangler Norman Gary, emeritus professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis, recommends "let them bee."
"Yes, it looks like an established colony in the bell tower," the Sacramento area resident wrote in an email. "At that location and height there should be no interaction between the bees and people. They are pollinating plants within at least a one-mile radius from the church so they should be regarded as being beneficial. There is a good chance they will not survive more than a year because they probably will succumb to mites, bee diseases, and parasites. Once they die, you have the option to enclose the peak of this spiral structure with screen to prevent the entry of a swarm next year. And if they survive more than a year, then there is no problem."
The bees inside the bell tower "are probably inside a wall structure," Gary says.
Meanwhile, congregation member Carlyn Crystal, the "junior warden" or "people's warden" of the church--she addresses issues with the facility and grounds--is monitoring the situation. The bees have been there for at least two years, maybe longer, she says.
Home sweet home. And they appear to be thriving.
Gary, known internationally as "The Bee Man," holds a doctorate in entomology (apiculture) from Cornell University and served on the UC Davis entomology faculty from 1962 to 1994.
A beekeeper for seven decades and the author of Honey Bee Hobbyist: The Care and Keeping of Bees, he has written more than 100 publications, including scientific papers, book chapters and popular articles in beekeeping trade journals. He drew widespread acclaim for wearing a head-to-toe suit of clustered bees while "Buzzin' with His Bee-Flat Clarinet." (As a professional musician, he performs in area bands, but sans the bees.)
"The Bee Man" holds the Guinness World record for keeping 109 bees inside his closed mouth for 10 seconds.
You may have seen him and/or the bees he trained in action scenes in movies, television shows and commercials. His credits over the last 35 years include 18 films, including Fried Green Tomatoes; more than 70 television shows, including the Johnny Carson and Jay Leno shows; six commercials; and hundreds of live Thriller Bee Shows in the Western states.
Gary, now 87, has been working on two research projects for the past four years. He reports he's "nearing the finish line." Both projects involve patent applications.
"The Bee Man"--aka scientist, author, musician and former professional bee wrangler--has never meet a bee he didn't like. He also maintains a keen sense of humor. "My age," he quips, "matches my IQ."
- Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey
When honey bees swarmed last week at the entrance to the Epiphany Episcopal Church in Vacaville, the site seemed quite fitting.
Biblical references to bees and honey, such as "the land of milk and honey," abound.
Blessed are the bees.
Bees, responsible for pollinating one-third of the food we eat and renowned for their intelligence and industriousness, figure prominently in religion, mythology and folklore. Roman Catholic Bishop St. Francis de Sales (1567-1622) of Geneva viewed a bee's work as "pure," writing that “the bee collects honey from flowers in such a way as to do the least damage or destruction to them, and he leaves them whole, undamaged and fresh, just as he found them.” (The bishop, later honored as a saint, apparently did not know that worker bees are female, not male.)
So enter Epiphany Episocol Church congregation member and music director Carlyn Crystal of Vacaville, the "junior warden" or "people's warden" who helps coordinate issues with the facility and grounds. She heard the buzz, saw the small cluster (about the size of several baseballs) 12 feet above the church entrance, and on the third day, contacted the Craig Hunt family, a Vacaville family of beekeepers.
Swarming, mainly a spring phenomenon, is the colony's means of reproduction as scout bees search for a new, permanent home. The swarm usually moves within three days.
Craig, his wife Shelly and daughters Alyssa, 13 and Emma, 8, arrived in the early evening of March 22 with a ladder, a smoker and a bee box. The family keeps some 50 hives at their residence on Meridian Road and were active in 4-H beekeeping projects before the COVID-19 pandemic struck. Craig has taught many a 4-H'er, including his daughters, about bees.
"The bees may have swarmed to a nearby location," Craig said.
But there they were, the social insects congregating at the entrance to Epiphany, forming their own choir and social center.
Yes, 4-H projects have long included beekeeping. The Solano County 4-H Program, comprised of 10 clubs (as well as the military 4-H programming at Travis Air Force base), currently has one beekeeping project, according to Valerie Williams, Solano County 4-H Program Representative. The beekeeping project, offered by the Suisun Valley 4-H Club, includes 11 youth and two adult volunteer project leaders. (News flash: James "LJ" George gave an illustrated talk on beekeeping at the Solano County 4-H Presentation Day, held March 13 on Zoom and won a gold award.)
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Solano County 4-H Office is temporarily closed and meetings, programs and workshops are under restrictions.
Bees, however, know neither boundaries nor borders as they go about their bees-ness.
Church grounds are just fine with them.
Blessed are the bees.
(Note: Beekeeper Craig Hunt can be reached at 707-637-7221)