Rule No. 1 when you find a swarm of bees: Leave them alone ... unless they're in a not-so-great location, like the honey bees GoMN spotted near the office last week.
Honey bees aren't dangerous, but they do need an appropriate home – and an electric box doesn't fit the bill.
Thankfully, there's a growing movement of people in Minnesota who will help in this kind of situation, including Minneapolis beekeeper Terry McDaniel. She's part of the Minnesota Hobby Beekeepers Association – a nonprofit made up of over 400 beekeepers and bee-lovers from around the state.
Along with raising bees at her home in the Nokomis neighborhood for the past 10 years, McDaniel is also an active swarm chaser. If someone finds a swarm of bees, she'll go collect and relocate them.
And last week, GoMN got to see her in action.
Rescuing the swarm
Beekeepers call this time of year “swarm season.” From late May through July, honey bee colonies are expanding and splitting off to look for a new home.
That's what the swarm near the GoMN office was doing. Except they must not have found a good spot, so they tried to make due on an electric box.
Here's what the swarm looked like after five days on the box, when McDaniel was called in.
Normally when McDaniel collects a swarm, she just brushes the bees into a bee hive box or uses a cup to scoop them up.
But this swarm was a little trickier because the bees were already building honeycomb (the little white specks in the photo). Plus, a lot of them were in a hard-to-reach crack.
To get the bees, she cut up a cloth grocery bag and fashioned it into a tube, which she put inside a vacuum hose. Then she sucked up the bees, trapping them inside the bag – a first for this swarm chaser.
"If anybody sees a swarm of honey bees, they should call [a beekeeper] right away. That way it's easier for the swarm chaser to collect all the bees," McDaniel told GoMN, noting how difficult these bees were to rescue.
If you see a swarm of bees, call the Minnesota Hobby Beekeepers Association at 651-436-7915.
Looking for the queen
McDaniel brought the swarm to her backyard bee farm, and has been examining the hive to see if she got the queen bee – the single reproductive female in a colony, and basically the ruler of all the other bees.
So far she hasn't spotted the queen, but the colony will still be OK.
McDaniel put a frame of eggs and larvae from one of her other hives in the box. If the queen's not there, the bees will start giving some of the eggs the "royal jelly" in order to make a queen cell.
If the bees don't build a queen cell, that means the queen is in the box and will start laying eggs – McDaniel will find out in about five days.
Meanwhile, the bees are busy buzzing to and from McDaniel's backyard, gathering nectar, pollen, and other things they need to thrive.
"Bees basically work themselves to death," she told GoMN, explaining that honey bees only live 4-5 weeks in the summer.
GoMN visited McDaniel's bee farm on Tuesday – check out this video to see what's it's like to be an urban beekeeper.
It's not an easy time to be a bee
Populations of bees and other pollinators have been declining over the past 10 years or so, and scientists have been scrambling to figure out why. It's a problem because we depend on bees to pollinate our crops.
"They pollinate like one-third of our food. If the bees weren't here, we wouldn't have fruits and vegetables. We wouldn't even have beef, because cows eat alfalfa, which is pollinated by bees. Everything is connected," McDaniel said.
If America loses too many bees, we could end up in a food disaster.
If you want to help save bees and other pollinators, planting a bee garden is the best way to start. Grow a variety of plants so there's something flowering all season long, providing food and a safe habitat for the insects.
And while you're gardening, use only natural pesticides and fertilizers – many studies and reports say popular insecticides are partially to blame for the dying bee population.
Other ways to help
Tell Minnesota decision-makers to create stronger policies at the state level to protect our pollinators. More info here.