21 Aug 2014
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The Swarm: How a Beekeeper Rounds 'Em Up

This photo essay originally appeared on San Leandro Patch. With the growing popularity of beekeeping on the Island, we thought readers of Alameda Patch would enjoy it.

Spring is the season when bee colonies divide and propagate, and this photo essay describes the sighting and relocation of one swarm that inhabited a tree near Roosevelt Elementary School in San Leandro on one afternoon just as grades 1 through 3 were letting out.

Self-taught beekeeper and Roosevelt mom Mitch Huitema is the woman who went up into the tree to coax this colony out of the tree.

Her husband, Tim Holmes, owner of Zocalo Coffeehouse in San Leandro, took the pictures.

Here's what happened.

Mitch said she was driving up to the school one afternoon when she saw a mass of bees fly across Dowling Street and swarm into one of the pine trees. She surmised that this was a colony in search of a new home.

As she explained, when colonies reach a certain size, the worker bees feed one of the queen bee's eggs special nutrients to develop it into a new queen.

"When the new queen is ready she makes a chirping, clicking sound and the colony divides into two," she said.

The old queen vacates the old hive and takes half the female workers and a few of the male drones head off in search of a new home. The tree was a temporary resting place.

"They'll pick a safe place, and once the queen lands they'll cluster around her," Mitch said.

The males, who are larger than the worker bees but have no stingers, have just two jobs: fertilizing the queen's eggs, and finding new locations for the hive. So this was their chance to shine.

Mitch's goal was to coax the hive into an empty box where they could make backyard honey. The picture essay will show you how she went about it.

Like Alameda, has been, ahem, buzzing with talk of swarm sightings this spring.

Mitch offered some hints.

  1. Honey bees look like this
  2. Bumble bees look like this
  3. Wasps are usually not fuzzy

If you do spot a hive in or around your house, contact a local beekeeper. You can find a reference through the Alameda County Beekeepers Association.

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