GOT BEE SWARMS?
In summer, I often get calls from folks with swarms of bees on their property, asking if one of our beekeepers will come get them. Here is what I tell them:
First, are you sure you really have honey bees? True, this seems a pretty stupid question to ask, but there are folks who mistake bumblebees or yellowjackets, or even wasps and hornets, for real honeybees. Wasps and hornets have narrow waists, whereas bumblebees and jellowjackets live in nests in the ground and are the wrong size (too large and too small, respectively). Anyway, if you truly have a swarm (a clump of bees clustered on a post or tree limb), they are almost certainly real honey bees, the kind our beekeepers will want.
Next, do you need someone to simply catch a swarm (like the clump clustered on your bush), or remove a bee nest that is in place? If there is a swarm to catch, your time is limited. You likely have only a day or two. That swarm is just marking time, continually sending out scouts to locate a good place to move into, such as a hollow tree. Once they find one, the swarm will be gone, off to live in the new place they have found. The beecatcher must get there and entice them into his/her bee box (hive) before that happens. He/she will try to find the queen bee and move her into the hive: once the queen settles there, the rest of her cluster will come in with her. The beekeeper can then take the box full of new-caught bees away.
How can you find a beekeeper? Your county extension service or master gardeners group may be able to give you leads. There are about a dozen beekeeper’s clubs scattered around Iowa; your nearest one may be able to help. Find their contacts through the Iowa Honey Producer’s Association, www.ABuzzAboutBees.com. Finally, most Iowa apiaries register their locations with the IDALS Sensitive Crop Directory. Iowa Administrative Code Chapter 21-45.31(2) prohibits a pesticide applicator from spraying pesticides that are toxic to bees between 8:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. on any blooming crops located within one mile of a registered apiary. The website https://www.idalsdata.org/sensitivecrop/NoMenu/PesticideApplicatorsReportMenu.cfm?IsAdmin=0
has maps that make it easy for the applicator to locate nearby registered apiaries. But you can use it to find a local beekeeper who might want your swarm.
Whether the beekeeper will be interested in putting in the effort to catch your swarm will depend on the time of year. An old jingle says this:
A swarm of bees in May is worth a load of hay.
A swarm of bees in June is worth a silver spoon.
A swarm of bees in July in not worth a fly!
The reason we keep bees is so they will make surplus honey the beekeeper can sell or use. The May and June swarms will have plenty of time to produce surpluses, so are valuable to the beekeeper. The July swarm will likely not make a surplus this year, but may well store enough honey to bring the colony through the winter, so (assuming it survives the cold) will be of value next year. A swarm caught in August or later will probably have to be fed (sugar water, say) to bring its stores up to get it through the winter, so it represents an iffy proposition—the beekeeper will have to go to the effort to both catch and feed it, with no sure guarantee of success. Result: as the season goes on, any beekeeper you contact will be progressively less enthusiastic about catching the swarm that clustered on your bush.
What if you don’t have a temporary cluster of new bees, but an established nest of them living somewhere you don’t want? Your problem has now changed; you don’t want a “swarm catcher”, you want a “bee removal”. Are you kind-hearted, and want to “save” the bees? Bee removal/recovery often involves carpentry work; cutting down a bee tree, say, or removing siding or soffits of a building to get at the bees. This is going to cost you money—you need a beekeeper/carpenter, preferably someone bonded to do the work, who will both remove the bees and repair your structure after the bees are gone. Are you not particularly kind-hearted, but just want to get rid of the bees? Depending on the situation, there may be other options, such as hiring a regular insect exterminator to just kill the bees in place. My general advice to folks who want bees removed is to leave them alone unless they are causing serious problems. It is quite possible that the nest will winter-kill, especially if it took up residence during August or later. If the bees are not evident come spring, your problem will have solved itself, and with no effort or expense on your part! (However, be sure to plug the access hole(s) to keep yet another swarm from taking up residence in the old nest.)
==Dave Campbell, Secretary of East-Central Iowa Beekeepers Association