As it turns out, no bees had moved into my friend Kitty's tree. (If you don't know what I'm talking about, click here.) We think that some scout bees had been checking it out as a possible home, and the one way "door" we installed deterred them.
Now, apparently, word has gotten out that I'm a crazy bee-catching maniac. I got a message on Monday from one of my co-workers that her neighbor's bees were about to swarm, and that her neighbor wanted to give the swarm to a good home. Of course, I called to see what this was all about.
Sure enough, her bees had swarmed, and were hanging out in a tree in her back yard. I was welcome to collect them, if I wanted. After work, I convinced Robb to come along on this crazy adventure. We swung by Kitty's house, and picked up the hive that we had set out, hoping that it would attract the bees Kitty and her husband had seen.
The swarm was as large as a human head. A solid, seething mass of honeybees. The swarm is such a discrete object, that it almost doesn't look real. Robb described it as looking like a sculpture, or like something out of a cartoon.
You might think that this would be terrifying, but it's actually really magical. Or maybe it is terrifying, and I'm more than a little bit insane.
Somewhere in the middle of that gigantic cluster of bees is their queen. Look how orderly they all are -- heads up, wings slightly spread, bellies full of honey that they've taken away from their old hive. At this moment, they are completely calm. It's amazing.
Elizabeth was fearless. She clipped away some of the branches in front of the swarm, without donning gloves. (I have no idea what kind of tree it is, although I correctly guessed that it's from South Africa. Apparently, Northern California and some part of South Africa share similar climates, so we can grow some of their beautiful exotic plants.)
How do I describe catching a swarm? On the most basic level, you have to get the queen to go inside a container, and once she does, the rest of the bees will follow her. Bees want to live in darkness. It's incredibly simple. Or as simple as anything involving countless stinging insects could possibly be.
In this case, I held the hive box, and Elizabeth shook the bees off of the branch. Then she brushed the stragglers into the box. This agitated the bees. We were, to quote Eddie Izzard, covered in bees. For some reason, I was the main target for the bees. I had them clambering into my glove, in the pockets of my jacket and climbing up my stomach.
That was just too much. I just grabbed the hem of my jacket and all my shirts pulled up, and asked Elizabeth to get the bee off of me before it climbed into my bra. Sorry Elizabeth. I don't think I made a very good first impression. (And what a boring bra I was wearing!)
After we had most of the bees in the hive box, we set it with the top slightly ajar, and went home. Elizabeth was headed to her studio, and we wanted to give the bees a chance to settle down for the night. Unfortunately, Elizabeth was kept at her studio until late, and so we decided to pick them up the next day. I think it's safest to transport bees at night, when they've gone to bed, and aren't likely to start flying around in the car.
Somehow, our plan took a wrong turn. Robb and I had left a box of bee-transporting gear in Elizabeth's yard (ratchet straps, duct tape and whatnot). And Elizabeth had thoughtfully set it inside her house, to keep everything dry. Only, we were picking up the bees when she wasn't home, and we didn't know that we wouldn't have access to any of our stuff. (Also, I forgot my phone. Idiot.)
If the last few years have taught us anything, it's how to adapt. Robb and I have become the masters of realizing that life has dealt us a bad hand, and -- with humor and resourcefulness -- turning the whole thing into a winning situation. There's no arguing, no pouting. We assess our situation, and get to work.
The light was failing. We didn't have anything to hold the hive together. Oh well...We wrapped our bees in a shower curtain liner, avoided making sharp turns, and got the bees installed in our back yard without incident.
It's thrilling and addictive, but really, I have to stop collecting wild bees.