It is high noon. The bright sun beams its new warmth on the faces of five hives lined up against the north fence of the orchard. For the past several days the weather has been cloudy, cool, and windy. But this day is clear, calm, and dry.

At one moment, bee activity at all the hives was similar, with routine bee activities, bees flying off and landing. But suddenly at one hive a bunch of bees come out and start climbing the front of the hive. More and more bees come out, climbing upward, a veritable wall of bees walking upward, and then flying skyward. Soon thousands of bees are swirling upward, climbing higher and higher, a funnel cloud of bees. Their hum becomes very noticeable. An onlooker suddenly notices them and shouts “Oh look! A swarm of bees!” Media stories about killer bees replay in her mind and she wonders if she’ll become a player in an Alfred Hitchcock-type movie. “Its okay” says the beekeeper, “These bees have gorged themselves on honey, and are only looking for a new home. They are very gentle when they do this.” The beekeeper chases after the swarm. For him, it represents the loss of thousand of honey producers, a loss of crop. That is, unless he can catch them and put them in a hive again.

Swarming is a process, unique to bees, that allows bees to reproduce the number of bee colonies (hives). Each colony contains only one queen, thousands of worker bees (commonly 50,000), and dozens of drones. The queen bee reproduces the workers bees by laying eggs into the honeycomb. But the worker bees have a certain amount of control as well, feeding the developing worker bees. It takes about 21 days for a worker bee to hatch. But if the hive “goes into swarming mode” the worker bees select special cells to produce a new queen or several new queens, by heavy feeding and feeding a special substance called royal jelly. It takes only 16 days to hatch a new queen. When the new queen bee hatches she goes through the hive and stings to death her rival queens while they are still in their capped cells. However, she often misses some of the capped queens, with interesting results later. When these overlooked virgin queens later emerge, they too can attract some thousands of worker bees, and some drones, and cause follow up swarms to occur.

tIn the last few days before the up and coming queen emerges from her special capped cell, the old queen fulfills her destiny and engages on a swarming flight with 16,000 or so worker bees plus a handful of drones. The swarm typically lands on a low-laying branch of a tree, usually within 100 yards or so of the original hive (but sometimes much, much farther away). The rest of the bees land and cling to other bees hanging from the branch forming a football shaped mass of bees, called the cluster. The queen bee is in the center. Scout bees leave the cluster and search for a new home for the colony.

It is the cluster that the beekeeper looks for. If he is lucky and the cluster is accessible, it is a fairly easy procedure to move an open hive box very close to the cluster, then to shake the cluster so they fall into the hive! The bees recognize the frames of honeycomb in the box as their new home and usually take up residence immediately. But sometimes, since the bees don’t read books on beekeeping, the bees don’t cooperate. The beekeeper has to consider all circumstances in attempting to capture the swarm. In reality many swarms get away, never to be seen again. One just hopes they have found a good new home. Sometimes that new home could be in someone’s attic. If you see a cluster in a tree, or have honeybees coming into your attic, contact a beekeeper. You may be doing him, and the honeybees, a favour.

Happy Canada Day! Your fire department will be participating in the Canada Day Parade in Parksville with our old Engine 1 and the antique truck. Look for us there and come and say hello.

Summer is upon us, the fire hazard is increasing and we are spending more time outdoors. Think “SAFETY” in all your endeavors. This summer consider attending to the following chores prior to the fall season:

Install and test your smoke and carbon monoxide alarms

Ensure that your house number is clearly visible at night from the road

Clean up the area around your home to minimize the danger of wildland fires

Clean your roof and gutters

Store flammables and wood piles away from your home

Prepare and practice an escape plan

Trim branches overhanging your house

Ensure that the driveway to your home is clear to allow access by fire trucks

Consider replacing your shake roof with a more fire-resistant material

Get your wood cut and stored early to allow it to dry completely before burning

Clean and inspect your chimney

Be aware of burning restrictions. If in doubt, telephone the city. You need a free permit, from Lantzville, in order to burn in your incinerator, from dawn to dusk on Fridays and Saturdays. Beach fires, below the high tide mark, are allowed as long as a total fire ban is not in effect. Be safe and considerate of others.

Remember that burning embers from a wildland forest fire can travel kilometers under the right conditions. Having your gutters clean, a fire resistant roof and eliminating small fuels from around your house may one day save your house. Be “FIRE SMART”

Congratulations again to Blair Neff, a licensed paramedic, who has just completed his course “Paramedics in Industry”. He continues to strive for excellence in all his endeavours. Congratulations also to Jeff Manney who completed his first responder certification and to Liz Thomas and Cory Waldron who completed a HAZMAT awareness course.


Posted in A View from the Outside, July/August 2011

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