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  • 17 Sep 2014

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Beekeepers stay cool as swarm season blows in

by: COURTESY OF THE TUALATIN VALLEY BEEKEEPERS ASSOCIATION - Jerry Maasdam of the Tualatin Valley Beekeepers Association collected a bee swarm in Washington County last spring without a veil or gloves. The group is warning people to avoid swatting bees if they see a swarm this spring.It’s swarm season.

That means urban and rural residents could be outside enjoying an Oregon spring when suddenly thousands of honeybees buzz in like a dark cloud.

“Don’t get excited and get out your bug spray can,” says Paul Andersen, president of the Oregon State Beekeepers Association. “And don’t swat at them or stir them up.”

Swarming is how bee colonies expand, when a queen bee leaves her colony in the company of a large group of worker bees, out to create a new hive. Swarm season starts in early April, peaks in May and tapers off into July.

Honeybee populations are in crisis — a potential problem for the nation’s food supply — so Andersen asks people not to freak out if they see a swarm. Just walk away, pick up a phone and call a beekeeper to come collect it. He recommends people call a beekeeper in his association, which lists its members on its website.

Bee swarms may intimidate onlookers, he says, but swarming bees are usually quite docile because they have no hive to

defend.

“You want to deal with the swarms, but please don’t kill them,” Andersen says.

Swarms cling in a cluster — often landing on trees, fences or the sides of houses — for at least a few hours, but usually for about two days, Andersen says. That provides a little leeway to collect them.

A beekeeper will come out, shake them into a box, and take them away once they settle.

It’s better to have the swarm collected than to let them find their own new home, Andersen says, because they could find their way into chimneys and walls, creating a nuisance.

When honeybees swarm, they usually land a few hundred feet away from their hive. People seeing the swarms often don’t even realize they were living near a beehive, he says.

About one-third of the nation’s food supply depends on pollination from honeybees, Andersen says. In recent years there’s been high death rates among bees, linked to colony collapse disorder, parasitic mites and pesticides.

To assist bees, Andersen advocates planting flowers, blooming shrubs and trees.

He also suggests avoiding using pesticides, or at least using them properly according to label instructions. It’s also recommended to spray in the evening when bees are not as active.

To find a willing swarm collector listed by city, visit orsba.org/htdocs/swarm_call_list.php