by Jennifer Heath

The bees first began swarming in my next-door neighbor Susie’s yard, but quickly moved on to mine, probably because it’s overgrown. So when I got Susie’s call and stepped outside, hundreds were swirling around the lilac bushes and hundreds more were clasped to the trunk of the plum-tree. The sound was loud…gorgeous…musical…generous. Years ago, my garden sounded like that every day, before the bees started disappearing, thanks to mites and pesticides.

All photos by Susie Chandler

It was dazzling. I stood among them (though somewhat to the side), while they danced, like little points of light. They were harmless, as bees are, unless you grab or step on them. They were European honeybees and they were house hunting. The old queen had died, and they were following a fresh queen toward a new place to settle.

I didn’t want to lose them, I wanted them to settle somewhere in my garden. But Susie had — no doubt sensibly — already called the Beekeepers Association. Two heroic women in those wonderful bee suits arrived and began collecting them. Beekeeper Julie climbed a tall ladder and gently scooped handfuls of those clinging to the tree (I wondered — is plum bark sweet?), then put them in her bucket, then into a bee box with slats. The bees were acquiescent. They didn’t attack, they weren’t apparently angry or disturbed, they just went right along, for Julie had got the queen and thus the hive did not mind following.

Turns out there might have been two swarms, but the second was lumped high in my Austrian pine and couldn’t be reached. The beekeepers thought they might join the others. They left the bee box in my front yard. The bees were lifting their little bottoms and fluttering their tiny wings sending out scent to beckon the others. We put out signs warning people to “bee careful” and also “bee respectful” (I’d been wondering what to do with some garden signs from an earlier project) and all of us went back to whatever we’d been doing before this marvelous adventure.

Late in the afternoon, I went out again to see what was what bee-wise and to make a library run. Susie had placed a bright orange cone on the sidewalk. She and three neighbors were watching another group of bees, hundreds now clustered on the sidewalk formed into in a perfect circle. Turns out they may have been killing a queen or watching her be killed or well…mourning her? Apparently, bees create more than one queen cell among their young. When they’re mature, the queens fight to the death for dominance over the hive. (Somehow it all seems so medieval.) Beekeepers were called again and this time, three arrived to sweep up the circle swarm.

They are all gone: bees, beekeepers and box. I’m sad. I’m wondering if I should get a beehive. I’ve been told it’s not hard to keep bees. The outfit is cute, too.

UPDATE! The swarm in my pine tree is indeed a separate group. They’re at least 25-feet up, and no one has a cherry picker and can’t get them down, although there’s a box stationed on Susie’s porch, full of honey and chocolate bars and martinis in case they get restless. They survived the rain, which was surprising to the beekeepers, but I’m not surprised. There’s a lot of growth up there, it’s dense, and I’m suer shields them. But now the concern is the cold. And it’s supposed to snow in the next two days. I want them to live and I want them to stay. But the queen is determined to stick to the pine tree.

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