While we’re on the subject of honeybees, I was recently visited by a swarm!

I came home Tuesday to find a huge cloud of bees all around a magnolia tree by the garage. In less than an hour, they coalesced into a tight ball of bees about the size of a football.

Now, I knew from a lifetime of nature documentaries that honeybees are at their most docile and least likely to sting when they’re swarming. A this time, they are stuffed silly with honey, don’t have any young to protect, and can simply fly away to avoid predators. They’re cruising around with their queen, looking for a new place to build a hive.

I wasn’t worried about them hurting anybody, but I didn’t necessarily want them to take up residence in my garage or attic. So I did what anybody would have done in this situation. I made a Facebook post about it and then googled what to do.

Fortunately, a friend of mine works at the Stratford Ecological Center in Delaware, Ohio. She put me in touch with their Apiarist (beekeeper), who was simply ecstatic to hear that I had a stray swarm and that I hadn’t poisoned it (apparently, lots of people don’t know the difference between honeybees and wasps/hornets/yellowjackets/etc). We set up a time for him to come rescue the swarm, and he even called a couple of students up to share the experience. One of them had been waiting for over two years to go on a swarm rescue run.

He brought out a hive box with some already-combed frames. We cut down the twig the bees had clustered on and dropped it into the box, and they immediately began claiming it as their home. Detecting the wax comb on the frames and recognizing a good hive location, the bees started to emit a lemony “homing” pheromone, letting all of their sisters know to settle down here and start laying down wax.

We kept the hive box overnight to allow errant scouts time to return. He came back the next morning to pick up the hive and take it to a quarantine site, until he could be sure of the bees health and temperament. He even left us a little parting gift from the apiary at Stratford. Everybody kept saying what an absolute treat it was to find and save a swarm, and how rare it was to see them. Provided the hive is healthy, in a month or two, I could go up to the ecological center and visit my bees! 

With 40% of honeybee colonies in the US dying in the last year, every bee that can be saved is a small victory. It was a real privilege to witness this event and have a hand in finding a good home for the swarm.

If you see some swarming honeybees in the wild, call a beekeeper! They’ll be grateful to hear from you, and you’ll be doing some good for our pollinator friends!


MahakoBees.com - A honeycomb vase, made by bees! “Libertiny made a vase-shaped hive that the bees then colonized, building a hexagon comb around it. The wax sheets used to make the hive were embossed with a honeycomb pattern to help the bees on their way. Libertiny calls the process slow prototyping - it took 40,000 bees a week to make the vase. Since the bees get aggressive when they are interrupted, Libertiny had to guess when it was time to remove the vase.”


Top Bar Beehive: Now with a Roof!

We started out with a salvaged piece of copper, and took it up to the ham radio club to cut and bend it.

Having been female-socialised, I never exactly got to go near the power tools (as much as I might have wanted to), so every project like this is a learning experience for me. My partner is very good about patiently teaching me the skills his dad (a machinist) taught him.

So, he was ‘@oz7am the riveter’ for an afternoon, and made a beautiful custom copper roof for the beehive. I learned a little something about working with metal.

All that remains for me to do – according to my original design – is to stain and weatherproof the exterior wood, put in a mesh panel in the bottom for parasites to fall through, make the comb and brood bars, and cut out and install an acrylic viewing window on the side.

Progress has been slow: as with most of our projects, it happens as free materials are available.

A pre-made version of this – copper roof and all – costs about $500 USD. While the pre-fabricated option may be prettier, I derive a certain amount of satisfaction from having spent about 300 DKK (about $45 USD) making mine from salvaged and recycled materials, and having learned a lot in the process.

More on the Top Bar Beehive…

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