The Wrong Way

July 2, 2008

It’s amazing the things you know that you didn’t realize you knew.

I got a call from Alyssa today, one of her three hives had swarmed and she wanted to know would I come over to help round them up. Sure, it meant stealing precious time away from a backyard BBQ, but a friend in need is a friend indeed (if you knew what Seattle’s weather’s been like this year, you’d realize that this actually is a sacrifice).

Quick background for those of you not familiar: bees swarm when they feel crowded, under stress or otherwise just want to screw with you. They’ll create a second queen, and one day half of them come pouring out of the hive with their new leader heading off to establish a new home. It’s not a huge problem except that, you know, you just lost half your hive. The best you can do at that point is try to round them up into a box and establish them as a fresh colony.

The bees had settled down for the night in a neighbor’s yard, likely planning to pick their new home in the morning. Unfortunately for us, they chose to settle on wall of those cement blocks with the funky patterns in it.

IMG_7351 IMG_7352

See the trick to rounding up a swarming hive is to capture the queen. If you can get the queen into a box, the rest of the bees will follow and you’re off to the races. The problem is, the queen was likely hiding out in one of those little crevices, so we couldn’t just scoop in the lot of them and hope to catch her.

Now, I’d seen in books and such that beekeepers will vacuum bees up to collect them. After a bit of poking, Alyssa’s father came out with an old shop vac, freshly rinsed. We replaced the filter with my beekeeping glove: a perfect fit, which I took to be a good omen.

Stupid omens.

IMG_7355We all agreed that we weren’t sure it was a good idea, but had little to lose (easy for us to say) and Alyssa set off to the races vacuuming the little guys up. I sat back a bit and chatted with her father.

As she vacuumed, I mentioned to him how I loved the distinctive smell of bee, a bit like honey, a bit like wax, a lot like…bee. I love it.

But…something wasn’t quite right. That smell was a smell I recognized…

“Hey Alyssa,” I said. “Why don’t we take a break and see how they’re doing in there, make sure the suction isn’t too much for them.”

Good idea, we agreed, and ever so slowly lifted the lid off the shop vac, trying to just crack it enough that we could see inside without letting the swarm of angry bees back out.

Oh, no worry there.

See, the smell that I knew without ever actually knowing consciously that I knew was the smell of crushed bee. Lots and lots of crushed bee, in this case.

Turns out, a shop vac is way too strong to suck up bees. Well, too strong if you want them to live, that is. You can kinda see the splatter mark there on the side of the bucket, can’t ya?


Obviously, we were pretty mournful. I mean, I try to avoid killing even a few bees when I work with them, and here we had probably wiped out half the hive in one sucking frenzy.

We all kind of stared at each other, thinking “what did we just do?” We meant well, right? Ah, the path to hell is paved with good intentions, they say.


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