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  • Valerie Just

Spring Activity: Bee Rescue and Black Locust Trees

Bee Rescue

On Saturday, a bee-loving resident called us to ask us if we could help her save some bees - honey bees were congregating on a tree in her backyard. We are always grateful when someone calls a beekeeper for a bee rescue as opposed to calling an exterminator, for obvious reasons.

I always ask how far up in the tree the bees are gathering, and she indicated 8-10 feet from the ground, so that felt like a doable rescue. John and I packed up our gear, and took off for west Urbandale, Iowa.

When I talk about swarm-gear, currently our gear consists of a bottle of sugar water (used to calm the bees down and keep them busy), a large plastic container with a cover, and 5-gallon bucket with a cover, a ladder, some lemongrass essential oil, cotton balls, a swarm bait box and a bee brush. The plastic containers have tons of holes punched to allow air circulation in the containers for the bees. We've tried a paint roller pole that extends 20 feet for those swarms that are high in the trees, but we haven't had much luck using that pole, so we didn't take it with on this rescue.

Pictures above: From left to right, close up of the swarm, swarm from a distance, secondary bees that gathered on the ground after we shook the tree and captured most of the bees.

As you can see, most of the bees were clinging to the trunk of the tree - some of them were hanging in a cluster from the tree branch. When the bees are clinging to the trunk, it poses more of a challenge to capture the full swarm. Thus, we had to return to the home twice after we took the bulk of the bees. The second time we arrived, the bees had clustered and about half of the bees were dangling in a cluster from the branch in the exact same location - most likely due to the queen's pheromones still being present on the tree, as we feel fairly confident that the queen was captured with the first shake of the tree. Since some of the bees had gathered on the ground near the fence post, we left a swarm bait box on the ground next to the bees - we put a cotton ball with a small amount of lemongrass essential oils to attract the bees into the bait box. We went back on Sunday to collect the bait box, and the majority of the bees had gathered in the box.

We placed these bees out at the Runnells apiary - their new home is in the picture to the left.

Swarming has been very prevalent this spring - we've personally had challenges with our own bees wanting to swarm, and doing everything we can to prevent the swarming. If you lose your bees due to swarming, it obviously impacts honey production, so we put a lot of effort into preventative measures as best we can. But trust me, no matter how hard you work to prevent swarming, once bees are focused on swarming, it is tough to convince them otherwise!

Swarming bees, whether enacting preventive measures for your own bees, or helping rescue bees from homes or areas that are causing concerns for folks that don't generally work with bees, takes up quite a bit of time during the spring!


Our Favorite Honey: Black Locust Tree (Acacia)

We've been busy monitoring the flowering of the Black Locust trees, as well as taking time to make note of where Black Locust are located in relation to the location of our bee-yards. For the first time last year, we had a good crop of Black Locust honey, and we wanted to note where the Black Locust trees were actually located near our bee-yards.

Black Locust honey, also called Acacia honey, is absolutely delectable - it is now my favorite honey - so it's important to me to be aware of when and if the trees bloom, and exactly their location, so I can extract the nectar separately from the rest of the nectar the bees produce. Black Locust trees do not bloom every year based on my reading, but they are blooming profusely this spring, and they are blooming earlier than noted in a previous spring - probably about 2 weeks earlier, as we had an early spring this year in Iowa.

Indianola Black Locust Trees

I went on the hunt for Black Locust trees this weekend, and have now spent the time necessary to know where there are trees within 3 miles of our colonies. Lucky for us, we have Black Locust trees at two of our apiaries - we now know why the Indianola honey last year was so very yummy - it is due, in part, to the presence of these trees near our bee-yard. This grove of trees is within 1/2 mile of our apiary.

We were already aware that there were Black Locust trees near our Runnells bee-yard; we just weren't sure WHERE they were - we now know! Pictures below of the trees near our Runnells apiary, plus some close-ups of the blooms:

Now, I had never smelled Black Locust flowers before - I can't even describe the deliciousness of that fragrance - it was absolutely mind-blowing how good they smell. The Common Milkweed used to be my favorite fragrant flower, but the Black Locust tree flower is now at the top of my list! No wonder the honey is so yummy!

We are a little concerned about nectar production while these trees are in bloom this spring - it has been raining in the Des Moines area for the last week. When it rains, the bees don't fly, and when it rains, the nectar is washed off the flower for the day. The flower will produce more nectar, but it typically takes 24 hours to generate more nectar; but even if the flowers produce more nectar, if it rains again the following day, the nectar is washed away again. So, it didn't rain yesterday, and the weather has held off so far for today, so hopefully, the bees are focused on gathering my favorite nectar!

I've talked about it before, but truly, Mother Nature is in control of our destiny in so many ways, and that includes the ability to produce honey each year. Fingers crossed, the Just Iowa Honey bees will do us proud, just like they did last year! We've done everything we can that is within our span of control - now it is up to the bees:)

I hope this finds you well, and taking joy in the simple things of life - don't forget to get out in nature and enjoy all that Mother Nature shares during this time of year! And if you can, plant native flowers for all of our pollinators to partake and enjoy! Even if you don't have an area of your own to plant native flowers, you can scatter native seeds out along the bike trails and nature trails in your neck of the woods. Attempt to scatter the seed in areas where the soil is open and not overtaken by ground cover - the seeds will have more optimal conditions to ensure germination next spring. Don't forget, I offer free native plant seeds - all you need to do is ask, and I will get them to you!

Take care of yourself!


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