New beekeeper in search of missing swarm in Roberts Creek (2024)

A newcomer to beekeeping was surprised recently, when thousands of her bees left their hive in Roberts Creek and haven’t been seen since — at least by her.

A newcomer to beekeeping was surprised recently, when thousands of her bees left their hive in Roberts Creek and haven’t been seen since — at least by her.

Lisa Hillyer says her hives were doing really well, but perhaps too well, with about 5,000 babies ready to hatch. She says her bee mentor warned her that if a hive is super healthy and thriving, sometimes another queen will hatch, which prompts the original queen and half the hive to leave and start another colony somewhere else.

“So, when I went in there and saw queen cells, I was like, ‘Oh shoot! ‘Oh shoot!’ And I was on the phone with my bee mentor, and I said, there's queen cells. And he's like, they've probably already swarmed,” says Hillyer. “And then all of a sudden, it was like the bees were waiting for me to be standing outside my hive. They came from the direction of the house and it was about 5,000 bees just in a big ball, like a tornado coming through and buzzing like so loud.”

Hillyer likened it to a horror movie.

“I was like, what is happening? I didn't know. If you've ever seen a swarm, it's pretty crazy. It's almost like apocalyptic or a scary movie,” says Hillyer. “So, I was like, I don't know what's happening and I had my mentor on FaceTime. He's like, ‘Oh my gosh, they're swarming.’ So, I saw the swarm happen and then they went across the street to the neighbour’s and then I put Facebook posts up. I also set swarm traps because once they swarm, they won't go back to the original hive.”

Raising bees is a new hobby for the transplanted Calgarian, who just moved onto the five-acre parcel of land in Roberts Creek in February and then got her bees in March. Prior to getting her bees, Hillyer worked with her bee mentor for a year, so she felt very prepared to raise them.

“I've done a lot of research and have a great interest in regenerative farming and agriculture and repairing the soil and everything,” says Hillyer. “And bees are really important to our ecosystem, so having them is like a gift to the land that you live on and for everybody around it.”

Meanwhile, Hillyer says her remaining bees look healthy and she’s added ducklings to her small farm.

“So, half the colony is still there and a new queen should have hatched by now, but I have to leave them alone for two weeks, just so that they can get used to the new queen,” says Hillyer. “But there's probably still a couple of thousand bees in there and a new queen. And then I have a whole other hive that is doing fine. I'm checking regularly to make sure that there's no signs that it's going to swarm, just because it's swarm season.”

Allen Garr, the regional representative for Metro Vancouver for the BC Honey Producers Association, says when a bee population gets too crowded, part or half of the hive is going to leave and form another colony. He explains if a hive becomes too crowded, the queen’smandibular pheromone, which keeps everything working in the hive, starts diminishing.

“So, what happens is, the bees start building cells that are not for workers or drones, but are to create a queen, and she'll come along and lay an egg in those cells and then the larva will be fed,” says Garr. “The cell will be much bigger and will be fed on a richer diet than the worker bees or the nurse bees.”

He adds, while it’s 21 days from egg to emergence for worker bees and 24 days for drones, the queen takes only 16. And in the meantime, at about day 14 of the process, other bees will start going out to look for another location to move, eventually drive the old queen out and half the colony will follow her.

“Two days later, the new queen will emerge and be a virgin walking around the hive,” says Garr. “So, the old queen has left with half the colony and, if you're a beekeeper, you've lost half your workforce.”

Garr says it is possible to capture a swarm if you can locate them and adds, twice, his bees swarmed and moved over to his neighbour’s yard. In those cases, Garr took over an empty hive and using a net and some banging, managed to move a large portion of the bees into it.

“You just keep doing that until you think you have the queen. And then when you’ve got the bulk of the bees, you observe whether or not the bees are walking into the hive because they're saying, ‘Okay, this is a good place to be.’ And with luck, you've already knocked the queen down. If you haven't, they'll go back and say, ‘Hey, lady, this is a place come with us.’”

Garr wants everyone to know swarming bees are not angry and won’t sting unless you happen to be in the middle of the swarm.

“Swarming bees can stop a tennis match or a baseball game, but they’re very docile,” says Garr. “They’re really nothing to worry about.”

New beekeeper in search of missing swarm in Roberts Creek (2024)
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