The tee-ball field behind Salmon Bay School was swarming with kids, excited about the final t-ball game of the season. But in the Northwest corner of the field, just beyond the rubber track, a small group of kids stood mesmerized by a swarming mass of honeybees on a red sweatshirt on the ground. Emboldened, the kids crept closer and closer. The adults all looked at each other. “Shouldn’t we call somebody?” they asked.
Luckily, we were able to reach Corky of the Ballard Bee Company. He had just returned from another emergency and was sitting down for a beer when our call arrived. “What is it about trying to drink a beer?” he twittered later. We were glad he showed up though, because the adults were starting to freak out. It’s pretty hard to keep curious toddlers away from a swarming mass of bees on the ground.
We watched, amazed, as Corky picked up the sweatshirt with his bare hands and placed it in a giant tupperware container. He put on some bee gloves and picked through the bees. “These bees are strangely heavy,” he said.
“Oh, there’s a chunk of concrete in there,” explained a parent. “Some kids were throwing stuff at the bees earlier.”
Corky picked up the concrete, and put it in his tupperware. With a piece of cardboard, he scooped up most of the remaining bees and dumped them into the container. The tupperware container had holes drilled in it, so the bees could come and go as they pleased. “If I succeeded in getting the queen in there, the rest of the bees will follow her into the container,” he explained.
Corky said that this kind of swarm was a natural occurrence every spring. The bees had created a few queen cells. One of the new queens had emerged, and had become the new ruler of the hive. The old queen left the hive, followed by a sizeable portion of the bee colony. They swarmed in a tree branch for awhile, until some kids succeeded in knocking them to the ground with their sweatshirt. Now, the bees were sending out scouts to find a new home. They had not yet decided where to go, when Corky arrived. He would give them a new home in one of his beehives. Corky maintains and rents out beehives throughout Ballard.
If you want to learn more about bees, I recommend the fascinating comic book Clan Apis by Jay Hosler. It’s packed with science, but also manages to give the bees unique personalities and a little earth religion. I read this with my 5 year old son, and I swear I cried a little at the end. It was that good. If you’re lucky, it may even be at your library.