Bees on the move in Artisan Alley
Garrett McWilliams was having a slow workday, so he was able to respond right away March 7 when asked if he could help move a swarm of honeybees gathered on a magnolia tree in Artisan Alley in Downtown DeLand.
McWilliams owns and operates Wild Honey Bee Farm in Umatilla, a business he inherited from his grandfather. Wild Honey Bee Farm manages, at any given time, between 250 and 500 colonies of 50,000 or so bees each.
McWilliams is also familiar with Artisan Alley and its garden, as he sells some of the farm’s products — beeswax candles, creamed honey and honey-based lotions — at the Friday night Artisan Alley Farmers Market.
Once on the scene of the bee swarm, McWilliams estimated the small colony on the magnolia tree at 2,000 to 3,000 bees. He said the bees had probably been part of a colony that had grown too large and thus made a new queen and divided.
Where they came from is unknown, McWilliams said, but the overcrowded hive was probably within 500 to 1,000 yards of Artisan Alley, he said.
Bees can fly as far as 5 miles, but likely wouldn’t have come that far.
“The farther they fly, the shorter their life,” McWilliams explained.
Donning his protective gear and climbing a ladder to reach the swarm, McWilliams first dusted the bees with smoke, which calms them, then gently spritzed them with water, to further reduce the chance of their flying away.
Then he used a soft brush to coax the bees into a special transport box designed by a beekeeper in Mims.
McWilliams was fortunate to find the swarm’s queen. Once he placed her in the box on the ground, many more bees flew to the box on their own.
Don’t take unnecessary risks, but a bee swarm is usually full of for-the-moment homeless, honey-laden bees that are fairly lethargic and easy to coax.
“That’s when the bees are at their most docile point,” McWilliams said. “There’s nothing to defend.”
To increase the chance that the fledgling colony will survive, McWilliams placed frames in the box to give the bees a head start on colony-building, without the need to create combs on their own. He also fed them some sugar-water.
Whether the bees of the Artisan Alley swarm will live and go to work for Wild Honey Bee Farm remains to be seen, McWilliams said.
It all depends on whether the queen can lay eggs.
“We still have to wait another week or two weeks, to see if she got mated properly,” McWilliams said.
It’s certain that the queen McWilliams found in the swarm was a virgin, he said, because she flew with her followers to Artisan Alley. Bees mate while flying, but once a queen mates, she cannot fly.
A “proper” mating, he said, requires 11 drones.
We wish them luck.