I understand that colony collapse disorder — the mysterious plague that’s wiped out half of America’s bee colonies over the past half dozen years — is a continuing problem. So it’s nice to hear a tale like the one my friend Leslie Venolia related the other day. She was in a bedroom of her home in Carlsbad, when through the open windows she’d heard a buzzing sound that she recognized to be a swarm of bees. Out on the patio, her teenage soon Tate got up from doing his homework; he pulled the family dog inside.
The swarm looked “like an old-fashioned model of a molecule,” bristling with energized particles, Leslie said. After a while the colony began to hover around the front of the wisteria arbor that’s just outside Leslie and Craig’s back door. Worker bees zoomed in and out of the undulating mass.
Leslie and Tate soon realized that the bees seemed uninterested in their presence, and they resumed their activities: she planting tomatoes, he working on his AP European history homework. The next morning, the colony was massed more slowly, but it was clear the bees had settled in.
“I wish I’d known how to make the place less hospitable to them as they were arriving,” Leslie later commented. (Truth be told, the shade of that blooming wisteria seems like paradise to me, and I’m not surprised it would entrance bees too.) But she did know enough know to call Brother Blaise Heuke, the septuagenarian Benedictine monk who’s the resident beekeeper at the 140-acre Prince of Peace Abbey in Oceanside. Leslie had heard about him over the years but never met him. Over the phone, she learned that he doesn’t respond to calls to remove bees from indoor or inaccessible locations (e.g. chimneys), but he agreed to pay a call at Leslie and Craig’s house.
The next day, she sent out this e-mail update:
“Brother Blaise took one look, said “that’s a pretty good size hive with a queen,” and decided to shake them out of the wisteria. He knew I wanted to watch (and I assumed he’d tell me to go in the house to watch through the sliding door), but he told me just to stand a
ways off (about 10 feet?). He put his gear on, put the tarp down, set the ladder on top, climbed up, quickly shook the bulk of the swarm into the cardboard box with its frames, and wrapped the whole thing up in the tarp (to catch the stragglers who’d fallen outside the box).
He said it was a peaceful group; if they’d been angry his mask would have been covered with riled-up bees trying to get at him, but there were none. He sprayed the others who returned with a light soapy solution. It was about 10 minutes from start to finish. When I asked how much I owed him, he said “you can just give me some money to cover the gas.”
Leslie had read that he’d lost all his bees at some point, and she asked if this year had brought any encouraging developments. The monk “told me he’s had almost no honey for the last 10 years, though he’s tried to re-establish the colonies each year (at the cost of $4000 per queen!) Each year the bees seemed fine, then died at the two-week mark. He made a variety of changes — different boxes, steel tops (like patio covers) over the hives, different sorts of bees and more, to no avail. Wondering if the 4 cell phone towers nearby had anything to do with the problem, he walked around the abbey property with his cell phone, found a spot with no coverage, and set the bees up there. All has been well since they’ve relocated. He said a power company representative chided him after an article in the North County Times reported his experience, saying, ‘Blaise, you have only a high school education and you think you have enough expertise to suggest this?'”
If all goes well, Leslie says Brother Blaise should have honey from her bees within about two months. I wish them well!