Faced with a mass of honeybees, dial up an experienced beekeeper

by: COURTESY PHOTO - Rudy Marchesi from Montinore Estate manages a bee swarm while balancing on a ladder.It’s swarm season.

That means area residents could be outside enjoying a pleasant Oregon spring day when thousands of honeybees buzz in like a dark cloud.

“But don’t get excited and get out your bug spray can. And don’t swat at them or go stir them up,” said Paul Andersen, president of the Oregon State Beekeepers Association (OSBA).

Honeybee populations are in crisis — a potential problem for the nation’s food supply, much of which depends on the bees’ pollination. So Andersen asks people not to “freak out” if they see a swarm. Just walk away, pick up a phone and call a beekeeper to come collect it.

Bee swarms may intimidate onlookers, Andersen said, but swarming bees are usually quite docile because they have no hive to defend.

Swarm season starts in early April, peaks in May and tapers off into July.

“You want to deal with the swarms, but please don’t kill them,” said Andersen, who recommends calling a beekeeper listed on the OSBA website.

Swarms cling in a cluster — often landing on trees, fences or the sides of houses — for at least a few hours, but usually for about two days, Andersen said, so there’s a fairly generous time window for collecting them.

A beekeeper will come out, shake them into a box and take them away once they settle.

It’s better to have the swarm collected than to let them find their own new home, Andersen said, because they could make their way into chimneys and walls, creating a nuisance.

When honeybees swarm, they usually land a few hundred feet away from their hive, something many folks didn’t even realize was there, Andersen COURTESY PHOTO - Jerry Maasdam of the Tualatin Valley Beekeepers Association collects a swarm in Washington County last spring without a veil or gloves.

“Swarming is an important part of growing and expanding,” said Andersen, who has been working with the OSBA to spread the word about looking out for struggling bees, especially amidst recent concerns about high death rates linked with colony collapse disorder, parasitic mites and the use of certain pesticides.

The demise of honeybees doesn’t just hurt the insect population. Approximately one-third of the nation’s food supply depends on pollination from honeybees, Andersen said.

To assist bees, Andersen encourages the planting of flowers, blooming shrubs and trees.

He also suggests avoiding pesticides, or at least using them properly, according to label instructions. And, Andersen recommends spraying in the evening, when bees are not as active.

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