The perfect swarm: A beekeeping surprise on Shelter Island

Beekeeping Shelter Island

have learned that there is no hiding when Mother Nature has something for you to experience. There are moments to witness and lessons to learn within each and every season.  If you are willing to be present, you will find that nature is full of surprises. 

I have been quietly working in my garden, the May morning is warm and clear. Birds are singing, and the essence of spring is awake with every flower unfolding.

My head suddenly lifts up to the sound of a whirling vortex of chaos. “What is that noise?”  I wonder.  Dropping my gardening pruners I run over to the side yard to see where the drama is coming from. Oozing out from the front of one of my beehives, like a fountain of bubbling ocean water, is a queen bee with about half of the work force evacuating with her.

Yes, a swarm. Beekeepers have mixed feelings about a hive swarming. The delicate balance between expansion and loss. Swarming is a natural way to increase ones apiary.  It is an impulse within a hive that beekeepers often struggle with to control, condition, or altogether stop.

There is an old proverbial saying among beekeepers, “A swarm in May is worth a load of hay; a swarm in June is worth a silver spoon; a swarm in July is not worth a fly.” Meaning the later it is in the season, the less time a swarm has to build up an appropriate shelter and adequate resources to survive the winter. A spring swarm has a better chance to survive, perhaps over a later summer swarm.

This was a perfect swarm.

With choreographic precision, the buzzing tornado circled over my head. There I was standing in the eye of a cloud of honeybees. Then came a moment when the frenzy shifted to an organized dance on a nearby cluster of branches, a few feet above the ground. A performance orchestrated just for me. I stood in awe.

Time stood still as I took a moment to kneel in the presence of this queen bee, suspended on a shrub that had not yet opened with the seasons foliage. Like a humming soul searching for a vessel to contain it, she was surrounded by the warmth of her daughters. Exposed with no home to protect them, no food other than what filled their bellies before they left the hive. On a mission of expansion, leaving all that they had built behind. They are open to the elements of weather and vulnerable to human fears. Dancing in sunlight, where only minutes ago they were in complete darkness.

If you are fortunate enough to encounter a swarm this summer, do not be alarmed and please do not spray them. They are actually quite docile in this state. There are a number of beekeepers, including myself, that are willing to assist in a removal if we are able and it is feasible. Post something on Facebook. Send me an email at theislandherbalist@gmail.com. Make a few phone calls to find appropriate resources to help.

Take a moment to enjoy the wonder nature if offering you.