Albion Recorder & Morning Star News

CONCORD:  Honey bees hitch a ride out of downtown Concord

Earl Miller, Spring Arbor beekeeper, poses next to the shrub where he found the “beard” of bees a few days ago.
Earl Miller looks up at a second-story window where a cluster of bees could be seen from the sidewalk. There are bees both in the building wall and outside along the wall.
This is the window where bees were clustered along the left side.

By Ken Wyatt

It has been a recurring issue at Concord Village Council meetings. Recurring? Well, not often. But usually about this time every year a 19th century wall along Homer Street starts buzzing with the activity of honey bees.

The wall is near the southwest corner of the former Salesman Publications building. It now houses the Morning Star and The Recorder. Much of it is ivy-covered – the only windows being at the second-story level.

Earlier this month, the council heard a series of residents’ complaints – the bees being one of them. There are parking spaces along that wall, and sometimes those who park there are anxious with the bees they encounter while walking over to the Concord Post Office or wherever.

Kathy Palon, whose mother owns the building, offered a bit of history: “There are bees in the wall at our building. Years ago we had someone look into taking them away and they told us that it’s better to leave them there because another insect or something (can’t remember what) is much worse for the building than the bees.

“This happens at this time each year, and as I understand it, a new queen is born and the bees swarm to go off and create a new colony. It is a very short time that they gather.”

A few days after that council meeting, Earl J. Miller, a local beekeeper, entered the picture. Here’s how it happened.

Miller, a retired insurance man, volunteers at Concord’s Free Store. One day, he explains, “I went over to the Post Office. I walked by the hive, but was focused on my business with the Post Office. When I walked back, I thought, ‘Gee, there’s a lot of bee noise here.'”

So, he walked into The Recorder and Morning Star office and asked permission to clip some branches. That was where he spotted the hive – on branches of a shrub next to the wall.

“They call it a ‘bearding’,” he explained. “Bees will surround the queen, and it looks like a long beard.”

He returned to his Spring Arbor Township home for a pair of pruning shears and his beekeeper’s garb.

“When I got back, I thought maybe the bees had taken off,” he said. But looking closer, they were there, clustered around one of the branches. He clipped it and said “about half of the bees fell down.”

Still, he estimates the branch he was able to place into a box had about 3,000 bees on it. Some hives have as many as 50,000 bees.

He knows of one local beekeeper who has so many active hives that he is paid to bring some to orchards so the bees will pollinate the trees. He currently has just four hives. And since he’s been beekeeping only three or four years, he considers himself a novice.

“Our grandson wanted to get into beekeeping and I thought, ‘I’d like to do it – the two of us.'” And that was how he got started.

The hive he got at the building in Concord was his first successful retrieval. He actually has at least one hive on his acreage, but it is up too high in a tree to access.

As for the value of bees, he says “the pollination is the biggest thing. Bees travel a five-mile area and pollinate all the way – flowers, fruits, other trees.”

Or, to cite a United Nations website, “According to bee experts at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, a third of the world’s food production depends on bees. When animals and insects pick up the pollen of flowers and spread it, they allow plants, including many food crops, to reproduce. Birds, rodents, monkeys and even people pollinate, but the most common pollinators are insects, and among them, bees.”

As for the common anxiety over bee stings, Miller says “If you work with bees, you’re going to be stung.” He thinks of them more as mosquito bites. Generally, however, bees are not bothersome and tend to keep their distance from humans.

Finally, if you harbor a fear of bees, take a bit of encouragement from this quote from Elizabeth Lawrence: “The hum of bees is the voice of the garden.” And if you like gardens, think of the annual bee season along this particular wall as a Concordian garden.

Side bar:

According to the website, “swarming is a fundamental and almost magical part of the bee’s life cycle. The swarming process can be broken down as follows:”

1) Usually in spring and early summer, the “collective wisdom” of the colony decides to swarm (for space and reproduction reasons);

2) The colony prepares several future queens in so-called “queen cups”. Queen cups are regularly created by worker bees, but the existing (old) queen lays only eggs in it when swarming is imminent. When she does it, she clearly plans to leave and let another queen bee take over the existing hive;

3) At this point, the old queen is heavy. Her latest task was to produce a lot of eggs. She isn’t able to fly well and needs to lose weight. Worker bees reduce her feedings and she stops laying eggs, becoming lighter. Immediately before swarming, the bees that intend to leave the colony gorge themselves with honey (like packing a box lunch before a long trip).

4) Before any new queens emerge, the existing queen and about half of the bees of the colony (called the “split”) leave the hive, searching for another home. Right before they abandon the hive, they gorge themselves with honey to get ready for the trip. Then, thousands of bees stream out of the hive;

5) The split (or swarm) temporarily moves to an interim location, not very far away from the original hive, where it rests for a while. The queen is still not able to fly long distances;

6) The split sends out “scout bees” to check the area for suitable final locations. This process might take from one to a few days, so don’t worry if you see a swarm hanging on a tree for more than a day. It doesn’t mean that it will stay there forever;

7) Scout bees then “debate” and “vote” for the new final location. When the democratic decision is taken, the split flies off and moves to the final location, where it begins its new colony life.”

The website also said “swarms of bees sometimes frighten people, though the bees are usually not aggressive at this stage of their life cycle. This is principally due to the swarming bees’ lack of brood (developing bees) to defend and their interest in finding a new nesting location for their queen. This does not mean that bees from a swarm will not attack if they perceive a threat; however, most bees only attack in response to intrusions against their colony. Swarm clusters, hanging from a tree branch, will move on and find a suitable nesting location in a day or two.”

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