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It's swarming season: Bee on the lookout

On a sunny day this spring you might just be lucky enough to see a bee swarm looking for its next home.

Sharon Schmidt, founder of Cascade Girl Organization said springtime is swarm season for honey bees. Through her nonprofit she offers a free bee removal service in case the swarm chooses a less-than-ideal home.

“Without help, a swarm stands less than a 20% chance of survival,” because of an array of complexities ranging from lack of habitat, human development and farming to pesticides and mites, Schmidt said.

When a hive becomes overcrowded, some of the bees will take a queen and leave to search for a new home.

Often, this new home might be inside the walls of a building or on a tree in a backyard, or somewhere even less convenient, such as a trash can.

Schmidt said she will remove bees from outside a home for no charge and relocate them to a proper hive location.

She said there’s only ever a charge if it’s a complicated situation. If the bees are inside the walls of a structure, then a carpenter or a beekeeper with carpentry skills may be needed.

If someone witnesses a swarm or finds themselves playing host to a new family of bees, Schmidt said to call a beekeeper who can remove the bees immediately. She said best practice is to estimate how big the swarm would be if it landed, such as to say it’s as big as a baseball or basketball.

She recommends asking the beekeeper if they charge a fee, because although most don’t, it is a costly service in terms of the beekeeper’s time. This way the bees can be rescued and taken care of properly.

She said the recent damp weather can hinder the bees’ ability to collect food, which can be devastating to a hive, but a beekeeper can tend to the bees and supply them with sugar water until the rain stops.

Schmidt said that each year honey bees get a burst of energy in the springtime spurred by blooming flowers and longer days. When the hive becomes overcrowded, the bees prepare to find a new home by feeding the old queen bee less food and chasing her around so that she loses enough weight for the flight.

Prior to the move the bees leave behind a developing queen cell for the new hive. Then they take off into a swarm for about an hour or so. From the swarm scouts go searching for a new home.

“When scouts return, each begins to communicate through dance, which tells the swarm where the new location is, exactly how excited they are about each new location they have found and how many are excited about it,” Schmidt said. “Finally, based upon the energy of the dancing, a decision emerges and off they go.”

Schmidt said honey bees are the only bees that swarm this way.

She said we should take care of our native bees by not using pesticides and by planting pollinator friendly flowers and flowers native to Southern Oregon.

Cascade Girl rescues bees and places them with “sponsors,” such as Grizzly Peak Winery and the Talent fire station. She and her volunteers care for the bees, but they also bring the employees of these host locations out to learn about the process and to learn how to spot swarms.

Cascade Girl also teaches about beekeeping and environmentalism regarding bees, including a class at Rogue Community College, online teaching, school programs and more.

The organization also offers individual consultations for beekeepers who have questions about their apiaries or bees. The service has a sliding fee scale.

Proceeds collected from consultations and at events it organizes, such as the Oregon Honey Festival, go directly toward caring for the bees and public education. The Honey Festival was canceled this year.

It’s important to protect our pollinators in any way possible, Schmidt said, because they are vital to our daily life.

“At least one-third of the food that appears on your fork is the result of the work of a pollinator,” Schmidt said.

To learn more about the Cascade Girl Organization, see www.cascadegirl.org or call 541-951-5595.

Other local organizations that can remove bees and help swarms find a proper home include College of the Melissae (www.collegeofthemelissae.com); Southern Oregon Beekeepers Association (541-625-0269, www.southernoregonbeekeepers.org); and Klamath Basin Beekeepers Association (541-591-8995, www.klamathbeekeepers.org).

Contact Ashland Tidings freelance reporter Caitlin Fowlkes at caitlin.fowlkes@gmail.com.

Bees are critical pollinators.