By Andrea Arnold

When McBride area residents Florian Gasser and Ashley Flavel discovered that their bee hive had split and several thousand of their honey bees were making a break for freedom, travelling slowly across the couple’s property in a swarm, all the while, protecting their queen they contacted Robson Valley Beekeepers Club president Karine Dubreuil, for help. 

Dubreuil was at work, so she sent her husband, Brad Arnold, to help capture the rogue bees that had anchored themselves way up a tree, out of easy reach.

“This particular swarm was about a couple thousand bees,” said Dubreuil.

Thousands of honey bees create a protective wall around their queen. /ANDREA ARNOLD

Arnold, Gasser and Flavell first assessed the situation. The bees were hanging off a branch high overhead. They decided that using the tractor bucket would be the best option to reach them. 

Once everyone was suited up in the bee suits, covered head to toe with protection against angry bee stingers, Flavell lifted Arnold and Gasser as high as the tractor would allow. 

Arnold explained that the container he was using was a zip up mesh laundry hamper. The pair got themselves into position and in one swift motion, jarred the branch so a majority of the bees fell into it. The hamper was quickly zipped up and the two men were lowered to the ground.

Brad Arnold holds the laundry hamper carefully once a majority of the bees have been captured. Protective clothing prevent him from being stung. /ANDREA ARNOLD

Not every swarm collection goes swiftly the first time, and this was not an exception. Once everyone was safely on the ground, and still covered in angry bees, it was discovered that, in the same spot, there were already two large groupings forming back on the branch.

“That might mean the queen is still up there,” said Arnold. “We will need to try to get as many as we can.”

The pair headed back up with just an open box this time and made quick work of depositing the bees into the box, and then transferring them into the laundry hamper once they were back on the ground.

All three, Flavell, Arnold and Gasser are members of the Robson Valley Bee Club and are very familiar with bee behaviour. They were able to observe through the actions of the captive bees that the queen was among those captured. 

Arnold and Florien Gasser take a second crack at capturing the bees that eluded their first attempt. /ANDREA ARNOLD

“The worker bees will migrate to the queen in order to provide protection,” said Arnold as he pointed out a growing pile of bees in the corner of the hamper.

Dubreuil started beekeeping four years ago. She attended a weekend introduction course that the Robson Valley Beekeepers club was hosting, and was hooked. Arnold quickly also became a member.

“Honey bees can swarm for different reasons but usually it is because of not enough space in the hive or a failing queen that is not doing a great job,” said Dubreuil.”Humidity and high temperatures and poor ventilation in the hive can be a factor as well. The old queen will leave with part of the hive population, and the young queen will stay. When the new queen emerges, that’s when the swarm happens if the weather is good!”

This swarm of bees were transported to Dubreuil and Arnold’s home, but they do not always have to be relocated after they have swarmed. As long as there is a new hive with adequate space, they will be content. However, if the beekeeper does not have more room, the swarm takes flight. 

“Swarms usually settle in a nearby tree or other objects until a new site has been found,” said Dubreuil. “When they swarm it’s kind of a pit stop until they decide where they want to have their new home. They can stay there for an hour or even a couple days.”

She says that this year she has dealt with four swarms. Three aside from her own hive splitting. She says that this particular case and location was one of the more tricky as far as location goes. However, overall, regardless of location, she finds that bees within a swarm seem to be less aggressive than one might expect as they are more focused on protecting their queen than outside elements.

“Bees are fascinating little creatures that live in a whole different world,” she said. “They know more than we think.” 

Dubreuil believes that helping the bee population is a very important cause. 

“They are pollinators that are vital to the food we need to survive and they provide high quality food: honey, royal jelly, pollen and also beeswax, to name a few,” she said. “To anyone that wants to start beekeeping I strongly recommend being part of a club and having a mentor to help them at first for sure.”

A month after being relocated, these specific bees have settled into their new hive and Dubreuil reports that they are doing great.