Who ya gonna call? Swarm busters

Victoria beekeepers join together to create swarm hotline for safety, bee protection

Amateur beekeeper Joy Illington enjoys the sight of the thousands of honey bees working in her backyard at her Vic West home. Anyone who spots a swarm of bees is asked to call the Capital Region Beekeepers Association's new dedicated bee swarm hotline.

It’s not that Barry Denluck goes looking for trouble when he sticks his hands in a ball of bees.

But when his cellphone rings, he’s prepared to do just that.

“Why would I be scared of bees? I like bees,” says the View Royal resident and part-time beekeeper.

He has responded to and collected swarms of bees – wearing appropriate beekeeper apparel – but hopes to hear from more people who spot clouds of 10,000-plus honey bees this summer.

The Capital Region Beekeepers Association has established a dedicated bee swarm hotline.

Denluck, the association co-president, expects his phone could ring at anytime now that the warm weather has arrived, when bees depart overcrowded hives in a massive swarm to look for new accommodation.

“The general public doesn’t like 10,000 stinging insects sitting by their front door or sitting on their lilac bush,” he says.

He and seven other beekeepers, stationed from Sooke to Sidney, are ready to mobilize and scoop up these swarms and deliver them – typically in a box – to some of the 20 aspiring beekeepers, who have recently joined the association and need bees.

“It’s important that more people become beekeepers,” Denluck says.

Starting new hives with local bees allows beekeepers to foster a sustainable population of honey bees in Canada. Many beekeepers import bees from international destinations, such as Hawaii, a prominent honey bee supplier.

“The thought is that with many urban beekeepers, as well as just a few large commercial beekeepers, we can maintain a greater genetic diversity,” Denluck explains.

This is especially important with the 30-per-cent decline in North America’s honey bee population, he says, noting that bee populations are jeopardized primarily by human encroachment and pesticides.

Denluck is confident that the new bee swarm hotline will, in a way, help build a stronger bee community.

Last year, the club learned of about 20 swarms, though Denluck estimates there are likely up to 100 swarms each year.

The bees from Jill Illington’s backyard hives have tried leaving twice, due to overcrowding.

“In both cases there were good lessons for us,” the Victoria West resident says.

Luckily, Illington’s bees didn’t get far, and she ensured the buzzing insects settled back into a roomier hive.

Swarms typically attract a lot of attention in urban areas. Last year, word spread about a bee cloud that landed on a Douglas Street lamppost and another that rested on a car at the Tillicum Centre.

“This swarm, this cloud, can be as large as a house and as long as a bus,” Denluck says. “So you’re going to see it and hear it a block away.”

The honey-makers will leave their home and stop over someplace for as little as two hours and as long as a day, while waiting for the scouts to fly off and find a new home.

With such a small window of opportunity in which the beekeepers can collect the swarm, it’s important for people to immediately call the hotline.

“Timing is critical,” Denluck says.

To report a swarm, call the bee swarm line at 250-900-5133, or email swarms@victoriabeekeepers.com. For details, visit victoriabeekeepers.ca.

emccracken@vicnews.com

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