Honey Bees Al Fresco

George and I got the buzz through the beekeeper’s grapevine that there were some honey bee swarms under the BART elevated tracks. A portion of the structure beneath the tracks is hollow, and we’ve heard that there are beehives throughout much of the outdoor BART system.  Although we figured the swarms probably had found new homes, we ventured over yesterday afternoon to see. Yowza!

Honey bee colony under BART tracks

This is NOT a swarm –  it’s a colony of honey bees that built their comb down from a hole in the structure. You don’t often see “fresh-air” beehives. I’m not even sure whether you can call them hives, since they’re not inside a structure. Regardless of the proper name, it’s a natural sculpture of staggering beauty. There are seven frames, and it’s about 2.5 feet down and 3 feet across.

Honey bee colony under BART tracks

It’s opposite an apartment complex, and one young woman yelled over to us, “You’re not taking our bees, are you?” It turns out she and her housemate love bees, and they’ve been watching over the colony for a year and a half, so it has survived through a month-long cold snap and the hard rains we’ve had recently. We told them no, we were definitely not going to disturb the fresh-air colony, but we were trying to gather up a small swarm that had separated from it, which was hanging down from another nearby hole.

Honey bee swarm under BART tracks

When we first saw the swarm I was looking up to photograph it, when George noticed just in time that there was a pile of bees on the ground right where I was going to step!

Honey bee swarm

We were sure they had fallen from the swarm because they were directly beneath. Hoping that the queen might be in the swarm on the ground, we had zoomed home to get our beekeeper suits and a nuc box (a small wooden box with frames to keep bees in temporarily). George smeared some honey comb onto frames – yum – and placed it next to the bees on the ground, and they immediately started marching onto the frames.

George with nuc box and frames

They filled it up really quickly!

Honey bee swarm on frame

George put the frames in the nuc box. The bees on the ground marched inside, and some flying around landed and joined them.

Honey bees going into nuc box

A bunch of them began “fanning” on the front landing strip, which George hoped meant that the queen was inside. When a worker bee fans she stands with her backside facing out, fans her wings and releases pheromones to direct the rest of the swarm to the colony.

Honey bees fanning

At one point clumps of bees began dropping from the swarm! One clump hit the ground, but most of them separated and swirled around.

Honey bee swarm

As it started to get dark we were bent over the front of the box to make sure they all got in. Another clump of bees fell, some of them onto our heads! George had his suit on but I didn’t. Swarming bees are usually very calm and sweet, their sole aim is to protect the queen, so unless you do something to really upset them they won’t sting. I was around them for hours that day without a suit and I didn’t get stung once, not even by the ones that fell on my head. After the ones that fell marched in, we sealed the nuc box and brought the BART bees to their new home.

Today was wonderfully warm, and the new bees were busy coming and going, checking out the ‘hood.

Honey bees

Time will tell whether we got her Majesty, the queen.

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10 comments on “Honey Bees Al Fresco

  1. solarbeez says:

    What a beautiful event. Glad you didn’t step on the bees. I’m sure you got the queen as the workers were fanning from their nasonov glands.

    Here’s a question…my neighbor wants me to get him a swarm. I’ve got a bee tree picked out in a state park and a place to hang a bait hive. I tell him to build a nuc hive because I don’t have bait hives to hold Langstroth frames. He says, “Hang the entire brood box.” Do you see any reason why that wouldn’t work? Other than being heavier? I’ll attach a piece of plywood to cover the bottom and top…one that I can unscrew easily with a cordless drill. I’ll have to cut an 1.5″ hole in one end, then put a hanger on the side of the hive to hang it on a tree. What do you think?

    • Heidi Rand says:

      Thanks! It sounds to me like hanging the brood box should work, other than being heavy – as you say – and more unwieldy than a nuc box. I’m going to pass your question on to George because he’s the expert. Will post back.

  2. Janice Adams says:

    Delightful story. I am going to share this link on my FB I know lots of people who will enjoy reading this.

  3. gaia16 says:

    So THAT’s how it’s done! Very elegant! The swarm we caught looked just like that and had heaps of bees on the ground underneath it as well. If we had your technique down we might have been able to persuade them to stay. But learning by making mistakes seems to be my way. Thanks for posting!

  4. lolarose0 says:

    this delightful, i love your bringing the bees home, great great post!

  5. Jeannie says:

    Hi Heidi!

    I came across your blog in my search for more information about the honey bees underneath BART (I live in the El Cerrito area). How exciting to see that a fellow neighbor feels as much as I do for them!! Someday when I am able to commit, I would love to keep a hive. In the meantime, I’m enjoying the nearby hives. I saw two of them. I hope BART facilities don’t remove them – do you think they will feel a need to??

    • Heidi Rand says:

      Hi Jeannie, George and I heard that someone removed the large one in my photographs, unfortunately. I believe that BART had it done but I don’t know for sure. If you’ve seen two of them recently that’s good, but if it was awhile ago they might be gone. It can only help for BART to hear from all of us that they shouldn’t remove them.
      Some great resources locally when you decide you can commit: Biofuel Oasis has beekeeping supplies and classes — http://biofueloasis.com/ And there’s the Alameda County Beekeepers Ass’n — http://site.alamedabees.org/ and the Mt. Diablo Beekeeper’s Assn — http://www.diablobees.org/
      Thanks for commenting! Best, Heidi

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