A new queen at the helm

Being a single woman with no children and no live-in pets, I consider myself the master of my domain. I come and go from my residence as I please. That was, until last Thursday when there became a new queen of the castle at my apartment.

Thursday, May 18, started like any normal day. I got up at around 6 a.m. before heading out the door at around 6:45 for work. Nothing seemed out of place or out of the ordinary. At around 11 a.m., due to my schedule for the rest of the day, I decided to take an early lunch. Getting in my car, I pointed west and drove the few blocks over to my apartment on Henry Street.

And that?s when my day took a turn.

As I pulled into my driveway, my jaw dropped. Swarming all around my apartment door were bees. Now, I don?t mean a few friendly little bees like you see on the box of your Honey Nut Cheerios. There were at least 100 bees swarming around the steps to my front door as if they were just waiting for me to open the door and invite them in for some milk and cookies.

I couldn?t believe my eyes. Never in my life had I seen so many bees! I just couldn?t wrap my head around it. Sure, I had seen a few bees buzzing around my yard during the warm spring and summer months, but we live in Iowa. Isn?t that normal? I had so many questions swirling around in my head. Where did all these bees come from? And most importantly, why, oh why, were they choosing to swarm right outside of my front door? All I wanted to do was eat lunch!

Not being able to process what I was seeing and not wanting to be stung by hundreds of bees, I decided to stay in my car and call someone. But who do you call? The police? The fire department? Not knowing for sure, I decided to ring my landlord.

After explaining the situation to her the best I could, she decided she would call her ?bug guy? as she called him, hoping that he would be around and know what to do. Sadly for me, and about on par with my luck thus far, he was out of town. So, it was on to Plan B.

Now, I?d like to just say for the record that I am no prolific bee expert. I?m not even an intermediate bee expert. My expertise in insects goes as far as my one entomology class in college will take me. And given that the subject of entomology is about as exciting to me as watching paint dry, that distance is pretty short. However lackluster my knowledge may be on insects, I do know that bees are of vital importance to agriculture, so killing them was not something we wanted to do.

After talking it over together, my landlord decided to try our luck with the Henry County Conservation Department, which was a good call on our part. Thankfully, Henry County Conservation Department Director, John Pullis, and his operations supervisor, Tony Millard, were on the scene very quickly and had a plan in mind.

According to Pullis, this bee colony had decided that the crack in my concrete steps between the steps and the apartment?s foundation would make for a great home, so they had begun to set up camp. He guessed that they had probably started swarming soon after I had left my house for the morning, and obviously, this posed a major problem for me, and coincidently for the bees themselves.

Normally, a bee swarm like this would be relatively harmless. However, as it was in such close proximity to me and other visitors to my house, the best thing for everyone was for the bees to be relocated to an area farther away from humans where they could live in peace. However, relocating them was not going to be an easy feat. With the bees living in the crack between my steps and the building, coaxing them out without killing them was going to be a real challenge.

Obviously, we didn?t want to have to cut into the steps to get them because we didn?t want to accidently kill any of the worker bees or the all-important queen bee. So, the idea was to use a bee box and coax the colony to make the box their home as opposed to my steps. The main catch was to coax the queen into the box. If she found the new home acceptable, than the rest of the colony would follow.

This process is not a quick one, and not something you can really force too much, so it?s been a bit of a waiting game for the past week. Thankfully, no one has been stung thus far.

I will say, all in all, this experience has taught me a few valuable lessons about bees. First, bees are incredibly important pollinators for flowers and vegetables. Sadly, however, colonies of bees have been disappearing in the last several years for reasons which remain largely unknown. According to National Geographic, billions of bees across the world are leaving their hives, never to return. In some regions of the world, up to 90-percent of bees have disappeared, which makes it all the more important that we try to conserve and protect these important, albeit pesky creatures.

As for the queen bee in particular, one queen runs the entire hive. Her job is simply to lay the eggs that will spawn the hive?s next generation of bees, so protecting the queen is very important.

Preventing bees from making a place near your house their next home is a challenge. Beekeepers and online beekeeping websites have a lot of various tricks and suggestions, but none of them are 100-percent fool proof.

In any case, it?s never a good idea to try and tackle a beehive or a swarm of bees on your own. Always call in professionals like your local conservation officers and let them do the job. Bees are important to our natural agriculture, so a trained professional should handle them with care. And if possible, do not kill bees unless they pose an immediate threat to you or another human.

As I am writing this column to you, my unwelcomed guests are still buzzing around near my steps. We have gone through two different types of bee boxes, and from what I can observe from a distance, it seems like they may be slowly making their new home in the current bee box we have set up.

As for me, I have spent my last week using my apartment?s side door, and coming and going during the early morning and mid to late evening when the colony is less active. To say I feel like these bees are somewhat running the show at my home right now is an understatement. I suppose for now there is a new queen of the castle, and there?s not much I can do about it until Her Majesty decides on a new home. Until then, you can find me sneaking around to the side door and giving my guests a wide birth.