It was a Sunday morning, exactly nine days after I split my top-bar hive with a Taranov board. I finished answering e-mails before I walked outside and headlong into a frenzy of darting, diving, dipping insects that were coalescing in a tall Leyland cypress.
I wandered into the midst of the chaos, curious why Leylands attract so many swarms. I wondered if I could bottle it.
The bees continued to spill from the top-bar hive for another few seconds. I had recently checked on the split, and it was fine. It ended up with the old queen and, after only a week, displayed a perfect patch of brood. So this was an after-swarm, probably headed by a virgin queen from one of the 24 queen cells I had seen there.
My husband and I agreed the swarm was too dangerous to get. The tree was skinny and we feared the weight of the extension ladder might damage it, or that a slight shift of the trunk might cause the ladder to topple. We decided to leave it.
“Three packages of bees up there,” he kept saying, which made me feel terrible. But I try not to be stupid about bee retrieval, so I did my best to ignore them . . . and him. My three swarm traps had fresh lures and the bait hive behind the house was stocked with used brood comb and a frame of honey. The best I could do was wait.
One day passed, windy and cold. The second day was stormy, and the night was worse. The third day yielded raindrops the size of jelly beans. The fourth day was cloudy, but clearing. I knew the swarm would soon leave.
“I’ve got an idea,” my husband announced while making breakfast. “I will lash a t-post across the top of the extension ladder so it will rest on two trees instead of one. The weight will be divided between trees and the ladder will be more stable.”
“No way,” I said. “The trees aren’t strong enough to support your weight.”
He gave me an odd look. “Not my weight. Yours.”
I felt instantly sick and left my breakfast on the table.
I spent the rest of the morning and part of the afternoon stewing. He’s not the beekeeper. He’s doesn’t even like bees. He wants nothing to do with my hobby. So why is he telling me how to do it? And why does he think I should risk life and limb on his Rube Goldberg device? Finally, I got so angry I wanted to prove it wouldn’t work. “All right,” I said. “I’ll do it.”
So while he collected extension ladder, t-post, and cable ties, I assembled tools for catching a swarm, none of which I thought I would need. When all was ready, I gave the dog my cold toast and honey as a farewell gift, and ascended the ladder with cardboard box and hive tool in hand. Any moment now, I thought, the tree, the swarm, and the ladder with me on it will smash a crater into the driveway. And as the bees fly away unscathed, my dying words will be, “I told you so.”