20190607_bta_beekeeper

Beekeeper Don Varney checks on hives outside his Barre Town home.

Many people confronted by a swarm of 5,000 to 30,000 honey bees might be tempted to contact an exterminator, but there’s a cheaper and more eco-friendly option: Beekeepers.

Don Varney, of Barre, said he’s been keeping bees for the past six years and is on the Vermont Beekeepers Association list of people that can be contacted to remove bees from places they’re not welcome.

The list can be found at www.vermontbeekeepers.org/about/swarms.

Varney said honey bee swarming behavior is part of their breeding process. When a colony is doing well, the queen will build large chambers within the hive and lay eggs that become queens.

The first queen then leaves the hive along with a number of breeding males and female worker drones.

These swarms, he said, are fairly benign, but can appear quite intimidating. They gather in clumps or clouds while scout bees look for a place to permanently nest.

Varney said bees prefer hollows in dead trees some 30 feet in the air, but will also nest in other spots, like people’s houses.

Ideally, a beekeeper can come collect them before they’ve settled inside someone’s walls. He said it’s an easy feat for a keeper with some knowledge to put the queen in a box and take her and the rest of the colony to an apiary.

“I have a deal with the bees,” he said. “I offer them housing and protection, they provide me with honey in return.” Varney said purchasing a bee colony can cost several hundred dollars, so finding one’s own is preferable.

Varney doesn’t expect bees to begin swarming for another month or so, maybe longer given the cold, wet weather the region has experienced. Bees form a swarm when a colony is doing well. When you see a swarm, he said, it usually means there’s a successful hive not far off.

Dan Brown, of Chittenden, is also on the Vermont Beekeepers Association list. He said Thursday he’s fairly new at it, having only kept bees for three years and gone out to two calls for errant bees. Brown said he was only successful in recovering one swarm. The one he couldn’t get had nested inside someone’s porch and couldn’t be reached without tearing it apart.

“If you can get in and get the queen in a box, the swarm will join her, generally,” he said.

Brown said he can only work with honey bees. Other stinging, flying insects such as wasps and hornets are not something he and the other keepers generally deal with, but they can be called for advice.

Greg Smela, of Brandon, a member of the Vermont Beekeeper’s Association advisory board, said the group’s website also has information on how to tell honey bees apart from other insects.

It can be found at www.vermontbeekeepers.org/become-a-beekeeper/education/is-that-a-bee.

Smela said the association has worked to connect beekeepers with people who need bee removal for many decades.

Part of what prompted the Vermont Beekeepers Association to remind the public of this service was the San Diego Padres. According to multiple media reports, the team used an exterminator to kill a swarm of bees that interrupted a game Sunday at Petco Park.

The move sparked a wave of criticism.

keith.whitcomb @rutlandherald.com

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