How do you safely get thousands of swarming honey bees down from the side of a building?
The staff at Minnesota Public Radio headquarters in downtown St. Paul found themselves asking that question Friday afternoon when they spotted a massive bee swarm on the brick wall of a neighboring church.
There was concern about passersby who might be allergic to the bees — and they were a little closer to the ground than last week's #MPRraccoon — so the plan was to find a way to get them to a better home.
Luckily, an MPR employee is a hobbyist beekeeper and she knew who to call.
That's where Chris Pesklo comes in. The second-year beekeeper arrived armed with two cardboard boxes, a brush and a net to keep the creatures away from his face.
Pesklo estimated the swarm at between 7,000 and 10,000 Italian honey bees, all in a fairly calm mood.
"They are very passive, very docile," he said of the bees. "They're loaded up with honey. They're not in a mood to fight."
Pesklo guessed the bees had left one colony and were looking for another. In transition between homes, they took up residence about 12 feet off the ground on the south wall of Central Presbyterian Church.
After one trip up a ladder to survey the situation, Pesklo got to work. He assembled a box and attached it to a pole, placing it right below the swarm.
Then he got back up on the ladder, brush in hand.
Turns out it's simple to get 7,000-plus bees to do what you want — you just need to control the queen.
Pesklo took some gentle swipes with his hand at the swarm to start. Then he got the brush.
While he never saw the queen, Pesklo knew he'd knocked her into the box when the other bees began descending en masse toward the box.
This swarm likely has great genetics, given its ability to survive a harsh winter and destructive varroa mites, so it's crucial to keep them alive, Pesklo said.
After about 30 minutes, most of the bees were boxed up, ready to go to their next home: A hive in Pesklo's pollinator-friendly backyard in St. Paul's Hamline-Midway neighborhood.
They'll join his other two hives after about 24 hours in the box.
"I have everything that the bees need. I have a pond in my backyard. I have a woodshop. I can even make my own hives if I want to," he said. "I hate mowin' my lawn, so I got just forage paradise for the bees."
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