On April 14, 2021, the trees outside the Metro South household hazardous waste facility were abuzz – literally – as they were overrun by a giant swarm of honeybees.
Rob Hamrick, the integrated pest management coordinator at Metro, got the call early in the day.
“The bees swarm started slowly in the drive through at… household hazardous waste at Metro South,” Hamrick said. “And it just started expanding and expanding and expanding.
Swarm in action
Cell phone footage captured by staff shows the swarm in action at Metro South.
At first staff tried to work around the bees, but soon they had to shut down the facility for the day. That’s when Hamrick called local beekeeper Glen Andresen.
When Andresen arrived, he discovered multiple large clumps of bees in the trees. He estimated the swarm contained about 40,000 bees – almost three times the size of an average swarm. Andresen described the mass of bees as a “monster swarm,” or possibly two swarms that had combined.
After assessing the situation, Andresen asked Metro staff for something to create a makeshift shelf. Five-gallon buckets along with the plywood Andresen brought were the perfect combination to level the hill so he could place his beekeeping equipment directly under the swarm.
There were so many bees that they wouldn’t all fit into Andresen’s two bee boxes, and he had to return that night to collect the rest.
Andresen, cofounder of Bridgetown Bees, teaches organic beekeeping classes. He said swarming is part of seasonal cycle of bee colonies to expand in late winter and early spring and then contract in the fall.
“A swarm is just a natural occurrence,” he said. “It's just a sign of a healthy hive that the old queen will leave the hive with maybe a third or up to a half of the bees. And then the parent hive will raise a new queen.”
This swarm was resting in the tree and had sent scouts to look for a new home. This is an ideal time to collect the bees, lest they end up taking refuge inside the wall of the building. Andresen has seen hundreds of swarms in trees, shrubs, and some that moved into uninsulated spaces through empty socket holes.
This was not the first time Hamrick and Andresen partnered up. The support structure for the iconic "Portland" sign at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall is a known bee swarm destination. In July 2016, Andresen donned his bee suit and took a high lift above SW Broadway Street to block bees from settling in. He was able to stuff steel wool into a large opening; once again solving the problem without toxic chemicals.
Both Andresen and Hamrick work to reduce the use of pesticides, Andresen through his organic beekeeping and as a Master Gardener educator, Hamrick through managing pests on Metro properties according to Metro’s Integrated Pest Management plan. No toxic chemicals were used to remove the “monster swarm” of bees.
The team also helped protect mason bees from parasitic wasps at the Oregon Zoo. Instead of reaching for toxic solutions, they created a safe habitat for the bees by drilling holes into blocks of firewood. This also helped prevent field mice from snacking on hibernating mason bees.
Honeybee removal may be the sweetest job Andresen has done for Metro. After he took the colony home, the hive produced over 142 pounds of honey within a few months – enough to fill nearly 48 quart-sized mason jars. An impressive feat, since each honeybee in its lifetime produces only about a 12th of a teaspoon of honey.
“Every beekeeper thinks their honey is the best and none of them are wrong,” he joked.
The honey was flavored by the maple trees around Andresen’s neighborhood as well as some fruit and berry trees. Andresen said it was a light honey, but very flavorful.
About two months after the rehoming, part of the hive swarmed again and left and the rest stayed to raise a new queen. Unfortunately, the new queen never developed and the hive eventually collapsed.
Andresen said this is a part of beekeeping. One doesn’t possess bees, instead, one takes care of them, even if they may swarm away or collapse. “That's one of the things that makes a bee-keeper… rather than a bee-haver,” he said.