When maintenance got the call that there were some bees buzzing around the entrance at the Hiawatha Middle School they were a little surprised what they found when they arrived.
It was more like a few thousand bees — and when they arrived they knew that a few cans of spray wasn’t going to do the trick.
Nor, they suspected, was it the right thing to do to attempt to kill them.
“What’s Wendell Ganstrom’s phone number?” my husband, Jeff, asked when he called me. He was one of the school maintenance staff that had been called in to take care of the nuisance that was concerning staff at the school.
“We have a whole bunch of bees up here at the school.”
Naturally, my reporter instincts took over.
“Take a photo,” I tell him. Well, knowing his wife, he was one step ahead of me there and a photo was already dropping into my text messages.
“Oh — yeah you better call Wendell,” I told him after seeing the photo, digging out the phone number.
Wendell Ganstrom has worn many hats in his years — a Hiawatha teacher for one, college instructor, director at HCC Klinefelter Farm, a video store owner, musician and the list goes on and on. But what some people don’t know is that Ganstrom is a beekeeper and has been so for about 35 years. In fact, he gathers a group of local beekeepers for “Bee Chat” at Klinefelter Farm once a month when the facility is open.
So taking care of a colony of a few thousand bees is nothing new to him.
Ganstrom drove in from where he lives near Robinson later that morning to check out the situation.
“I saw a couple cans of bee spray sitting there and that was my biggest fear, that they would have tried to kill them,” he said. “Honey bees are a natural part of pollination and without them we wouldn’t have many things, such as fruit.”
But he said sometimes people get scared when they see a large swarm such as this one, clinging to a tree branch — or in this case an overhang above the middle school main entrance.
“When bees are in this state, they are actually the most docile,” he said.
Ganstrom went on to explain that the honey bees were “swarming,” which in bee language means more than just congregating together. It means the bees took the queen and are looking for a place to make a new colony — leaving half of the bees behind as the population was too much for that one place.
Ganstrom brought a “bee house” or habitat in — a large white box, with some honeycomb inside to attract the bees. He set the box a distance away from the front door. He climbed on a ladder close to the swarming bees and sprayed them down with sugar water to further distract them. He was able to gentle brush several into a container and moved them to the white box. It wasn’t long before the others started looking for their friends and more sweet treats and were drew toward the box.
Ganstrom left the box there for a few days, checking everyday and slowly the “swarm” moved completely over to the white box, which then he relocated to his property near Robinson.
Ganstrom said that the bees left behind without the queen actually are sterile, but after a time, a bee will develop eggs and lay them, and another queen is born.
“Nature finds a way.”