When Ruth Harrigan got a call this week that thousands of bees were swarming on a tree in Plandome Heights it was the sweetest thing she’d heard all day.
A thick mass of honey bees had been spotted on a tree in the front yard of a North Bourndale Road home Monday, alarming residents who didn’t know what to do.
One neighbor sent a photo Tuesday to Harrigan, who owns the Great Neck shop HoneyGramz, which sells honey produced by her colonies in Douglaston, Queens.
“The biggest one I've ever seen,” Harrigan said Thursday. The swarms she typically collects have about 5,000 to 10,000 bees but this one had about 15,000 to 20,000, she said.
“It was such a nice, beautiful swarm,” said Harrigan, who has been beekeeping for 12 years.
Neighbors had mixed reactions.
“One neighbor wanted to just take a whack at it,” said David Paterson.
He told neighbors to leave the bees alone. “They’re honey bees. Please do not kill them. They're having a rough time as it is.”
Honey bee populations, which play an essential role in food production by spreading pollen, have been declining for more than a decade, likely due to a wide range of environmental factors, including pesticide use and loss of habitat, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Plandome Heights Mayor Kenneth C. Riscica said he’d received calls Tuesday about the swarm but the village had no staff to deal with it. Nassau police do not have a beekeeper on staff, county spokesman Chris Boyle said.
Hanna Birkhead, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Agriculture and Markets, said the department maintained a list of registered beekeepers who catch and remove swarms.
“Healthy honey bee colonies swarm to reproduce,” Birkhead said in an email. “Swarm season on Long Island begins in late April with swarms occurring in May and June.”
John Most, president of the Long Island Beekeepers Club, which maintains a list of beekeepers who respond to swarm calls, said swarming honey bees looking for a new home — which typically takes a day or two — were not dangerous.
“Before they leave their first home, they fill up on honey and they're not hungry and they're not defending or protecting anything,” Most said.
“Swarming is good,” Harrigan said. “That's when healthy hives split into two, and the old queen will take half the colony to find a new location and then back in the old hive there’s a new queen ready to be born.”
On Tuesday after her shop closed, Harrigan arrived at the tree around 7 p.m., a time when bees head home for the night and become docile. After putting on protective gear, she and her husband brushed the bees into a nucleus box.
“As long as I brush the queen inside, all the bees will follow,” she said.
The couple went to dinner, leaving the box beneath the tree to give any straggler drones a chance to return, she said. When they got back they took the bees to Douglaston, where Harrigan said they'd need a bigger box because of the swarm’s size.
“We're providing them with the space so that they'll be happy,” Harrigan said.