By Daniel Silliman
Inside the blue plastic tub, the swarm of bees is swirling in a buzz of legs and wings, mouths and stingers. The swarming honey bee colony sounds like a pulsating, angry cloud, and there are little thumping sounds as bees bump headlong into the inside of the plastic walls, trying to get out.
"Do you hear that?" asked Tom Bonnell. "They're all angry."
The bees were bunched up in a ball around a Magnolia branch, when Bonnell got here. They were swarming, following their queen as she abandoned a hive that seemed too small, and set out to find a better place. The queen, who probably hasn't flown since the virgin voyage which made her a queen, landed here, on a tree in the front yard of this Hampton house.
The owner said she noticed them last night. She'd never seen that many bees, she said, and they all sounded like, "ERRRnnn ERRRnnn ERRRnnn ERRRnnn."
Bonnell, a Henry County beekeeper and a horticulture program assistant at the Clayton County Extension Service, wears long leather gloves and a netted helmet. He held the blue plastic tub under the hanging cluster of bees and swept them gently back into captivity, and now he carries the sealed tub toward his hives.
Bonnell takes calls about bee swarms from about the middle of March to sometime in July. He or one of the other members of The Tara Beekeepers respond to the calls, and capture the homeless colony.
Wednesday afternoon, Bonnell put the swarm in a hive behind his Hampton home. The swarm and the existing hive will assimilate, he said, becoming one strong hive.
"If there's a queen in there, they'll search each other out and the strongest one will survive," he said.
A two-acre field of clover is starting to sprout, at Bonnell's home, a field he hopes will produce plenty of pollen for the bees to gather and turn into honey. He's planing to plant some sweet corn, too, but the clover -- White Dutch clover that came from an Oregon seed company in a 20-pound, $92 bag -- is already growing.
When he first got bees, Bonnell had read bees were good for gardens. He didn't know much about them or what he was doing, but he bought a couple of hives and plunked them down on cinder blocks by a tree line, behind his tillable field.
All of them died or swarmed off, leaving Bonnell with empty, rotting bee boxes.
"I didn't touch them," he said. "I didn't know what to do with them. I just thought they'd make my garden better, but in three years, they were all gone."
Now, 12 years after he purchased that first hive, Bonnell has eight hives and is collecting stray swarms. Now he doesn't just have the bees for a better garden, he admits, he also has a crop of clover for the bees to harvest.
"I just got a little carried away," he said.
The president of The Tara Beekeepers, Bonnell seems a little proud of how carried away he got. He calls his property his little kingdom, and said that, at 62, beekeeping is the best hobby he's ever had.
It's something he likes to promote. At the Clayton County Extension Services Office, 1262 Government Circle, Bonnell offers advice and help with bees, along with the other agricultural assistance offered by the University of Georgia. He teaches a short course on beekeeping at local schools and senior centers, talks about bees in the Bible, the history of bees, and how to keep and care for a hive. Bonnell will be teaching his class at the Charlie Griswell Senior Center, 2300 Ga. Highway 138 in Jonesboro, from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m., on Friday.
The beekeepers' club has about 100 families from the Southern Crescent, who meet to talk about and learn about beekeeping on the third Monday of the month at 7:30 p.m., at the William H. Reynolds Memorial Nature Preserve, 5665 Reynolds Rd., in Morrow.
"Every beekeeper's different," Bonnell said. "Some people visit their bees, check them every 10 days. I don't, I just let nature take its course. To me, you need to leave them alone and let them be bees, but I could be wrong. Every beekeeper's different. It's just a fun hobby and a rewarding hobby."
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