Rescue on Battle Ground’s Main Street

Local beekeeper highlights joys of saving and keeping honey bees


After harsh rains, local beekeeper Bob Neal rescued a swarm of honey bees on their “last legs” on Battle Ground’s Main Street on Monday, May 6.

Neal said bee swarm season runs from now through June. People who come across swarms in jeopardy or located in areas that could be dangerous to people or the bees can report them to the Clark County Beekeepers Association at 360-573-8330 or 360-518-0787. A beekeeper like Neal will then be dispatched to the location to collect the swarm and relocate them to a safe hive.

“They’re doing great. I got them home and put them in the box,” Neal said of the swarm he rescued last week. “They weren’t too active the first day, but today it’s nice out and they’re just busy, busy, busy. I’m assuming I have the queen. I won’t open them up for probably another 10 days or so because sometimes with a new group, if they haven’t really settled into the box, you open up too much and they’ll take off.”

Beekeeping became a new hobby for Neal because of an unproductive cherry tree.

“Well, I started out, I had a cherry tree that I wouldn’t get any cherries, and I figured maybe some bees would be great for a pollinator to help me get some cherries in,” Neal said.

He bought a box and frames along with some other necessary beekeeping items to launch his new hobby. After his new bees stung a few times, they began to trust him after a couple of days, so he moved the queen into a bee box, and the bees and the tree flourished.

Neal is now nearing 40 years of beekeeping at his Clark County property. He has encountered some challenges during his journey, however.

“It was really easy for the first 10 years or so, and then something called the Varroa mite came in,” Neal said. “My bee population was doubling each year basically due to swarming, and I had like 10 hives, and the Varroa mites came through this part of the world, and I went from 10 to zero in about two years. It was really hard on all the native bees, too.”

To replenish his community of productive bees and to save himself the expense of buying new pollinators, Neal began rescuing swarms.

Some years, Neal will make two or three rescues, but he said, since retiring in 2013, he averages roughly 15 calls for his service.

After rescuing a swarm, if two or three weeks pass and Neal doesn’t see new eggs, he will add a new brood of larvae for the bee colony to protect and raise with their own queen.

“If you have a new swarm, what you can do is put in a frame of brood — baby bees, the larva stage and the eggs — in with the swarm, and they’re much less likely to leave that way,” Neal said. “Because, ‘Hey, we’ve got baby bees here we have to protect. We don’t want to go some place else where there’s no baby bees,’ that kind of situation.”

When taking care of a hive, sometimes he will split them into two separate bee boxes. When doing that, Neal said he makes sure there’s eggs in both boxes and a queen in one of the two. A bee colony will crown its own queen with the larvae they raise, he said.

Neal stressed the importance of people who come across a swarm to call a beekeeper or the Clark County Beekeepers Association right away. To learn more about the Clark County Beekeepers Association, visit, or find it on Facebook under the association’s name.