Even during pandemic beekeeping remains an essential service

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A bee rests on a yellow sign that reads "Bees on Board" on beekeeper Sean Kennedy's truck as he helps capture a swarm of honey bees and relocate them to a bee hive, Friday, May 1, 2020, in Washington. The District of Columbia has declared beekeepers as essential workers during the coronavirus outbreak. If the swarm isnt collected by a beekeeper, the new hive can come to settle in residential backyards, attics, crawlspaces, or other potentially ruinous areas, creating a stinging, scary nuisance. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

WASHINGTON – “Excuse me, can I ask what you’re doing here?” a resident in a southeast Washington neighborhood asks as Sean Kennedy and Erin Gleeson get out of their truck and scour the streets.

The sign on their back windshield, “Bees Onboard,” gives them away.

Kennedy, 58, and Gleeson, 36, are beekeepers. They and their colleagues have been deemed essential workers by the District of Columbia government in the middle of a pandemic.

On this day April, the pair is responding to a phone call about a swarm of honeybees. At first glance it appears as if it might be a bad tip. Kennedy looks down a fence line while Gleeson walks across the street and past a few houses.

“Let’s check the alley,” Kennedy says, and quickly they’re back in their truck. The truck moves slowly as they scan fences, trees, and rooflines — all places where bee swarms might stop.

As they reach the end of the alley, they find what they were looking for: a dark mass about 2 feet long that most casual observers would walk by without noticing. Upon closer inspection, this brown mass moves with quiet activity, thousands of bees huddling with no nest to protect them.

Within two hours, this cluster of bees will be collected, driven across town and given a new home on some of the most desirable real estate in the city.

If a hive is thriving and becomes too large for its own space, the queen will take half the hive and set off to find a new location to start a new hive. If this swarm isn’t collected up by a beekeeper, the new hive can settle into backyards, attics, crawlspaces, office buildings, or high traffic public spaces, creating a nuisance that can alarm some people.