One of the greatest joys of beekeeping is collecting a swarm. It’s been a few seasons since I’ve collected a swarm for my own beeyard. I’ve helped others collect swarms the past couple summers but had not had the opportunity to collect one for myself. Thus I was pretty excited last night when we got a call about an hour or so before dark, from a friend of ours who passed along the location of swarm not too far from where we live. The swarm was in the front yard of a friend’s of theirs. My wife and I grabbed our gear and headed right on over. We were greeted by the neighbors and proceeded to get our gear on so we could collect the bees.
As you can see from the pictures the swarm was located inside a small evergreen tree. It was kinda tight getting in to reach them and we didn’t want to cut any branches from the tree. The neighbors asked how we would get them out of there. Normally I would have cut the branch off and then smacked it so the ball of bees fell into my nuc box, but I’m not sure that would have worked this time. The bees were balled up around a number of smaller branches, so while my wife held the box underneath the ball of bees I shook the limbs above it, dropping the bees into the box. Then I took my brush and swept more of the bees from the tree into the box.
We set the box in the driveway and began to watch for the bees to fan. If you have caught the queen the workers will sit atop the box and in front of the entrance with their little butts up in the air fanning away to spread the queens pheromone. This way the other bees know where the queen is at and will come a running, or flying as the case may bee. It wasn’t long before we had a number of bees fanning away and I was pretty sure we had the queen at that point. Still, there were a number of bees still balling up in the tree. I made three more trips back to the tree to brush out more bees into the lid of the nuc so I could drop them in with the rest of the bees, thereby collecting as many as I could.
With the bees all up in the air after stirring them up and one neighbor allergic to bee stings, everyone had gone inside except for the one neighbor you see in shorts in the picture. He was very curious and we had a delightful conversation about bees, their life cycle and about collecting them. While the bees found their way into the box with the queen, my wife and I answered his questions. Then so he could see the fanny bees we had been describing to him my wife gave him her bee suit so he could have a close up look and I pointed out the fanning bees we had been talking about.
I enjoyed our conversation with this person very much. One of the rewards of beekeeping is sharing with people how different honeybees are from other bees – such as yellowjackets and wasps. Not all bees are the same and as you can tell from the picture he found them to be quite docile which they almost always are unless you are near or getting into their hive. Most swarms are especially easy to handle because they have no home to defend and are mostly just interested in staying with the queen.
We left the box for about an hour and after dark I returned in my pickup to collect them. When I got home I place the box out in the beeyard and early this morning I hived them into a new hive that hopefully will become a nice new addition to my growing number of hives.
Now a short lesson. Why does a beehive swarm and where did these bees come from? Swarming is the bees way of making a new hive. When their hive is getting full they raise up a new queen and then the old queen departs with at least half the of the bees in the hive. This gives the bees much needed room inside the hive. A new queen is a very productive layer and will rapidly raise up a number of bees to replace the ones that left. Swarming is natures way of making new beehives but if you are keeping bees for honey production swarming is not something you want to see. The loss of all those bees from the hive means you have probably lost your honey production for the season, so most beekeepers will split strong hives early in the season to keep then from swarming. Splitting a hive is kind of like an artificial swarm but you keep your bees that way and get a new hive out of it too.
Where did this swarm come from? With the dry canyon and lots of juniper trees nearby, its possible this is a native swarm from a wild beehive. I also know of a couple beekeepers that are not far from where we found the swarm and its also possible it came from one of their hives.
This is the time of year hives swarm. A hive that came through the winter strong and healthy will be producing huge numbers of bees by now. I thank my friends who called to let me know about this swarm and if we are lucky we may be able to catch another one before the swarm season is over.