The first swarm of bees in 2010

There are all sorts of jobs related to keeping bees.  I need to check for a robust queen, I need to check to make sure they have enough open comb, I need to treat them for mites and the honey flow needs managed.  Some of these jobs are pretty fun but many of them are extremely hot and tiring…and sticky.

Every spring, though, I seem to get a chance to do my absolute favorite beekeeping job of all…I get to catch swarms of bees.  Most years I do splits and other manipulations so my bees don’t swarm.  Usually the 911 center calls me to report a swarm of bees in someone’s tree or by their house.  I love going to get swarms of bees, especially when the swarm is from someone else’s hive.

Swarming, you see, is the bees’ way of growing.  When a colony gets too packed into its existing digs, it forces another queen to be created and, when the new queen is nearly ready, the old queen and half (or so) of the overcrowded bees head for the hills…or the nearest tree branch.  Once they make it to the branch, the queen hides in the middle of the swarm and scout bees go out looking for a new place to live.  Back before the days of varroa mites, these bees usually ended up in a tree out in the woods.  That still happens today, but they don’t live for more than a year or two.  So, back to why I like to catch other people’s swarms – when the bees came from my hives, I end up with two half-strength colonies instead of one really strong one.  In one way, it is cool because I get two hives that will grow into good colonies and may make some honey this year.  The bad thing is, if I had one strong colony, it would make honey this year.  Oh well, it can’t be helped!

Anyhow, when the bees are in waiting for scouts to find a new home, they are pretty vulnerable.  Each bee filled up on honey before it left, but that’s all the food they have to go on until they get to a new location.  They are completely exposed to animals and humans and weather and cold.  Being in a swarm is a dangerous proposition for a bee.

So, next door to one of the locations where I keep bees, the homeowners saw the swarm take off out of the hive and end up in one of their trees.  They knew it was mine so they called and I rushed to see if I could catch them.  There is no real trick to catching a swarm of bees (but please don’t try unless you know what you are doing).  All one has to do is get the swarm into a container along with the queen.  If the queen makes it into the container, the swarm will stay and claim the new location as their home.

Click for video

(try this link if the one above doesn’t work on your computer)

So, I got to the swarm location and saw the largest swarm I had ever caught hanging about shoulder-high in a tree…in the middle of a bunch of poison ivy…which I now have on my leg.  I carried my empty hive box to the location and cut the branch with the bees.  I shook them into the box…mostly.  A bunch of bees (since it was such a huge group) fell onto the ground in front of the colony.  Typically the bees will “sense” that a good hive is near and they will march into it.  I have no idea whether the queen walked in herself or if I got her into the box on the initial shake.  Either way, she ended up in the colony and all of the remaining bees followed her inside!

Click for video

(try this link if the one above doesn’t work on your computer)

Bees in a swarm are pretty docile (but don’t mess with them unless you know what you are doing…they still have stingers) and fun to be around.  It’s like pure energy…it’s just amazing to me.  The buzz that they  generate is incredible and it’s just a sight to behold.  I cannot begin to really explain how cool and exciting it is to see and catch a swarm of bees.  It is my absolute favorite part of beekeeping though!  I love this time of year!

More swarms…

11 thoughts on “The first swarm of bees in 2010

  1. Warren, do you have empty hives ready every year, for when this happens?
    I know each hive only has one queen—-did the hive that these bees swarmed from already make a new queen or are they in the process right now (I read it takes 16 days to make a queen)?
    .-= Ceecee´s last blog ..Bluebird Battles =-.

  2. Warren,

    Sorry to thread-jack but have you had any experience with beekeeping using top bar hives? I’m trying to convince my wife that what our backyard really needs is a bee hive and a t.b. hive seems less “bee-keepy” than a normal hive. Plus we live in the city and a normal hive will not cut it with the neighbors or the city commision/zoning officials. (I know they aren’t as efficient, etc, but we’re not looking to make any money, just have a fun hobby that doesn’t require a ton of equipment.)

  3. Robert – I have never tried TBH. I have read on them some and considered it but they take more horizontal space and seemed like more work to me. I like the idea though and would love to try it sometime.

    As far as zoning stuff, it might be worth a check to see if you can get it changed…a lot of places are now allowing bees as people hear more and more about their plight. I too live in the city and have had pretty good luck with my hives here but, of course, it varies depending on your city and your neighbors…

    As far as equipment, don’t let anyone fool you…you don’t need half the stuff that people say you need to keep bees, however you decide to do it. I started super frugally and made out pretty well. Look at my other site – for some info on my trashcan extractor, etc

  4. Warren,

    Thanks for the advice. My city likes to pride itself on being “green” in theory but as soon as you start mentioning things like a chicken or beehive in the backyard people get nervous. But you never know until you try!

    What I like about a top bar hive is that it seems super easy to construct yourself and the harvesting of honey is as simple as mashing up a comb and filtering out the beeswax.

    One last question, if you don’t mind. My wife and kids aren’t very big fans of any stinging insects. If we did put a hive in our backyard (which is fairly small, our property is only about 100’x140′), do you find yourself constantly bumping into bees? Or do they mostly stay close to the hive/out looking for nectar?

  5. Here is Seattle swarm season came early. Last year it was mid-May, but even with the weather precarious–many rainy days ahead–they still decided to go for it. I caught one that rivals yours, but I think yours wins. I also caught three smaller ones, which seems to be the case for the successfully wintered colonies. I was going to practice splitting hives next month, but it seems I’m too late!

  6. Robert – TB hives are easy to build…because however you build them is the right way. Since they build their own comb, it doesn’t matter what dimensions you use. You are right, the honey harvest is easy also. The only downfall (in my opinion) of harvesting like that is that it does require that the bees eat honey to build more wax. I guess in a way it might be good though…no pesticides will build up in that wax. If you can do it, I would love to hear your experiences with a TBH.

    Our property is about the size of yours and I have 4 hives on it. We play and otherwise use our yard with no problems. The kids have each only been stung one time and that was because they stepped on flowers with bees on them. When I was a kid, I got stung a lot more often and we didn’t even have hives then! Anyhow, it is not a guarantee of course, because they are stinging insects and they differ colony to colony, but in my experience, it is pretty much a non-issue. They typically take off out of the hive and fly upwards and away. You’l need to keep a 6 or so foot area in front of the hives open (if possible) so they have a clear entrance and exit. It’s funny but they somehow home in on the surroundings and often must not pay a lot of attention when coming in. Many times I have stood in front of the entrance. I will watch a bee from 15 or so feet away fly straight into me as if it never saw me.

    I love to sit 6 inches from the entrance and smell the beehive (it’s very fragrant) and listen to their hum. I don’t think I have ever been stung while doing that. I def get stung but it is always when I am inside their hive monkeying around – and one can understand their behavior then.

    Well, I can go on and on…bees are not without risk but in my experience, the problems have been minimal…

  7. Mr G Beekeeper – Is there anything better about keeping bees than catching a swarm? Not for me! I typically split my big hives as soon as I can in the spring so their tendency to swarm is managed. Neighbors sometimes don’t understand. Anyhow, from a management standpoint, it is a better way to go than to just let them swarm…though it is not nearly as fun!

    Good luck with your colonies!

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