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A weekend of swarms!

We were all out at the deluxe deer stand working on drywall last weekend when a few of the neighbors came by on atvs.  One neighbor asked if I was busy  and if not, whether I could help him with something.  It was clear it was something urgent so I jumped on the back of his atv.  He drove me over to his brother-in-law’s place…another neighbor, to see a huge swarm of bees!

A huge swarm of bees!
A huge swarm of bees!

Dang it!  It was a huge swarm, undoubtedly out of one of my hives.  A number of people asked me why bees swarm and why I was mad they were my bees.  Bees swarm usually when their hive location becomes unsuitable…usually when they run out of room.  In those cases, the worker bees prepare a number of new queens by feeding royal jelly to fertilized larvae.  When the time comes, the old queen and half (or so) of the original bees strike out on their own to find a new place.  That is how bees naturally propagate and it is not unusual.  I don’t like when my bees swarm, however, because that leaves me with two colonies, neither of which is probably big enough to make much honey.  I like having more colonies, but I prefer when they make me honey too.

My hand in a huge swarm of bees!
My hand in a huge swarm of bees! Look Ma…no gloves!

I usually try to intervene before the bees decide to swarm.  I usually make a split…basically, I take a number of bees out and sort of make my own controlled swarm.  By controlling the size and the timing, I can usually prevent swarming and end up with plenty of honey.

Some of the swarm on my hands
Some of the ladies held on…

So, the neighbors called around and a bunch of folks gathered to see me hive this colony that was 7 or so feet up in a tree…that’s a perfect height.  I showed off some of course.  I stuck my hand up into the swarm.  I got super close and took pics.  I sang the song of the bee people…well, not that part.  Anyhow, I brought my new hive box in and shook the bees into the new box…easy-peasy…except not.

Swarm in the hive box
Swarm in the hive box

The next day, the bees had decided the new box was not acceptable.  This time, they decided to swarm again about 20 feet up in the same tree.  I didn’t have much of a way to get them up that high so I did what any young (?) strapping(?) American (check) boy (check) would do…I tied a rope around a hammer and threw the hammer up in the tree so I could use the rope to shake the swarm out.  That worked well and I re-hived this swarm again.  We’ll see what happens.  It occurs to me as I ponder the process, that throwing a hammer over my head into a tree might not have been all that smart, so don’t try that at home.  Still, it worked and hopefully I still have my bees!

Swarm video
Click for a video of the swarm in progress…with audio!

Well, this is long enough…I have more swarm stories to tell so I will put them off until Part II