Tag Archives: Swarm

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.

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(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!

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(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…