Tag Archives: Swarms

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

First swarm of the season

We had just finished Easter lunupper (brunch sounds so nice…what do you call it between lunch and supper? Lunupper?).  We rolled into the house and had a message.  The caller reported a swarm of bees near a popular chain restaurant attached to the big mall in the city.  The swarm was at the top of a cedar tree and was “the biggest swarm ever seen” by the manager of the restaurant.  I was pretty skeptical about the size as most people have never seen a swarm of bees so big could mean anything.  Still, I decided to roll down with Abigail and my father-in-law to find out.

As soon as we pulled in, a crowd gathered and watched us do our normal routine of surveying the swarm.  It wasn’t the biggest swarm I had ever seen but the manager had picked out the fact that it was a big swarm.  It was in the very top of a cedar tree.  Cedar trees are sort of flimsy at the top.  Unlike an oak or maple, the cedar doesn’t really have big branches against which one can lean a ladder.  It has been my foolish tendency to just go for it when it comes to swarms.  I just threw the ladder up against the green of the tree and climbed my way up.  I always carry loppers (is that a local term or what they are called?  Long handled tree pruners, anyhow) to cut branches.  The funny thing is that when you cut a swarm out of a tree, you need to hold onto the branch with the bees on it.  Of course, it also takes two hands to run the loppers.  I learned the first time I did this that I can hold onto the swarm with one hand and brace one handle of the pruners against my neck.  I use my other hand to close the loppers and cut the branch.  Now let me tell you, doing that leaning into the greenery at the top of this flimsy tree with a swarm of bees was interesting!

marching into the hive...

So the crowd continued to watch as the three of us did our thing.  We transferred the bees from the branch to the hive I brought along.  I gave the branch a good shake and the bees mostly fell into the box, but some fell onto the sheet I had under the box (another lesson I learned…put down a sheet first.  It looks more impressive and help me keep better track of the bees as they walk into the hive).  In a few minutes, it was clear I had the queen as the bees on the sheet and from the tree ended up working their way right into the hive.  We packaged up the hive and hauled it off in the van (much to the dismay/excitement of our audience).  I really like the “performer” part of catching swarms.  Hauling bees in the van is sort of the grand finale!

safe as can be!

Two things sort of struck me about this capture.  First, people were amazed that I let Abigail be so close to the swarm.  She was a great helper and loved every second.  The funny thing is, she had on a full bee suit so was at lower risk than the people around us who were concerned for her safety.  Silly people!  On the way home, she asked me over and over, “Why were those people looking at us?”  I explained that people were surprised at a kid working with bees, and even more so a girl kid working with bees.  I told her they were probably seeing a swarm of bees for the first time ever, and so on.  She talked about it all night long.  I think she was sort of proud more than anything.  I am still smiling about it…


The second striking thing was a man who walked up as we were doing our thing.  It was clear he was drunk.  He walked right up to us and began to talk to us far closer to the bees than I really liked but he was so curious about the whole deal.  He ended up sitting right beside our area and asked all sorts of questions.  He asked about the queen and I said she was bigger than the rest.  He said, “Bees have three parts, right?  The abdomen, thorax and head, right?”  He must have sensed my surprise because, with a smile on his face, he added, “I may be homeless but I’m not stupid.”  “No sir, you are not.”  That brief conversation really turned my prejudice on its head.  I shook his hand (which I think surprised him) and we parted ways.  I think we both ended up with a pretty cool story to tell, though they are undoubtedly quite different.

Anyhow, I had a really great time catching this swarm.  The audience was fun, having my family along was great, and the homeless man was sort of good to remind me to listen to people before deciding that I know their circumstances.  Bees always teach me something…

Here are some more of my bee adventures and here are pictures of many of the swarms I have captured.

The buzz around Charleston

Charleston is such a nice city.  For the most part, it is pretty laid back and a decent place to live.  But just yesterday, there was a something going on down by Women’s and Children’s Hospital at the Martin Marietta gravel yard.  Folks who were in the area said they heard a buzz, and then the sky was darkened by flying creatures that (they later found out) were scouting for a new home.  Eventually, the creatures found their mark…a swarm of bees landed on the stop light for the truck scales at the gravel yard…and that my friends, is why bees will never rule the world.

I am thankful that the yard guys (and gal) called WV DNR who called me.  I was able to run over at lunch yesterday and catch this excellent swarm.  They were pretty gentle and appeared to be healthy and vigorous.  After work (and hours after their capture so they had time to calm down), I was able to find a good looking queen so they should be a good colony.

Anyhow, I showed up to get these bees in my work clothes…you know, dress shoes, nice pants, etc.  I think I mentioned that the swarm was in a gravel yard, right?  It had rained the night before so it was a muddy mess (as was I).  Anyhow, the foreman brought me a ladder and stopped traffic on the scales and I was able to scoop the swarm into a cardboard box using a dust pan (yes, I have learned these tricks the hard way).  When on a ladder, it is best to have something light into which the bees can be placed for the trip down the ladder.  Old paper boxes work perfectly!  Anyhow, I scooped the majority of the bees into the box and carried it down the ladder where I dumped them into the hive I had waiting.  I waited about 10 minutes and the ones I missed smelled the queen in the hive and followed after her.  It’s just how swarm catching is supposed to go!

I love catching swarms.  I think my favorite part is the crowd that invariably gathers to “watch the crazy bee man on a ladder”.  The really cool part is when I (didn’t) load the hive into my van to drive them home.  The guys thought (not really, because I didn’t really do it) I was doubly crazy!  Anyhow, the folks at the gravel yard were really helpful and had lots of questions so this was, in all ways, a great swarm to catch!

More swarms…