Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Warm Spring Days Bring Swarms: On Capturing a Honeybee Swarm

The Swarm!

April marked my one year anniversary as a beekeeper. It was a rough first year, to be sure. But I did have some success. My hive survived the winter, and that is a huge success of its own. So many friends lost hives this year.

It has been quite the year of learning the ropes but, yesterday something happened that made me feel as though I crossed over to new level of beekeeping. I caught a swarm.

Let me backtrack just a little: Last Thursday I checked my hive for swarm cells. I had hoped to see some; I was waiting to get a few swarm cells before I split out a nucleus colony, or nuc as the experienced folks call it. No such luck. It was looking a little tight in the boxes, but no swarm cells.

On Monday I decided to look again. I'm impatient, something I've mentioned before. In just a few days time the girls had created a handful of swarm cells. Yeah!

I ran up to the garage and grabbed my nuc box and some empty frames. Juggling this extra equipment I hustled back down to the hive and carefully placed everything out on the ground. Don't like my equipment in a bunch...nice orderly rows of boxes, frames, and tools for me!

By this time I needed to take a break. Storm clouds were looming, the humidity was oppressive. It was our first sweltering day of the, humid, no breeze. I could no longer see for the sweat blurring my vision.

After a short breather, I donned my suit, lit up the smoker and got to work. I'll write about the process of splitting out the nuc another time. I've not yet gotten to the whole reason for this post....the swarm.

As I was finishing up, the Boy pulled up on the lawn tractor, which was making a weird noise. Upon inspection I found the problem and looked up to tell him what tools I needed to make the fix. And there, just a few feet behind him I spied a glorious, humming, thriving swarm ensconced on an Autumn Olive that I had failed to pull out over the winter. (Invasive species, but the bees love it.)

Oh glory! I started screaming and jumping up and down with joy! Had any neighbors been home I'm sure they would have thought I was nuts. Well, I think they do anyway, but I'm sure I looked the part that afternoon.

My first swarm...and in my own yard! Hallelujah! And only 3 feet off the ground. It seemed a gift from the Divine! Placed within reach just for me!

I broke into action, heat be darned. Rubbermaid box and lid, check. Bee brush, check. Quick set up of a new hive, check. Extra bee suit for the Boy, check.  And cameras, check, check, check. Seriously, this had to be documented, which was the Boy's job in all of this.

Evaluating the best placement for catching the swarm.

I approached the swarm, trying to decide the best angle for the catchment box. Knowing I needed to get that queen along with all the bees was a bit intimidating. After studying the swarm for oh, 30 seconds, I grasped the top of the sapling, bent it over the box, and gave it a whack. Splat! a billion bees in a box! I shut the lid and walked the whole 10 feet to the new hive box and dumped them in. Shut the lid; walked away. 

Bending the sapling

The whack!

Recongregating bees. Whack, wait, repeat.

Ten minutes later a few hundred bees had regathered on the sapling, so I repeated the process. This time the flying sisters congregated on the front of the hive box. Yes! Yes! Yes!

After all was done, I contacted my mentor to see if I had done right. So maybe that was a bit backwards but I was Excited! (Yes, with a capital E). He assured me I had and gave me a few cues to look for to determine success. Were the bees gathering in the entrance? Were they going back to the tree? Yes. No. It was looking good.

Later that evening they were still there, buzzing in and out. I put in a frame of honey from another box...minus worker bees. I debated on putting another box on, it was a pretty big swarm. But I didn't want to disturb them too much. I wish I had. 

The next morning they were still there. Whoo hoo! It really was tight in there....every frame covered by bees. So, I promised them I'd have a new box for them that evening.

Sadly, when I returned home from taking the Boy to Latin and picking up new equipment, the colony was gone. But I still felt elated. I had caught the swarm! All on my own! I think the space I gave them was just too small. But I am ready for the next time, please let there be a next time!