Tuesday, April 22, 2014

S is for Swarm

I mentioned before that the hive we call Big Brown started out as a captured swarm. In this post, I'll share how we caught that swarm.

A very nice lady who lives about 10 miles away called our beekeeping association on April 29, 2012. She had a swarm that about 20-30 feet up in the air and hoped someone could remove it. Her neighbor used to keep bees, but had lost his hive. He had left the equipment in his yard, and Nancy had noticed that a new hive had taken up residence that spring. Then she saw the hive swarm in the morning of April 29, and the cloud of bees perched in her tree. She knew that local beekeepers caught swarms, so she called our club.

The club put out a text message to the swarm call list, and I responded. Eric and I drove to her house in the late afternoon with our bee gear, a cat litter bucket to shake the bees into, and closed box to transport the swarm back home.

Once we got there, we realized the swarm was too far up for us to just shake into a bucket. It took a little time to come up with a plan. After a trip to Home Depot to buy another bucket, a paint roller (which gave us a large hook), and a telescoping handle to put the roller onto. It was quite the McGivver operation, but it worked!

Nancy took pictures of the effort. It was quite a challenge to get the swarm, but we managed to capture most of it and put it into the box. We left the box there overnight to let the rest of the swarm find their way inside, and the next day, we taped up the whole works, drove it home, and installed the hive into the brown boxes where they have lived ever since.

Eric is setting up the ladder as I get the bucket and pole together.
This gives some perspective on how high the swarm WAS.

Eric is standing near the top of that large ladder, and using a tree saw to cut the branch beneath the swarm.
I'm on the ground, moving the bucket underneath to catch the swarm as it falls.

The majority of the swarm landed right in the bucket! You can see it as a dark shadow.
We lowered the bucket and temporarily put a lid over it.
Then we used the cat litter bucket to get the rest of the swarm as bees returned to the cut branch. 

After we caught the swarm, we put shook the buckets into this swarm trap and shut it the top. The boxes had frames with drawn combs and some with foundation.
We hoped this would convince the swarm to stay put until we could move them. 

We weren't able to shake all of the bees into the box,
so we put the buckets near it, pointing toward the opening at the bottom.

We noticed the box had a little extra room that the bees were using as a second entrance.
But the bees there were also fanning, which is the bee signal for "come here!"
Bees who had been out scouting for new hive space were coming back and were joining the others.

We left all of the equipment overnight at Nancy's. When we came back the next evening, it was clear the bees had stayed put.  We taped up the box, covering the entrance and the "secondary" entrance at the top, loaded the whole works into the car, and drove it home.
These bees have really thrived. They are hardy and have now survived two winters with us. Additionally, they boom in population and really pull in quite a bit of nectar. Last spring, they were so prolific, we had to split the hive once to keep it from swarming, which resulted in Little Brown. I suspect that we will have to split it again this year.

The moral of this post is: If you ever see a ball of bees hanging out in a tree or a bush, especially in the spring to early summer, don't try to kill it! It's probably a swarm looking for a new home, and it will be gone within 24 hours. If you want to help it along, call your local beekeepers and someone (like us) will come out to get it and take it to a lovely new hive box.


  1. Thank you for the interesting information on bee-keeping. When I was a child, our next door neighbor kept bees. Unfortunately, he never warned his neighbors when he was going to be gathering the honey, so if we were outside, we got stung. His wife was a piece of work too. I remember her calling me a little slut because I was running around outside without a shirt. I was six years old!
    Visiting for the A to Z challenge.

  2. I'm not fond of bees and they scare me but your post was most informative and extremely interesting.

    Dropping by from A to Z
    Suzy at Someday Somewhere