When I went to bed on Sunday night, I figured Monday would be just like any other Monday...and that's really busy. And I wasn't disappointed in the least. But I got a great surprise around 9 o'clock Monday morning. That's when one of the guys that works in my office called the house to say that a public school in the county had a swarm of honey bees on a picnic table and wanted them gone and would I be interested in getting them. The answer was a resounding YES!
I called the Rockingham County High School which is 8-miles from my house and in the county seat of Wentworth. The school's secretary told me they did in-fact have a swarm on the school grounds. She told me they were under a picnic table and they would like to give them away to a good home. She said one of the teachers heard me talk on my television show about being a beekeeper, so they immediately thought of me and wanted me to come get them. I told her it would take me a few minutes to get there, so I ran and loaded up an empty hive and a spray bottle of syrup and my veil and headed to the school. When I got there about a half hour later, I was met by a friend who is the school resource officer (a deputy sheriff assigned to guard the school). Jeff Strader, the deputy and one of my former co-workers at the Rockingham County Sheriff's Office, guided me to a courtyard just outside of the school cafeteria. And there they were...a big, golden blob of honeybees.
The colony had landed under the end of a picnic table. A teacher told me that they weren't there on Friday afternoon, so its obvious they found their new digs sometime over the weekend. They were very docile, there wasn't any flying around, they were tightly clumped and very still. I got very close to check them out and they never flinched with my bare face just inches from them. So I decided to put on my coveralls and veil and go to work to get them in the hive.
Here's a closer look at the wayward colony. As you can see, the cluster is a little smaller than a basketball. They were in a perfect spot, under the edge of the table at the end...a great place to put the empty hive. So I sprayed the colony really well with sugar syrup, then I picked up the edge of the table and let it drop. The cluster plopped right into the empty hive. By this time, one of the classes stopped what they were doing to come out and watch. Ron Wheeler's automotive technology class watched intently while I collected the stray colony. The students were quiet as church mice until I dropped the table -- then all you heard was "ohhhhhs" and "ahhhhhs" from the future auto mechanics. I felt a little uncomfortable at first, not for their safety but because I was catching my first swarm and now I had an audience watching my every move. But they were super and quiet and asked some really great questions later. They were a great audience.
Here you see the bees as they were dropped into the hive. Once they fell, most stayed inside and some perched on the top of the frames and went to work fanning their pheremones into the air. And for the first time in two years of beekeeping, I got stung. It was my own fault, I squashed a bee with my bare hand that I didn't see. She was on my leg and when I put my hand over her, she got me on the edge of my hand. I scraped the stinger out with my hive tool. I also carry sting swabs in my tool box so I put one on the sting spot and it didn't hurt anymore. Those sting swabs are great.
I waited about 45 minutes for the stragglers to find their way back and then I put the top on the hive. Once I noticed some coming and going from the entrance, and since it was getting close to lunchtime when more students would be around, I decided to stuff my glove in the entrance, load my girls in the truck, and head for home. There were few bees still lingering around the table when I left, but to make sure no one would get stung, I helped Jeff put yellow caution tape around the picnic area to keep the kids out for the rest of the day.
I've read hundreds of accounts of catching swarms, and watched countless YouTube videos too. So feeling pretty confident that I did everything right, I got the bees to my house and put them in their place of honor next to my other bustling colony in the "lemon" hive. I put an entrance reducer on the front and then made some sugar syrup and put a hive top feeder on. I pictured them getting started on drawing comb and living like - well - queens. End of story. Right?
WRONG! After an hour of watching the occasional bee come and go -- all of a sudden, one bee, then tens of bees, then hundreds of bees and then thousainds of bees came boiling out of the hive. No, this wasn't an orientation flight buzz of bees...this was a swarm of bees. My honey bees, my very first swarm catch, the colony I had every intention of turning into a thriving metropolis...had other ideas and decided to hit the road yet again. And all I could do is stand by helplessly and watch them take to the sky. Honestly it broke my heart to watch them leave and to know that my hard work was pretty much all for nothing.
Just across the creek from my hive is where they landed. They were up about 20-feet off the ground and landed on the side of a pine tree entangled with vines and poison sumac. I watched them perched there for about a half-hour, then I went inside and made a few phone calls, and when I returned to check on them, they were gone. I saw a few bees flying around the spot where they landed, but for the most part, the colony had disappeared. I'm not sure if this pine tree has a hollow spot in it, and for all I know they could be deep inside it, but I don't think so. I just hope they like their new place...wherever that may be.
If I get another call tomorrow to come get an escaped colony of bees, I will do it in a heartbeat. Am I disappointed? Of course I'm disappointed, but I look at it as a two way learning experience. I learned how to catch a swarm, and the students at Rockingham County High School learned that saving the honeybees is extremely important. A school is a place of learning, and besides teaching the young people valuable lessons, I learned one on Monday too. It was an experience I wouldn't take anything for even though it didn't work out like I hoped.
On to other news, next week I'm getting another queen from Busy Bee Apiary...and I'm planning to split my current colony. I'm just hoping and I've got my fingers crossed that I'll have better luck with my split than I had with the swarm from the high school.
Thanks to the staff at Rockingham County High School for thinking of me when they found the swarm, and if another colony drops in anytime soon, please keep me in mind. My motto is; Have hive, will travel!