Monday, May 23, 2011

Got my first (and only) swarm this year thanks to a Virginia family!

So far this has been a slow year for me getting calls about honeybee swarms.  Although I've talked about the swarm season on my television shows, and even advertised my website through Facebook, I've only had a few nibbles.  And most of those were from people who had bees in precarious places like the walls of their houses or chimneys.  Last year I had all sorts of swarm sightings reported to me, but this year, it has been a little slow.  I was beginning to think the bees had let the swarm season least in my case anyway.   

That all changed this past Wednesday, May 18th.  I received a text message and phone call from a coworker, Bruce Hedrick, who said that a lady called our office in Danville, Virginia, and said a swarm of bees landed at her house.  I called her and spoke with a very nice lady named Barbara who said that the bees were on a stake in her yard and close to the ground.  She told me the bees must have landed there Tuesday or earlier that morning and they were still there.  When she told me that the bees were close to the ground, I became concerned that they may not be honey bees at all and could be yellow jackets instead.  To help me decide the identity, honey bees versus yellow jackets, Barbara said that her daughter could send me a picture with her cell phone.  So and after a few minutes, I got the picture and sure enough they were honey bees.  So Barbara and I talked again and I told her I would be on the way to her house.  So I packed up my overalls, a spray bottle of 1:1 sugar syrup, and a cardboard "nuc" and then I headed north to Danville.

When I got there after the 24 mile trip, sure enough the bees were waiting for me at the edge of the yard.  They were so gentle that I stood really close to them and they didn't even budge.  I met with Barbara who told me that recently her family noticed that honey bees were drinking from the birdbath in her front yard, so that led me to believe that the colony was fairly close before they swarmed.  And with Wednesday being the first really sunny day without rain in about a week, the bees knew it was time to hit the road.  So I suited up, soaked the bees with the sugar syrup, then I gently pulled the stake out of the ground.  All I had to do at that point was gently shake the bees off the stake and they plopped right into the nuc.  It was a very easy job!

Some of the bees that were on the ground near the bottom of the stake were still in the grass. But once the bees in the nuc got their bearings after being plopped in the box, it didn't take long for them to come out of the hole and start fanning their scent into the air.  Of course that attracted their sisters to come inside, and that's when a mini parade began towards the entrance.  I stayed for a little while to make sure everything was okay and secure the box, then I told Barbara I would come by around nightfall and collect the nuc while all of the bees were inside.

So once it started to get dark, I went back to Virginia to get the bees.  Once I arrived and suited up, I slowly opened the top of the nuc and found a box full of honey bees.  After one last stray bee made her way inside, I put the plastic cap on the entrance and taped the top on the box to make sure the lid wouldn't come off while I'm traveling back home.  The bees were lively inside the temporary hive, and as soon as I picked it up -- they started making the steady hum of an active colony.  

After I loaded the bees in the truck, I stayed for a few minutes and talked to Barbara and her husband and daughter.  In the front of me is the bird bath that Barbara told me acted as the watering source for the bees.  Apparently the bees would fly to the bird bath and sit on the edge and drink the water that would collect there.  Knowing that bees will usually go to the closest water source, that's what led me to believe that the colony was housed somewhere close by.

Meet the Hairston family.  That's Jacob, Barbara in the middle, and Kimberly, their daughter.  Barbara told me that they knew I kept bees because they've heard me talking about it on my television shows.  And I also found out that Kimberly found my blog and website so she did some reading up on beekeeping and swarms.  The Hairstons are extremely nice people who decided to help save the honey bees by calling a beekeeper.  And I just happened to be the lucky beekeeper who got the call to go to their house.  It was a pleasure meeting them and I hope to see them again soon.  Thanks again for helping the bees, and thanks to Kim for the pictures of me picking up the bees!

I got the bees home and kept them in my storage building overnight.  Then on Thursday morning, I hived them.  More on that (complete with pictures) in my next post.  But so far, so good.  


  1. Great story! Nice to find people concerned about bees.

    I've got my name on some swarm call lists for my town, but so far nothing. I'd sure luv me some free bees!

    -- Steven

  2. I love catching swarms but it is a gamble if they will stay. We expect up to 50% of them to leave to find better housing.



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