Sunday, April 8, 2012

My first swarm catch of 2012? MY VERY OWN BEES!

Saturday started out really great. I already had my day planned; Mow the yard, reverse the hive chambers on all four honey bee colonies, get a haircut and follow up on my taxes. Well I made it through the yard mowing without a hitch, then went inside to make some sugar syrup for my hand sprayer. As soon as I finished, I went back outside and as I approached the building that houses my beekeeping supplies, I hear this really intense high-pitched buzzing. And when I looked up, the air was full of bees. You guessed it, one of my hives was in full swarm mode! It was the yellow hive which holds an Italian colony I bought in 2011.

Afraid to take my eyes off of them for fear I would lose their flight path, I just stood there and was prepared to say goodbye forever. I stood behind the yellow hive amongst the cloud of bees in a tee-shirt and track pants and carefully watched. And while bees were flying virtually everywhere, I noticed a lot of them flying towards the fence at my neighbors house. Continuing to watch them, I noticed that once they hovered in, they would fly to the middle of a wild crabapple bush at the corner of the fence. So I walked over to investigate, and sure enough, there they were.

20 feet from their former home, my traveling swarm landed on a couple of limbs in my next door neighbor's wild crabapple bush. How much luckier could I get? The only issue for me would be to make sure I could retrieve them since wild crabapple bushes are full of nasty thorns. So while it was a fine respite for them, it might be a pain for me. But thankful they were so close, I started gathering up my tools to get them back including the bottle of syrup, a cardboard nuc, a small step ladder and my bee brush.

While I was gathering my tools, the swarm settled down significantly into the customary ball. I then told my neighbor what was going on (her first words.."poor Mark"). Getting back to the swarm, it was easily three pounds of bees and they were on a prominent limb in the bush. The only real issue was trimming the smaller limbs away so I could get the box under the swarm ball and not get stuck by the thorns. After about 10 minutes of trimming, I could easily get the cardboard nuc under the swarm.

After giving them a healthy spraying of sugar syrup, and holding a tight grip on the box, I grabbed the limb and gave it a hefty downward jolt. Plop! The bees fell right into the box as planned. While quite a few went airborne, the majority were inside the box, so I felt like it was a success. But as I looked on the ground below the bush, there were quite a few there too. My fear was that the queen may be among the ones on the ground, so I immediately placed the nuc on the ground and placed the lid back on top. 

As soon as I placed the nuc near the bees on the ground, the parade began. I've always been in awe of watching swarms as they crawl their way into a hive, and I wasn't disappointed this time. Slowly and surely, the bees made their way to the small hole in the cardboard box. I was also hoping that if the queen did happen to miss the box, she would crawl with her daughters into the temporary mobile home. And after about an hour, most of the bees were inside the box with the exception of the ones fanning their wings outside to tell the rest of the crew, "Hey girls..we're over here!"

The next dilemma was..what was I going to put them in? All I had left was new shallow honey supers and no complete deep hive set ups. So knowing that two shallow supers was about the same size as a deep, I put two of them together. I did have two solid bottom boards, so after putting one on the bottom, I realized I didn't have a top. So I improvised by putting an inner cover over the two supers, then I made a temporary top with another bottom board turned upside down. To block up the top entrance, I put an entrance reducer there.

As you can see, it all fit together perfectly. With three frames of brood that I took from my other hives (to hopefully keep the swarm from absconding), and filling up the hive with plastic frames, I closed it all together and put three landscaping bricks on top to keep the lid from blowing off. I am especially curious about how this situation is going to work out. The swarm is only a few feet from where they left just hours before, so I was curious if the bees would travel back to the old hive to visit. I guess we'll see for sure, but I can tell you that 24-hours later, all is fine and the bees have been busy all day flying in and out just like normal. So I take that as a good sign that things will be okay.

I've been waiting to see if I would get a swarm call this year. And I really think it's funny that my first swarm for the year was for my very own bees. So now it looks like I'll be making the trip to nearby Dadant & Sons in Chatham, Virginia, to pick up some new hive set ups. After all, swarm season is very much underway, and I've learned an important lesson; Its better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it. 


  1. Mark,

    Very good result by the sounds of it. I had a lot of trouble last year after one of my hives swarmed three times and I was stuck with no equipment and no catching experience. I managed to hive one out of the three, but I did learn a lot.

  2. Tim:

    You're exactly right! catching swarms is a great learning experience. My first catch in 2009 went like a textbook version. I caught the swarm under a picnic table at a high school, brought them home, set up the hive, and within an hour - poof - they absconded. That's when I learned that if you put some brood in the box with the swarm, and transfer them in the evening when they are better settled, your chances of success are much better.

    Thanks for the post! Great to hear from you!


  3. Mark, good plan executed perfectly! Glad you pulled together a plan afterwards. My cut out today had a small swarm 35 ft up in an oak tree. Left to do the family thing and now it looks like my swarm trap lured them in! We are not too far from each other I'm north of Durham, natural beekeeper also.

  4. Hey Randy!

    Thanks for stopping by! The cut out you did on video (your blog) was great. I've never done one, but a friend of mine has done quite a few (my referrals) and he loves it. I'm lazy and like to get the ones close to the ground! I checked my swarm late Sunday and they are doing fine. They started taking the syrup I'm giving them and hopefully they'll draw comb quickly.

    I love the Raleigh/Durham area, and always enjoy my trips to Jack Tapp's "Busy Bee Apiary" at the edge of Chapel Hill. Plus it gives me an excuse to stop at Smithfield's Barbecue in Mebane!

    Keep in touch!


  5. congratulations! looking forward to following the progress of your swarm hive.

  6. Well done and great web site! Bruce.

  7. Thanks Bethany (The Luddite)! So far, so good. If we make it a full week, I think it will be okay. Always great to hear from you! -Mark

    Bruce: Thanks for stopping by and commenting too. I added your blog to my feed so others can see it when they come to my page. Great pics and stories! Come by often and say hello! -Mark



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