Today I learned how to catch a honeybee swarm. I keep two beehives across town at my Mom’s house. Her father was a beekeeper so when I asked about keeping a couple of hives at her place, she and my step-dad were quite supportive of the idea. It reminded her of growing up as a little girl. For the past 3 years, two of my hives have lived at my Mom’s.
This past winter, I lost one hive on the property but the other one came through strong. This hive has Italian bees that are known to lay and grow like gangbusters. I knew that this hive would swarm in the spring, so I did all that I could to curtail it. I split the hive
in May. I also had been increasing their living space over the past couple of months. The hive was now comprised of three deeps and two honey supers. I thought it was fine.
For a non-beekeeper, my Mom has become a pretty good observer of the hives and always alerts me to hive activity whether it be normal or abnormal. Last Friday, I was completely exhausted after a very long, hot, and sticky humid morning spent at my daughter’s school’s field day. It also happened to be perfect swarming weather. My Mom called me and reported a huge cloud of bees in front of the hive with a very loud buzz. My gut told me they were swarming and knowing that the queen would not fly far from the hive for the initial swarm period, I gathered my gear and my wilted body.
We took a peek around and found the bees in the tree immediately behind the hive. It was a pitch pine. The bees were about 20 feet in the tree all clustered on one branch. Although exhausted, this was a doable swarm retrieval. I called up a fellow beekeeper and classmate of mine for help. We got to work.
|The swarm took up temporary residence in a pitch pine.
Swarm Catching Equipment:
It’s always a good idea to have these handy just in case.
- Saw/ Telescoping Saw
- Garden Loppers
- Container with a Cover
- Empty set-up hive
- Extra set of hands
- Bee suits
When honeybees swarm they are docile. This is because have just gorged themselves with honey and they have no hive to protect. Although many folks are scared of swarming honeybees, they are in fact harmless. So if you see a honeybee swarm, call a local beekeeper. They will come and pick it up. Please, don’t kill them.
In the center of the swarm is the queen. All the bees will cluster around her to keep her safe. If you can catch the queen the rest of the bees will follow.
Up the tree we went with a couple of ladders and the telescoping saw. Gently we sawed the branch almost entirely through. My friend eased the branch with the swarm down to the top of the ladders. Bees were flying everywhere but the cluster was now low down on the branch. Clumps of bees were on my friend’s bee suit. We put them in a covered cardboard box. We then returned to the ladders. With the branch now in reach, I used a garden lopper to cut through the branch right above where the bees were. My friend held it tight. Once the branch with the bees were free we could bring them to their new home.
We walked the bees over to the hive. Since this was a large swarm, we began with 2 deeps. If the receiving hive is off location, use this technique to transport the bees. Take a large cardboard box (a lidded 5 gallon bucket with ventilation works well too). With a few forceful shakes, shake the bees into the cardboard box and then covered it with a piece of fabric. Leave a small crack for the flying bees to find the queen prior to leaving the site. If the bees do not recluster in the box than you do not have the queen. Look around for her in nearby trees. The bees that are free will recluster around her.
With the lid of the hive opened, we removed a few frames from the center of the hive and shook the bees from the branch into the hive. Then we closed the inner cover, placed the almost empty box in front of the hive, and waited a few minutes. Then we opened up the hive and saw that most of the bees had found a place on the frames. Carefully we replaced the frames that we had removed when we transferred the bees to the hive.
|Bees rush to get inside the hive with their queen.
We sat and watched as all the bees in the area from the swarm began to flow into the hive with their queen. Some bees on the outside of the deep began to emit pheromones from their hind ends to signal to the other bees where the queen was located. After about 5 minutes the hive was calm. It seemed as though everyone was inside.
We placed an entrance reducer on the outside to help curtail the bees from swarming after being placed in the hive. In a few days, I will go and check on them and see how they are adjusting to their new home.
Because of this swarm’s location, the entire retrieval process took about 2 hours.
|Honeybees guide the way for their fellow hive mates by spreading pheromones into the air.
Photo Credit: Tilly’s Nest