Friday, May 15, 2009

Capturing a honey bee swarm

Today was the big day. Yesterday afternoon I got a call from Mary of Bee Moving Day fame. One of her hives was swarming. She called me again after dark to say the bees were still there and clumped up in an accessible spot.
I got there at 7 this morning. Earlier probably would've been better, as the sun was up and the bees starting to fly a little.
But they were pretty compact in a few separate bundles. I spritzed them with a little sugar water, but that just disturbed them. I think that may work better with bees that are "dry," i.e. several days out of the hive and not full of honey.

So the plan was to gently lower them into the box using the bee pick. Not a very effective plan, that. I should have just given the branch a good shake, as is the usual practice. You can watch a long, boring and poorly edited video of the process if you've got nothing better to do.
In hindsight, I should've just left the box up on the ladder with the lid on and let the bees all go into it on their own. But I wasn't sure I had the queen. So I put the box into a larger one that Mary had. I had a sheet on the ground that I shook into it and then draped over.
Then I was sure I had the queen, as there were bees putting their butts in the air and fanning around the entrance. They were signaling to the other bees, "Hey! The queen's in here!"
Once I had most of the bees in box, I put another sheet over the whole thing, put it in my car and drove home with the bee suit on.
It's a little surprising how many people just go whizzing by in their cars when you're in full bee regalia, though a truck full of public works employees did pause to gawk.
I'm sure I got some funny looks from other drivers on the way home, too. I backed into my garage and carried the box out to the hive. Picked up the interior box and shook it in, and the outer box, too. Oy, what a cloud! I was really worried the queen hadn't made it into the hive. I put the top bars back on and the bees were heavily clumped around the entrance to the hive and underneath, on the screen.
But hours later, they were almost all inside the hive, with just a couple dozen hovering in front on orientation flights, learning the look of their new home.
Wow, that was a pretty crazy morning! I learned a lot. It was nice to have Mary there offering support. I'm adding sheets to my list of swarm-catching supplies, and also a reminder to remove your rings. Yes, I got stung on my left hand and now I have a slightly fat finger (and yes, I got the ring off). I put on gloves after that.

So now it's up to the bees to build out their comb and start filling it with brood, pollen and honey. Go, bees!


  1. What a great way to spend a day, Kitt! Congratulations!

  2. Very exciting! It's simply amazing how much you've accomplished in such a short time.

  3. What an amazing morning! congratulations on your hive full of bees!

  4. Way to go! I was chuckling think of you driving in your bee suit with a car full of bees. I was thinking how freaked out I've been with one bee in the car.

  5. Thanks, everybody! It's a little embarrassing to watch the video now and see everything I did wrong, but it's instructional for that reason, too.