Monday, April 8, 2019
Swarm Season Round 1
It's the craziest and most unpredictable time of the year for beekeepers! You'll see bees clustered on cars, mailboxes, the doors of businesses. You'll see beekeepers in trees, on porch roofs, and on ladders. You'll even see bees on the news. Here's a pic of a swarm from a couple of years ago. The sky fills with them and you can see that here.
Swarm is kind of a scary word to people. It's scary to beekeepers too but for different reasons. Read about how I caught my first swarm here. For a beekeeper, it means that half your bees might fly away and reduce your honey harvest for the season. On the other hand, if we can catch a swarm, it's free bees! We love free bees!
A swarm is the natural reproduction process of a colony. It means a healthy hive and laying queen have outgrown their hive and are looking for an expansion opportunity. The swarming bees have stuffed themselves with honey before embarking on their journey. Since they have no home or brood nest to defend they are quite docile. If you see a swarm in the spring just leave it alone and it will go along in a day or two. If it's where you just can't leave it because of kids or pets call a beekeeper to come and get it. If you need a laugh you can read my post about catching my very first swarm, Queen Bee Wars: Swarming Mean Girls.
While I was relaxing with a friend on the porch last week my bees swarmed. It's an exciting thing to share with someone who has never witnessed it before. How many times do you see the birth of a super-organism? They landed on a branch hanging over the fence separating our yard from our neighbor's and I went on about my socializing confident that in a couple of hours when I was ready to catch them they'd still be there.
When I was ready they were gone. I carefully looked all through the bushes and around my yard. I popped open the compost bin thinking it might seem like an inviting dark space. Nothing. Then my husband suggested we check the neighbor's yard.
Which meant knocking on the door. The absolute worst part of being a beekeeping introvert.
Explanations ensue. I find the bees on the ground and regret my procrastination. The swarm that could have been so easily retrieved from clipping a branch and lowering into a box in less than a minute turned into a 3 hour ordeal of sweeping up and catching the bees in a box and trying to get the queen. But mostly waiting for them to get in the box...
I was successful on the second attempt and then hung around the yard waiting for the bees to all go in but as the sun was setting about a third of them didn't go inside but hung on the outside of the box.
Near dark, I picked up the entire thing, a box full of bees and thousands of hangers-on and gently placed it over the fence and into a wagon on my side of the fence. Early the next morning while it was still dark I popped (meaning I slammed the box down on top of the empty hive) the bees on the outside into a hive body and then dumped the bees inside in as well. I sealed up the front and wheeled them over to their new home.
It sounds so easy as I read it here, but there is always a big adrenaline rush when catching a swarm and then again when hiving it.
We are now experiencing several days of rain, so they are stuck inside getting used to their new home. I was glad this queen didn't get away as she is stellar and this hive had 3 times as many bees as any of my other hives.
Now we'll wait for the next sunny day and see if any other hive is feeling swarmy.
Hope you have success this week whatever you're up to!