Extended Swarm

Five-Day Old Swarm

Five-Day Old Swarm

I have always pictured a swarm as a bunch of bees and the old queen leaving the old hive, hanging out on a tree and then deciding on a new home – in just a few hours, if that. I’ve never heard of a swarm that would hang out overnight. But today’s swarm changed all that.

Actually a few days ago I learned about what is called a “dry swarm” – one that was three days old or so that has used up the honey it took from the originating colony. That amazed me – I’d never heard of swarms hanging out for that long. But then, the swarms I do hear about are near residential property and they don’t have a chance to hang out for several days – the reason why I’d not given multi-day swarms much thought.

But today’s swarm educated me otherwise. The property was way out in the country – took me half an hour to get there. Some turkey hunters on that property notified the owners of the property Saturday that a tree on the property had a mass of bees on it and bees were flying everywhere. Luckily, they noticed the swarm while it was at it’s most visible – when a great number of bees were in the air. I’d have hated to hear about their experience if they went tearing thru the brush after the bees had calmed down. Anyway – that was on Saturday the Eleventh.

I learned of this yesterday, the Fourteenth. That evening the owner’s son confirmed to me that the mass of bees were still there. Four days in the elements! I am still in the progress of getting more equipment put together and last night I skipped painting my bottom-boards and finished wiring frames and hoped against hope that the bees would still be there tonight, the 15th. Since the trip was a bit longer, I taped a screen to the entrance so the bees wouldn’t suffocate. I left a little entrance for the bees to go into until I taped it to bring the hive home.

After work tonight I gathered up the swarm-hive and my protective gear and headed out. I was told recently that dry-swarms are prone to stinging when tampered with so I decided to suit up this time. Good advice and a very timely education. The drive there was long – but there’s nothing like a brisk drive thru the back-country. When I got there the owner wasn’t there yet so I hopped the fence and first inspected the source of the swarm – a bee tree that they also want de-bee’d. Looks like a good candidate for a trap-out, so I’ll be posting here about there here before long.

I found the swarm just hanging out, calm as can be. Five days out and no indication of going anywhere, even tho out there in the sticks there are all sorts of places for them to go. The tree they were on was quite overgrown with briars so this one wouldn’t be quite so simple as putting the box under them and shaking them in. At least they were low enough to reach.

I put on my gear, pulled the hive out of the back seat, made sure the duct-tape that held the bottom-board fast to the hive body was still intact – a critical detail that would make my drive home less risky, and got about figuring out how I was going to get the bees out. I decided that a bucket would be best – light enough to hold it up under the hive. I found a feed-bucket and borrowed that for the job. Then I positioned the hive as close to the swarm as possible and removed three frames to make a space to pour in the bees.

Since the bees were going to take an extra step to my hive, I decided to spray them well with tepid water. It was cool watching the swarm contract when the water touched them. Once they were good and soaked, I held the bucket under the bees and shook the branch hard. A lot of bees fell off – but since they weren’t heavy with honey, many still held on so I used my hand to scoop more bees off into the bucket until I got most of them. I took these bees and dumped them into the hive, shaking the bucket well. I put the frames carefully back in and put the lid on. Then I went back for more bees. I got smart and grabbed my bee-brush and strarted brushing bees I’d missed into the bucket and then it was back to the hive to dump them on top of the frames. These quickly went down into the hive, assuring me that the queen was in there. Eventually I was grabbing bees by hand, carrying palm-fulls of bees back to the hive. These I’d let off on the landing board and they’d promptly hop off my hands and crawl into the hive. The screen over part of the entrance confused some of them and I used the bee-brush to carefully herd them over to the actual entrance, where they promptly went in.

A few had to be left behind. The wife needed the car soon. But, I got most of them and at the time of the day when the foragers were coming back too so I’m happy. The stragglers will go back to the originating hive. Once the last handful of bees was herded into the hive I slapped tape on the remaining entrance and plopped the hive in the back-seat. I had only two lose bees in the car on the trip back – a very good capture indeed. I kept my suit on anyway – avoiding a deer could complicate the trip and I wanted to be ready to plop on the veil if the worst happened.

The bees are now home. I waited until it was dark before I removed the screen and tape. Unfortunately, I used my queen excluder on the last swarm so this one is at the mercy of her tastes. Hopefully she likes their new home and sticks around.

Michael Vanecek

I've been keeping bees with no treatments whatsoever for several years. I've followed a basic philosophy of if the bees don't bring it into the hive then it doesn't get put into the hive with good success. After a life-time of naturalism, this was simply the logical course to take with honeybee husbrandry and proof is out there buzzing and making honey right now.

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