One of the most useful tools in collecting bees is the humble swarm bucket. Trying to lug a heavy brood-box around to gather a swarm can get very cumbersome sometimes. The very first swarm I was exposed to as a six-year old – one that I aided the beekeeper when he wanted to snap a picture and had me hold a branch out of the way, inches from this mass of bees – the beekeeper used a brood-box to shake the swarm into. My first swarms I did likewise. But, it was heavy and hard to place when out in the brush. Some people swear by specially made bee-vacuums but I had a bad experience with a bee-vacuum killing bees, and it’s also inconvenient if you’re out in the brush too. Me, I like the simple 5-gallon bee bucket. The bucket is light and easy to lug and can be kept in the truck for those chance encounters that we all hope we come across as we’re driving around doing our errands. However, there is a caveat. Making sure I get all the flying bees but keep the queen in the bucket.
The solution came from a member of The Feral Bee Project. Create an entrance near the bottom of the bucket and use a section of queen-excluder in the entrance to keep her in while allowing the workers to come and go but mostly come. Sometimes a lot of bees cluster on the entrance, but just gently lifting the bucket and putting it in a card-board box will get most of them and you’re ready to transport.
The gist of it is taking a PVC coupling and threading it thru a hole drilled near the bottom of the bucket. I used a 1.5″ coupling but will probably opt for a 2″ coupling next time around – and there will be a next time around because you’ll want more than one bucket. Anyway, this coupling has a male threaded end that goes thru the hole in the bucket, and a smooth female end into which the piece of queen excluder goes. On the inside of the bucket I use an upsizing adapter with a threaded female end and a smooth female end to secure the coupling in place tightly. The queen excluder is of the plastic sort, easy to cut. I cut a square out a little bigger than the inner diameter of the female end of the coupling and then went to work trimming it to size until it fit snuggly within the coupling but without warping. To secure it further, I took a short piece of PVC and pushed it in tightly after I put the excluder in. I didn’t glue it tho – it’s pretty tight as it is. Personal preference – you may want to glue.
This actually proved enormously useful to me. Grabbing a swarm off a branch is pretty easy but sometimes the queen scent lingers on the branch. I’ll get a bunch of the bees into the bucket and put the cover on and place it nearby. Then I’ll take a smaller bucket or container and knock more of the bees off the branch and then pour this into the larger bucket, replacing the lid each time. Usually this is not necessary, but if the swarm had been there for a few days they may be attracted to the scent on the branch. A large cluster of bees around the entrance of the bucket and less and less bees hanging out on the branch is usually a good indicator that I got the queen. Then I let the bees do the work of attracting their sisters and I place the bucket in a shady location near the original cluster and go wait. Before long most of the bees will be on or in the bucket and it can be retrieved, placed in a card-board box to help keep any bees outside the bucket together and this is taken to the apiary to be installed into a hive. Easy as that.
When I install the bees into the hive, I’ll shake off the external bees into the receiving hive, then rap the bucket on the ground on the corner opposite of the entrance to dislodge the bees from inside the entrance then I take the lid off and pour this into the hive, rapping and pouring out and stragglers until the bees are in the hive. Then I gently replace the frames I removed and put the top on and that’s that. To make sure the queen stays inside and the colony sticks around, I place an entrance queen-includer on the entrance of the hive. Brushy Mountain Bee Farm sells these – they’re called Entrance Guards. Once the bees draw out some comb and the queen starts laying, this can be removed.
Incidentally, I learned something else from the Feral Bee Project that proved very sensible and helpful. Removing a swarm from a branch often involves yanking on the branch to dislodge the bees. Unfortunately, yanking down on the branch actually forces the branch to cut thru the mass of bees, meaning that the mass will often break up a bit and many will end up flying around. However, if you remove the branch from their grasp they’ll just drop as a mass. I do this by hitting the bottom of the branch very close to the mass, or yanking the branch upwards – removing it from their hold. A few still remain on the branch as always, but the greater mass just drops into the bucket and you’re set. I often mist lightly with pure water to help reduce flying too. Not sure if that really works tho. In any case, with the swarm season upon us, I hope these little tidbits open you up to an easier way of doing things. Happy beekeeping!