Bees Being Bees – They Swarmed!

Six weeks into my initiation as beekeeper, the little buggers swarmed! It was dusk when my neighbour knocked at my door with a request to come look at the tree in her backyard. The bees hung there “like a carpet” she exclaimed.  We were losing daylight fast, and a storm was blowing in. I was feeling unprepared as to what I should be doing, exactly, so I decided to leave them there for the night and hoped they’d still be there come morning. 
And ….
They were!
I didn’t sleep much that night – I was a ball of excitement and nervousness. I combed youtube for video on others catching swarms. I thought for sure I was going to mess it up somehow.  It just looked too easy.
And it was. Super simple. Not scary in the least. The bees followed their queen. 
I spread out a light coloured sheet below the swarm. This was simply to be able to clearly see any that fell to the ground. 

I retrofitted a cardboard office file box. On the front you can see where I cut an opening/bee door and then duct taped screen mesh over it. At the top, I notched out a place for a top bar, so the bees would have something to hang off of if they so desired.  Here, you see me spaying sugar water on the swarm cluster. This is just to give them something to do – ie, lick the sugar off their backs – and not, you know, get any other pesky ideas, like coming after me! Actually, bees are at their MOST docile when they swarm, so fear not! My grandmother even claims you can scoop them up with your bare hands! Let me know how it goes if you ever try that.

My neighbour held the box directly below the swarm and I gave the branch a decisive shake (or two). 

As long as the queen landed in the box – which was difficult to ascertain, but we assumed she was there – the rest of the bees would follow her pheromone. 

The bees in the box. The yellow in the bottom corner is a kitchen sponge soaked in water so they would have something to drink.

I placed the sponge on a plastic lid to prevent it from making the box soggy.

I placed the top bar inside and closed the lid as much as I could, leaving it open a bit for the stragglers to make their way in.

After awhile when the bees had mostly cleared off the top of the box, I closed the lid and opened the screen. This stayed as such, directly under where the swarm cluster was in the tree, until dusk when most of the scouts and workers would have returned back to the colony for the night.

I taped the screen back up and moved the box ‘o’ bees back to my yard and left them there over night. 

The next evening, after trying to figure out what I was going to do with a SECOND colony of bees, I recalled the creator of the plans I used for my top bar hive saying that the hive could be split into two colonies if necessary by use of the follower bars. A follower bar is just a full wood divider which is used to section off the hive.  See above.

A look at the original colony, still working away. 

I borrowed – duh, well, okay, I STOLE – this comb full of honey to put in the swarm side of the hive to help entice them to stick around (no pun intended, but do what you want with it).  I brushed the bees off of it and put it in the empty section of the hive. Some forums I read even suggested putting a frame of brood in there, as the bees would feel compelled to stay and look after them.  I did not feel this was necessary (I don’t really know why. Maybe I’m just infinitely wise, and stuff).

I set the box on top of the hive and moved slow and careful-like as I removed the box top.

And then, I dumped those lassies in there! The top bar that I had placed in the box was tangled with bees, so I just transferred it to the hive.

By this time they had been in there the box for two full days. They started building right onto the lid.

Aren’t they just so beautiful? I couldn’t help but set them up for a little photo op.

So, as these things go, I left them to themselves in the new section of the hive and hoped for the best. They seemed to find the door opening okay and within a day or two they all seemed well oriented.

See a Queen cell hanging down in the sunlight.

A week, or so, later, I decided to check and see if the Queen Cells had hatched in the original colony yet – they need to raise up a new queen when the old one ditches them. It didn’t seem so.  I checked the swarm colony and I was able to identify the old queen (she had a green dot on her back).

A friend came a week later and we decided to check the original colony again. The queen cells were empty, all three of them.  AND – this is where it gets crazy – we couldn’t find the green marked old queen in the swarm hive. Uhoh.

Well, truth be told, I wondered if she’d be engaged in the Battle Royale when the others hatched mostly due to the not-quite snug fitting follower board I had placed in there. I discovered that they could squeeze in and out of the next-door colony.

“Honey we’re home!”

Does this mean that they’ve become one big happy colony again? It’s still to be seen.
The follower board is still in, and in the original side of the hive, we noticed brood – but nothing new, as in, no larva. In the swarm side of the hive, where the green queen was, there were plenty of larvae. But bees from both colonies were actively bringing home pollen, which, I’ve read, is an indication that there are babies that need feeding. So, it seemed that the queen was actively laying in the swarm side, but no new queen had started laying in the original side, at last inspection. I’m not sure what the deal was, but I have my suspicions. Mostly, I figure they know what they are doing. I’ll just try and stay out of the way.

Today I went in briefly and gave the swarm side of the hive a little more room – as those babies will be bees soon and it’ll get crowded. The goal, at this point, ill advised or not, is to eventually remove the follower board all together and see if we can all just get along.  There are all from the same family – but as most of us know, getting along with family can sometimes be tricky.

Check out this beauty loaded down with bright pollen. She had difficulty flying, she was so loaded down. It was like watching a drunk helicopter pilot coming in for a landing. 

Here you can see four different colours of pollen. So amazing.  From center bottom to top right: yellow, white (going in the door), orange, and ocher/brown.

Burdock grows like mad in these parts. I found out that bees love them, so I decided to encourage a few in my yard. they also love dandelions and clover, so for the love of bees, accept them as a part of your lawn!

They land on me all of the time. It’s amazing to think that there was a time when that may have frightened me. 

  
Check out the light coloured pollen on her hind legs.

A friendly and lovable Bumblebee.  So fuzzy! Don’t you just want to hug it?

So that is where we are at for now with the colony (ies). Stay tuned for further developments.

More about Julie Prescesky

Julie spends much of her time paying attention to what's happening around her. At Design Inkarnation, she's head designer, illustrator, writer and creative problem solver.

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