There is an old saying in beekeeping…”A swarm in May is worth a load of hay. A swarm in June is worth a silver spoon. A swarm in July isn’t worth a fly.” I am not sure what a swarm in September is worth but I am pretty sure I owe somebody something.
You see, I got a call over the holiday weekend about a swarm that had just landed at someone’s house. I sort of had to do a double-take. Honeybees don’t usually swarm this late. I figured the homeowner had seen a hornets’ nest or maybe a bunch of wasps or yellow jackets. Those critters are all pretty common this time of year and I often get calls from people asking me to deal with their “bees”.
I looked at the picture they sent and sure enough, they had a swarm of honeybees swarming on their gutter. Now swarm catching is one of my all-time fav-o-rite things to do in beekeeping so I grabbed my stuff and headed over.
Sure enough, a small swarm had chosen the lucky homeowners and it wasn’t too high off the ground for me to get. I coaxed the bees into the swarm box that is part of the swarm catching gear that makes my excited trip each time I get a call. Into the back of the car they went and we all happily headed home! The bees are currently on my garden wall where they will probably remain through the next few weeks until I can determine if they are worth trying to keep all winter as-is or if I should combine them with another colony.
So, what caused them to swarm this late in the season? Who knows? Maybe their tree-home was cut or fell down. Maybe a bear or other creature messed up their place. I do not know for sure but I think this is my first ever swarm that is worth less than even single fly!
We were all out at the deluxe deer stand working on drywall last weekend when a few of the neighbors came by on atvs. One neighbor asked if I was busy and if not, whether I could help him with something. It was clear it was something urgent so I jumped on the back of his atv. He drove me over to his brother-in-law’s place…another neighbor, to see a huge swarm of bees!
Dang it! It was a huge swarm, undoubtedly out of one of my hives. A number of people asked me why bees swarm and why I was mad they were my bees. Bees swarm usually when their hive location becomes unsuitable…usually when they run out of room. In those cases, the worker bees prepare a number of new queens by feeding royal jelly to fertilized larvae. When the time comes, the old queen and half (or so) of the original bees strike out on their own to find a new place. That is how bees naturally propagate and it is not unusual. I don’t like when my bees swarm, however, because that leaves me with two colonies, neither of which is probably big enough to make much honey. I like having more colonies, but I prefer when they make me honey too.
I usually try to intervene before the bees decide to swarm. I usually make a split…basically, I take a number of bees out and sort of make my own controlled swarm. By controlling the size and the timing, I can usually prevent swarming and end up with plenty of honey.
So, the neighbors called around and a bunch of folks gathered to see me hive this colony that was 7 or so feet up in a tree…that’s a perfect height. I showed off some of course. I stuck my hand up into the swarm. I got super close and took pics. I sang the song of the bee people…well, not that part. Anyhow, I brought my new hive box in and shook the bees into the new box…easy-peasy…except not.
The next day, the bees had decided the new box was not acceptable. This time, they decided to swarm again about 20 feet up in the same tree. I didn’t have much of a way to get them up that high so I did what any young (?) strapping(?) American (check) boy (check) would do…I tied a rope around a hammer and threw the hammer up in the tree so I could use the rope to shake the swarm out. That worked well and I re-hived this swarm again. We’ll see what happens. It occurs to me as I ponder the process, that throwing a hammer over my head into a tree might not have been all that smart, so don’t try that at home. Still, it worked and hopefully I still have my bees!
Well, this is long enough…I have more swarm stories to tell so I will put them off until Part II
I am registered on all sorts of lists to catch bee swarms around Charleston. The folks at the 911 call center know me. Several exterminators know me. The Department of Agriculture folks have my number. I get lots of swarm calls. I LOVE SWARMS! Catching swarms of bees has to be my all-time favorite part of beekeeping.
A gentleman called me the other day reporting a large swarm of bees in a tree at his house. He lives within a mile or so of me so it was the perfect situation. I ran to the house, grabbed up a bunch of equipment and headed to his place where I met his family and the neighbors too. The cool thing is that I know the neighbor family. Abigail plays soccer for the neighbor and their son plays for me.
Anyhow, Abigail and I walked up to the swarm and it was a good one. It was about shoulder high on a smaller tree from which I could easily cut a branch to remove the swarm. I typically lay a sheet out, place my destination hive on top and shake the bees from the branch into the swarm box. Bees in a swarm are usually not terribly defensive. I typically approach a swarm pretty boldly to see how they roll and rarely have any issues with them. That being said, never touch a swarm of bees because there are still 10,000 or so stinging insects who don’t care much about manners. Call a beekeeper every time.
So, I sent everyone inside where they could watch from behind screened windows and started my tree trimming. Within a few minutes I had the bees in the hive and we were all done but for the crying. Wait…no crying. Just loading the bees into the car.
edit: one of the ladies took these pictures…
I think I like catching swarms for the “show-off” factor as much as anything. The two families that watched the swarm catching were curious and interested and called me crazy! It doesn’t get any better than that!
When I got home, I had three more calls from people with bee swarms…it might be a busy few weeks!