Swarming, Catching And Transporting

I didn’t think I’d need to open the hives for a couple weeks, because I didn’t want to disturb the growing queens in White Hive, and Trunchen Hive is supposed to be left alone for the most part. I knew that the queens should’ve been hatching a few days ago though, so I was looking forward to seeing what was going on in White Hive later in the week. I’ll still be interested to see what’s going on, but I know that multiple queens were allowed to emerge and live, because the bees swarmed today. They were acting kind of oddly before it happened, and actually, now that I think about it, they’ve been doing it for weeks. Something was off today though, I could feel it. I even pointed it out to my neighbor. The bees were just too busy around the entrance and the hive in general, but nothing was really happening so far as I could tell, so I couldn’t figure out what was wrong. Here are some pictures of the hive before it swarmed.

I’ve taken a few pictures of the bees like this before, but there was something different about today that kind of alerted me that something was amiss. However, I didn’t put two and two together, because I was completely shocked to see the cloud of bees that were suddenly in my yard after stepping away from the window for a moment. I literally was only away from the window long enough to go to the bathroom.

My jaw literally dropped when I saw this, and I honestly don’t think that’s ever happened to me before.

All those little specks of light ‘on’ that tree? Those are honeybees. Thousands of them were flying around. These pictures don’t do the sight of a swarm justice. The swarm was probably 30-40 feet across, 20 feet deep, and 20-30 feet tall. It was intense. The bees were definitely ‘nicer’ than they’ve ever been though, because I walked out into the middle of it to get pictures of the hive and the bees didn’t bother me at all.

Again, this picture doesn’t do it justice, but the bees were shooting out of the hive.

I like this picture because you can see the bees against the sky too even.

The bees were slowly making their way over to my neighbors yard, and they were beginning to condense at the bottom of that cloud, on the shrubbery. I texted my neighbor, JB (J’s roommate) and told her to come outside to watch the bees. I also hoped the bees would land in her yard and I would be able to easily get to them. Naturally, this was not the case, BUT they did land in the yard behind me, so I was able to run around the block and find them spread out across 6 feet on a shrub. Thank god JB was home to help me, cause I honestly don’t know how I would’ve done anything. All I had to use for a hive was the two boxes I had yet to put on Trunchen Hive, and really nothing else. Before I get ahead of myself, here are the bees clustering on the shrub.

I know its hard to see, but there are about 10 clusters of bees spanning around 6 feet of the top of the shrub.

And naturally, this shrub is a shrub, which means that the bees had a million different surfaces to be holding onto, and as such, a million different surfaces I had to worry about getting them off of. Here’s how I started.

The clusters were all about 8-9 feet up in the air. Thankfully my neighbors (who, by the way, weren’t home at the time, so I just had to go around the back and do all of this while they were gone) had a giant ladder with a fold out piece for paint or something. Unfortunately, this was too small to hold a hive with no bottom. So, I had to put a board underneath the hive, but all I had were giant boards. Which meant I needed to use long poles to make things a little more stable. Also, keep in mind that my yard is about 30 feet below this one, so JB was hopping their fence and all the terraces in my yard to bring me these supplies. I needed a board, two long, thin, poles, and some pruning shears. Seriously could not have done this without JB, cause without her I would’ve been running around the block 4 or 5 times trying to get everything to this yard. Cause hopping a fence in a bee suit is nigh impossible.

On top of all that, I still needed to decide on how I wanted these bees to sit in these boxes. I ended up putting 8 bars in the bottom box, and then leaving the top box bar-less so I could dump the bees into that one and give them an opportunity to hang onto something. The second I dumped the first clump in (I didn’t consider using pruning shears until 2 or 3 clumps after starting) the bees started pumping their wings furiously while holding onto the walls, to get their pheromones into the air and help give the other bees a way to find them. I would’ve like to get a picture of it, because they ended up in kind of neat little rows fanning their hearts out. Note: I didn’t use smoke, because the bees were so ‘calm’ that smoking them would’ve just been counter productive.

After the pruning shears came into play, getting the bees in the box became MUCH easier. I was forced to scoop them into the box before hand, because the configuration I had it set up on was by no means stable enough to easily move things around. Oh, that was the other thing; after getting the right half of the swarm, I had to hover the ladder 3 feet to the left, while balancing a hive full of bees on it. It was so chaotic and crazy, I honestly still have trouble believing I managed it all.

See, cutting the bees out of the shrub made collecting them muuuch easier. That little clump of bees probably weighed 3 lbs. I’m not exaggerating. I couldn’t believe how much it weighed after I cut it loose. And its just a little tip of a branch, that weighed nothing on its own! After I got all of the clumps into the hive, I brushed off the shrub because some of the bees were starting to try and reform clumps. It sent all of the bees into the air, but so many girls were fanning their scent from inside the hive, there wasn’t much confusion for long.

Then of course, there was the wonderful task of putting top bars into that mess of bees. Normally I would say it was impossible, but considering what I had to do to capture this swarm, and the amount of work involved, putting those bars in was cake.

I have 0 spare hive parts at my house, so to improvise a roof for the hive, I used a garbage can lid (we use the garbage can to hold extra yard waste when our bin is full, and the lid is usually sitting full of water for the birds and dogs). I put a rock on it to make sure it wouldn’t blow away. I would’ve used another board, but the only boards I had were too big and wouldn’t have allowed the bees not in the hive a way to get in. So the garbage can lid worked great!

Here’s a picture of White Hive after I captured the swarm. These bees barely moved from these spots for the rest of the day. Eventually a bunch more guard bees came out, but they all stayed right around the entrance. There were only ever 1 or 2 bees coming or going at any given minute, and 0 were flying other than the foragers.

This picture, taken minutes later, shows all that was left of the bees on the outside of the hive. They were all fanning like crazy. I would also like to note that throughout this whole thing, I noticed bees with pollen and several drones. I didn’t think the bees took pollen with them when they swarmed, but oh well.

Now for the moving of this hive. I wanted to wait until later in the evening (the bees swarmed almost exactly at 1 in the afternoon) to make sure the bees all made it into the hive before I moved them. So, I left a note on the door of my neighbors, explaining why there was a hive of bees on the top of their ladder in their yard, and that I’d be back later to remove them and gave them my phone number. Waiting the 6 hours until 7:15 was bothersome. Anyway, my uncle drives a truck, but it was my aunt who drove it over to help me move this. My moms foot was broken, so she couldn’t help me, and for some reason the aunt who wanted this hive was unable to help move it. So my second aunt was stuck assisting me.

Here’s what we did. I climbed up the ladder, took the garbage can lid off, put a piece of plywood to match the one on the bottom on the top, and with the help of my aunt, strapped these pieces together using bungie cords. With the top, boxes, and top securely together, I lifted the whole thing straight up while my aunt removed the poles used to stabilize it (which had to be bungied to the floor in order to get the bungies in the right places). With the poles gone, I was able to maneuver the hive over and rest it on an overturned garbage can, so my aunt and I could kind of regroup and decide what we wanted to do next. I didn’t want my aunt to help me carry the hive, because I wasn’t sure how aggressive the bees were going to be and I didn’t want to risk her getting stung, but she was confident that it would all be fine, so we carried the hive around the side of the house to the back of her truck. My neighbors watched from the safety of their house, behind their screen door.

With the bees in the back of truck, we quickly tidied up the back yard, and then strapped the hive down in the back of the truck to prevent it from sliding around and falling apart while we drove. I thanked my neighbors and apologized for the inconvenience and promised them a jar of honey in thanks for their help. My aunt and I then drove the 20 minutes to my other aunts house, dropped the hive off, removed its bungie cords and replaced its plywood lid with the garbage can lid (so the bees could come and go freely again), handed off my Warre’ book, and were off to Dairy Queen to celebrate the success of the day. I’m so exhausted haha.


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8 responses to “Swarming, Catching And Transporting”

  1. Emma Sarah Tennant says :

    Incredible post! Thank you for taking those photos of the swarm. Our bees swarmed from one hive recently and I do think now, looking at your photos, that I arrived at the tail-end of the swarm because that is exactly what the bees at the entrance and around our hive looked like! We didn’t manage to catch Lavender but I’m glad you got your bees back!

    • willowbatel says :

      I’m sad I missed the very beginning of things, cause they’re supposed to kind of bubble out of the entrance at the start of it, but I’m glad I was able to watch and participate in the rest of it. It was quite a sight to see. I was honestly dumbfounded when I stepped into the kitchen and saw the giant cloud of bees hovering over my yard.

      • Emma Sarah Tennant says :

        Amazing. Swarms are supposed to be very gentle because they have just eaten lots of honey and this makes them calm, but I’m glad you wore your suit to collect them! How kind was your aunt to help you out like that.

        • willowbatel says :

          Yeah! I was amazed how ‘calm’ they were. Despite all the activity, the bees that actually came up to me (I walked right up into the edge of the swarm) were flying really slowly and seemed kind of lethargic. And they were extremely gentle during the capture. My glove only got stung once, and I’m sure that due to some error on my part. I consider this to be kind of unbelievable, because I’m never as aggressive as I was with them. Catching 10’s of thousands of bees and being ‘nice’ to all of them is easier than it sounds…

          • Emma Sarah Tennant says :

            I know what you mean, I like to try to be ‘kind’ to all the bees but sometimes you have to see the whole colony as ‘the bee’ and do the best that you can. It looks like you did a great job with catching your swarm!

            • willowbatel says :

              Yeah, most of the time I try to be nice, but there was just no way not to manhandle the bees given how they had landed.
              Thanks! I’m really interested to see how those girls are doing at their new home. I might go see them sometime today, or tomorrow even, cause they’re not in a properly furbished hive and seeing how they act will be interesting.

  2. The Honeypotters says :

    Wow, I’m just now catching up on your blog and read this post. Thanks for the great documentation of the swarming process. I’m impressed that you were able to do all of that in the midst of such an event. The photos are great.
    Do you know why the bees still swarmed even after you took preventive measures to split their hive? I’m taking notes for my next spring’s swarm prevention.

    • willowbatel says :

      Thanks! I honestly couldn’t have done any of it without the help of my neighbors roommate, who was brave enough to wrangle the bees with me without a suit.
      They were in the process of raising swarm cells (they had eggs in the cells) the day I split them. After I removed the queen for the split they made several more queen cells (cells in the center of the frame, as opposed to swarm cells on the edges) so that there were more than a dozen queens being raised for the colony. My guess for why they swarmed even after my preventative measures would be that I didn’t take enough bees from the hive for the split, and that I should’ve removed some of the queen cells they made. And when I say I didn’t take enough bees away, I mean I didn’t take enough bees to satisfy the urge to swarm, because the hive that I put those ‘split’ bees into is doing just fine with their current numbers.

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