Spring is the time of year when you may have a swarm of bees take up shelter on a tree, vehicle, under the eave of a house, anywhere really. If you're afraid of bees - the fact that you're reading this is a good sign. Now, please, I'm begging you, put down the can of raid you're holding..... Take a look below at picture 4. This is not photo-shopped, I promise.
Swarms caught by our friends, the Hughes family, spring 2016.
PLEASE DO NOT bother the bees! Swarms are simply on an adventure for a new home. Think of it as an insect version of spring break. They have no babies or honey to protect. This ball of bees is truly uninterested in you and is highly unlikely to sting anyone.
The longest a swarm will be there is 2 days but it's often only a few hours. If you know a local beekeeper, we are almost always thrilled to add a new hive to our apiary. Give us a call and if we're available we'll high tail it over and begin a game of speed dating with the queen to see if we're compatible.
I'm just kidding about the speed dating part. We do work quickly so that we have the best chance of winning the queen's opinion. We want her and the worker bees to choose our box. We include frames that already have honey in them to sweeten the deal. It's kind of like stumbling into a fully furnished condo with a stocked pantry and free rent. Who could say no to that?
If you're a beekeeper and you get a call about a swarm, you may do the following: take off your pantyhose, borrow your dad's socks and a pair of your mom's boots. Put on a hat. Commence to catching the swarm while taking pictures for the blog.
After I've put on my suit, of course! I have no desire to catch bees while wearing a skirt.
A full suit is overkill for swarm catching but I prefer to catch bees with pants on.
The box pictured is called a nuc box. It is made of plastic and has 5 frames (with some honey). It is light and easy to maneuver. When possible we trim a branch or otherwise try to lower the bees into the frames with as little disturbance as possible. Once the bees have had a chance to settle down we close the lid, drive them home, and put them into a normal hive back at the property.
Last week I missed catching a swarm that was on the trunk of a tree about 20 feet up. The family who called me was very kind and accommodating. They backed their truck up to the tree then we put the 12 foot ladder into the bed so I could reach the bees. I wish I had been thinking to get a picture at the time. My goal was to get up and down in one piece and I forgot to take pictures. It was a lot of fun. I was thrilled that even though the home owners stated they were afraid of bees (and allergic to wasps) they were not going to bother or kill the bees. It warmed my heart to know that more people are becoming aware of the pollinator's plight and are taking steps to protect them.
Why do bees swarm?
Swarming is how bees multiply. When spring arrives and everything is going well - the hive is full of honey and baby bees. Once there is no more room to develop and make new comb for more babies and more honey - the reining queen will decide it's time to split.
The reigning queen will lay queen cells then take about half of the worker bees with her on a quest for a new life. Together they set off in search of a new home. The swarm will stop to rest a few times and use this opportunity to send out scouts. This is when you see them as a swarm in your tree or eave. They're not going to take up shop there; it's just someplace to take a breather and send out the real-estate (scout) agents of the swarm. When the scout bees return they will dance to tell the swarm the approximate location and distance of the new digs. The scout bee that dances with the most enthusiasm will win the approval of the swarm and they will all set off for their new home.
Did you know bee dances are accurate to within 15 feet? They can communicate the type of food source, how plentiful the area is, and whether or not it's located in dangerous terrain. I wish I could be that accurate with interpretive dance. It would be useful for those days when you just don't feel like talking to people.
Back at the original hive, the first new queen to hatch will destroy the other queen cells if she decides to stay. There can only be one queen. If, when queen replacement #1 hatches, the hive is still crowded - she too may choose to fly off and start her own colony. Once the space to bees ratio is comfortable again, the next replacement queen will take the throne.