My hive swarmed today! Whoa. I had no idea this was going to happen. I gave them more room in the hive about a month ago, so I knew they were working on filling it up, but they were no where near full. But as the weather has warmed, the queen has been laying so there has been a big influx of new bees (newbies, ha!) in the last month or two, as well.
Swarming is a natural process the bees undertake when their hive is starting to get too crowded. It is, in fact, a sign that your colony is doing really well–so much growth they need more room! You just never really know when they’re going to do it….. So today my son decided to do some schoolwork in the backyard and I heard him exclaim, “Whoa! Mom, you have to come see this!” I was standing in the bathroom painting my toenails and shouted, “Yes, I can hear the bees from in here, they must really be out enjoying this warm weather!” To which he responded, “NO. MOM! You need to see this.”
As I turned the corner and looked out the backdoor I could see bees everywhere! I’m talking a cloud that’s 3/4 the width of my yard and as tall as my two-story house. *I wish I had a video so you could see how huge this was, but my husband has taken my iPad to China and my cell phone doesn’t do it justice. YouTube to the rescue. I wasn’t really sure what was going on at the moment. I would have expected this many bees in the air if the hive had been knocked over, but it looked fine. Could they be they swarming? I couldn’t see them collecting anywhere, yet. I was worried my neighbors would freak out (I could see one little boy staring open-mouthed through his back door). The cloud dispersed in about 15 minutes and my hive looked almost back to normal. Hmmmm.
Then I looked over at my neighbor’s yard. There was a small clump of bees on some very tall bamboo against her back fence.
Okay…. Wonder if I should go get them? CAN I even get them? I mean, I’ve read about collecting swarms, but can I really do this? Should I bother? I checked the hive to see if I could find the queen. She’s usually around bar #8, so I pulled it. No queen–but some capped brood, larvae, and some queen cells (they’re the peanut-looking things hanging off the sides)!
Pulled bar #7 (replacing it earned me a sting to the elbow) & found another queen cell. Good. That confirms my swarm theory even though I can still see only a little clump of bees on the bamboo, not what I expected for a swarm size at all. I’m happy the hive is raising another queen. Should I go after the swarm or let it be? This one will have its own queen in a few weeks, but I decide I can’t resist a second colony of bees and head to the garage to get the ladder.
With my 9-year-old son/photojournalist tagging along, I knock on the neighbor’s door. No answer. We go around the yard and knock on their backyard neighbor’s door. No answer. I talk to my husband on the phone. He doesn’t want the bees to get away & convinces me it’s okay to collect bees first and apologize for being in my neighbor’s yard later (we left them a note & a jar of honey). I go around the side yard to survey the swarm and plan my attack. Oh, good god–it’s huge. The swarm we thought was the size of a paperback novel was actually a little offshoot of bees looking for the main swarm which I now see is the size of the Oxford Unabridged Dictionary. I hesitate & reassess. My son is giddy with excitement.
Glad that the neighbor’s fence is merely latched and not locked, we tiptoe in. The yard is a little sloped, but I find a steady place for the ladder and am glad the bamboo is bendy–otherwise I wouldn’t be able to safely reach it at all. We have brought our nuc (nucleus hive, i.e. small temporary hive box) in which to collect the bees. The usual method is to place the box under the swarm and give the branch a hefty shake, thus dumping the bees (and the all-important queen) in the box. I, however, am not stupid enough to balance myself and the heavy nuc on the ladder, so I decide I’m going to cut the bamboo. I bend it down and try to isolate which branch the swarm is resting on.
Holding it tightly, I clip the biggest cane hoping the queen is on it, climb down the ladder and give the branch a quick shake into the box. The bees immediately come spilling back out and flying up (if they do not smell the queen in the box, they will find her and clump up again). I see another small cluster and cut it down. Okay. Whew–okay! All the bees are in (or near) the box. We actually did it!
We need to leave the hive in place until tonight so that any scout bees that were out looking for new digs will come back to find the queen and the rest of her sisters in the hive. They will be fine in the nuc for at least a week, probably more, until I can build them a new hive. So exciting!