It is wonderful to have bees back in the yard again! It’s comforting (to me, anyway) to watch them flying around and to hear their distinctive hum. In fact, it only took me two days before I started hearing “phantom bees” in the house. I don’t know if other beekeepers get this, but bees tend to have a certain pitch to their hum that really sticks in my ears. Even after I’ve come in from the yard, I’ll often hear a bee that’s not really there buzzing around the house.
Monday night my friend saw a picture of a swarm of bees in her Facebook feed. She immediately thought of me (aw, thanks!) and put me in contact with her friend. Tuesday morning the bees were still there and things were a go. The bees were reported to be 10-15 feet in a tree, but right over the sidewalk, so I tossed my 8 foot ladder in the truck and hoped it would be enough. If there’s one thing you don’t want to do it’s falling off a ladder while stretching on tiptoe to grab a bunch of stinging insects.
The kind woman showed me where the bees had landed in a neighbor’s yard. Yep, they were right over the sidewalk. Awesome. But they were 15 feet up if they were an inch. Not as awesome. Hmmm….8 feet of ladder plus 5’4″ of beekeeper=not 15 feet. I really didn’t know if I was going to be able to do this. I had a quick conversation in my head that if I let myself do this I had to promise not to do anything stupid and stop if I felt like I couldn’t do it safely. My mom would approve.
After scoping it out from the base of the tree, I put on my protective jacket and climbed the ladder for a better look. There was going to be no way to hold the box and shake the bees down at the same time. They were too high and the box is too heavy having been made from 1″ cedar (note to self, build a lighter nuc box). And then I saw the perfect “V” in the branches below the cluster of bees…. If I could set the box on the branches, I could use one hand to stabilize the box (or myself) while shaking the branch. The tree was a bit too bendy to support the box on its own, but I had two bungee cords in the truck that I used to secure the handles to the tree. We were in business!
After securing the box, I had to stand on the highest step of the ladder (not the very top landing, that would be insane) to be able to reach the bees and see what I was doing. I wasn’t keen on shaking them down over my head! In a swarm clump, the bees are mostly just all hanging on to each other, so if you give the branch a hard, quick downward shake they usually all just plop off in a big ball. In this evergreen tree, they did have lots of needles to hang on to, so it was a little harder to get them to let go. I shook hard twice and waited. There were a bunch still on the branch and I couldn’t tell if I had gotten the queen or not, so I shook one more time and then decided I was pressing my luck and should get down. I placed all but one top bar on the nuc to mostly close off the top and left to go get a cup of coffee.
Yes, I attempted that without coffee. Usually, I don’t even attempt to get the kids on the school bus without coffee, but the adrenaline of capturing 6000+ stinging insects was able to tide me over. And why just stop and take a break? Well, if the queen is still in the tree, the bees won’t stay in the box; they’ll fly back up to the branch where she is. So, if I check back in about an hour and the bees are still in the tree I can try to shake them down again. Fortunately, I went back and all the bees were in the box. Success! Now I just leave them until the sun starts to go down and let any foragers return to find all their sisters happily living in the box.
I returned around 8pm, brought the box down, put the lid on and strapped it into the front seat of the truck (they don’t love vibrations, so I felt this was a better option than the truck bed). The drive home was a little nervewracking. I have never been so focused on what might happen if I get into a car accident…..
We all made it home safely and I put the nuc in the backyard until today when I dumped them into my full-size top bar hive. There were already a few girls who had discovered it yesterday as it has old honeycomb in it and I’m sure smells and tastes like home if you’re a bee. Finding themselves in the hive was probably like moving into a fully furnished house with a stocked refrigerator!
I won’t peek in on them for a few days while they get settled. I will also have time to get better pictures at that point and hopefully one of the queen.
Whew! Free bees! Happy Spring.