Catching my first swarm was exhilarating, and terrifying all at once. The sound was intimidating and the amount of flying bees was overwhelming. Despite all that and like all the videos and articles I had read, the bees were amazingly calm. The bees were flying around our heads but were almost unaware we were there. It was surreal!
The idea of free bees has encapsulated my imagination for a while. Splitting a hive to make two is always a risk unless you really know what you are doing. My hives are 45minutes away from my house so it is not convenient to drive out there all time waiting for the best time to split. Finding swarms seems like the most fun way to expand my apiary.
If you do not know what to do when you find a swarm and feel you are unable to collect them yourself, please contact your local bee club or a beekeeper in the area. They will know what to do. DO NOT KILL THE BEES
Swarming Behaviour in Bees
Because swarming is a bees natural way of growing the population there should be swarms everywhere. Every strong hive would eventually swarm to advance the population of the species. When bees swarm there are a few things they do in preparation. First sign of a swarm could be a swarm cell found on the bottom of a frame. The queen slows down brood production and goes on a diet so that she can fly again. Scout bees have some suitable new homes already picked out. Bees themselves fill their honey stomach full of honey. When all this happens some of the bees leave with the queen in search of a new home.
When I said earlier that all strong hives will eventually swam. With domesticated honey bees this is not always the case. Honey bee breeders will seek out hives that display a low ambition to swarm. Beekeepers also have a few tricks up their sleeves. Beekeepers will provide the bees with enough space in a hive to limit their drive to swarm. If bees feel there isn’t enough space in a hive they start packing their bags. Beekeepers add more hive boxes filled with honey frames to provide the needed personal space.
Beekeepers also watch for swarm cells in a hive. Swarm cells are a specific formation that looks like a eaten corn cob hanging down from the bottom of the frame. The swarm cell(s) contain a potential queen bee. They are longer then normal brood cells because the queen has a much longer abdomen than the rest of the bees. The specific swarm cell looks the same as other queen cells but is normally found on the bottom of the frame. Some beekeepers will choose to destroy a swarm cell or relocate it to a queenless hive.
I have been keeping a larger plastic bin with a lid in my truck in case I came across a swarm. When catching a swarm you don’t need any special equipment, but you should make sure that you have an extra hive ready to go.
Catching a Swarm
What you need
- Box or bin with a lid, if you are using a hive box make sure to remove some frames of wax
- Tarp to catch the bees that missed the box
- Your bee suit or veil
- A hive ready to go with landing board, lid and hive body with some frames removed.
I recommend keeping the above equipment in your vehicle. All of this can be kept in the bin or box for convenience.
Now you have to position the box under the swarm. You do not want the bees falling a far distance because it will end up injuring them and most importantly injuring the queen. If the swarm is high in a tree you will either need a big ladder or wait for it to move somewhere more convenient.
When the box is in place you then need to shake the $hit out of what ever they are holding on to. If this is not possible you could always try to scoop or brush them into the box. Another option is to use a bee vacuum. The link will take you to my favourite YouTube star, The Bush Bee man!
Our first swarm mistake
When I told my buddy that was helping me to shake the tree with the swarm I clearly was not specific enough that you need to shake it fast and hard. He gave the limb of that tree the equivalent of a handshake to your 90 year old grandma. Bees started flying everywhere. We had to come back later and let them reform the swarm.
After about 10 minutes the bees had reformed the swarm and we gave that tree the shaking of its life. Most of the clump fell right into our first box but lots were still flying around. We left the box on the ground and grabbed a second bin. The smaller swarm that formed told us that we likely missed the queen. We shook the tree again and again the clump fell into the second bin. The few straggler bees were very interested in getting in to that second box so we can assume we had the queen.
Moving the Swarm
We left the boxes on the ground by the initial swarm and set up our hive in the apiary. We were close enough that we could now go and grab the swarm and walk the bees to their new home. There is no problems with transporting the swarm by vehicle you just want to try and get as many bees as possible so that your new hive is as strong as it can be.
It is a good idea to hive your new found bees at night and even give them a frame of brood from another hive so that they have a reason to stay in the box.
We left 6 frames in the 10 frame deep box and shook the bees in from the two boxes. This has to be done fast because, guess what, bees can fly, and they will. After we got most of the bees in the box we closed up the lid, put on an entrance reducer and left the two bins by the hive door so that the stragglers could make thier way in.
Butts in the Air
We saw quite a few bees with their butts in the air. Bees will put their abdomens in the air and flap their wings to give off the nasonov scent. Bees do this for a number of reasons but we are hoping that they are trying to attract any other bees that missed the box as well as mark their new colony location.
Make sure that bees are interested in going in the new hive. This signifies that you likely have the queen and they are going to find her pheromones.
We now have to wait and see if they accept their new home. There is always a chance they will reject the new hive and reform a swarm. Bees don’t swarm without a plan. The scout bees have already locked down a location and just because you intervened doesn’t mean they wont try again.
Update: July 5 2020
After two weeks being left alone I decided to check on the swarm. It is important to leave them alone for at least two weeks so that they can get settled. The swarm seemed much smaller than I remember it. The bees were clustered around two frames in the middle of the single deep hive box. It was a really hot day so hopefully the majority of the bees were out foraging. I pulled an outside frame and set it beside the hive. I then carefully pried the next frame, separating it from the frame beside it. There were some bees building comb. When looking at the third frame HAZAAA! There was fresh eggs and some young larva! Seeing this shows that there is a viable queen and the swarm will have a chance. It is still quite early in the season and I suspect that we will have lots of time to build up that new hive. I am very excited.