It all started a couple of weeks ago when Ross went out the check on the hive and he thought he saw what could possibly be swarm cells. For those of you who aren’t keeping bees yet, swarm cells are peanut sized cells that the bees build when they intend to raise a queen. (They create these cells any time they determine that they need a new queen, not just when they are swarming. It’s all about the location of the cell. More on that some other time.) Depending on where it is on the frame, it can look a lot like burr comb. He wasn’t sure…so he closed the hive up.
Not long after that, he decided that since the hive did have a lot of bees, he might want to do a split. Whatever happened, we would need another hive.
So, a couple of days ago, he began to build a hive. He built the bottom board, a brood box, and an inside cover. Today, he planned to build a roof and a super when he got home. He began the task of watering the plants and was about to start planting the shipment of potatoes that we just received. All things that needed to get done before the fun projects.
Meanwhile, the kids and I were sitting on the porch talking when one of them said, in an off-handed way, “I think there’s a bee hive in that tree”.
It didn’t take long for us to realize that it was a swarm! Ross was just coming into the back yard as that realization was sinking in.
I said “We’ve got a swarm!”, and pointed up into the tree.
Sure enough, about 50 feet up the tree was a whole mass of bees that he recognized as a swarm right away. This isn’t our first experience with this sort of thing.
Last Summer, right as we were getting ready to go camping for a weekend (and by getting ready, I mean the car was packed and we were about to get in) Ross noticed that there were A LOT of bees flying around in the air. We sat there and watched as a ball of bees began to form way up in the climbing tree. We let that one go because we didn’t have time or any supplies at all.
This time, we were ready enough that we could at least consider trying to catch the swarm. Maybe 30 or 45 minutes passed as we gathered, imagined, and created what we would need to do this.
In the interest of keeping it real, I should mention that I don’t like heights. And, bees are not my favorite people. I do like having them around. I think it is pretty important to raise them and I like that we are making this quiet yet meaningful contribution to our community. However, you won’t catch me climbing a tree chasing a swarm of them. So, as I describe this daring rescue, don’t mistake any misplaced “we” to actually mean I was doing anything but watching. I assure you, I was not in the tree at any point.
Did I mention that the swarm was resting on a branch about 50 feet from the ground?
Ultimately, Ross decided to tape a bucket to the end of our telescoping roof rake pole. Then took that pole and, using a ladder to help him reach the lowest branches, he climbed up the tree. After a couple of attempts and having to climb even higher in the tree, he was able to get the bucket to the swarm.
He scooped as many bees as he could into the bucket with one swooping motion, and then began the interesting and challenging task of getting out of a tree with a 25 foot pole and bucket full of bees. A few times the bucket felt too heavy to hold so Ross had to reduce the length of the pole and that meant having the bucket of bees closer to him. That being said, being 30 feet up a tree, balancing a top heavy pole with a bucket full of bees while trying to descend said tree is quite unnerving, I’m sure you can imagine.
Funny thing about a swarm is that they are very docile and not at all interested in defending themselves because they have bellies filled with honey to help them when they find their new home. They need lots of honey to help them draw out new comb and get their new home set up. So bringing as much honey with them as possible beats having to forage for more nectar right away.
He made it safely down (I did hold the ladder steady for him so that’s something) and plopped the bucket of bees upside down on top of the hive.
There were a lot of bees in the bucket, but only a small fraction of the swarm. So, we (it’s appropriate here) were kind of doubtful that we caught the queen, which is necessary when capturing a swarm. The workers will follow the queen where ever she goes. So we waited. If the swarm left and did not inhabit the hive, we would know that she was not in the bucket.
While waiting, Ross knew that if he did catch the queen, the bees would need to be fed so that they can spend their energy building out comb in the hive. That meant that we (appropriate, again) would need to get the feeder out of the other hive.
We checked on the new hive and the remaining swarm that was still gathering in the tree as we set up to get the feeder, and we definitely thought we noticed changes in the swarm. It was getting smaller and there were A LOT of air-borne bees. As we were working at the existing hive, I looked over and noticed a beard forming on the outside. Soon there were thousands of bees on, in, and around the hive. We are confident that Ross caught the queen.
This must be a rite of passage in bee-keeping. We caught a swarm!
Most of the pictures in this blog post were taken by Alora. Check out her work on instagram.