Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Our First Swarm of 2012

 Yesterday, as I was walking across the farm to fill water troughs, I heard a familiar sound. "Uh oh," I thought, "Bees." I looked up and there they were almost right overhead settling at the very top of a tree.

See that dark spot at the top of the tree? That's them.
When I called my husband at work to tell him about it he assured me that we would get them when he got home from work. I thought he was crazy. We've hived swarms in pretty high trees before - I was reminded of one in which he lashed two ladders together and set them in the bed of his pickup truck, and another way up in a pine tree...
                                                    Now THAT was a swarm!

 But this one, yesterday, seemed to me inaccessible. Not to mention the power lines are just outside the frame to the right of the tree. But Bob said he would bring home a giant ladder from work and that he would climb up and get them - until he realized that he had taken the car to work and there was NO WAY the ladder would fit on top of the car! I said to forget it - he wasn't going to be able to do it - too high. That was just the challange he needed.
  One of the motivating factors of catching this swarm was that they were OURS! We had been working with our hives all weekend: assessing, splitting (making two or more hives out of one) and adding honey boxes in preparation of the next honey flow. We've recently brought our hives back from the first honey flow of spring - Ti-ti, and the next will be Chinese Tallow, or Popcorn trees. Our kitchen is crowded, even as I type, with a honey extractor and 5 boxes of unspun honey, another stack of boxes out in the yard waiting for the honey to be removed from the frames - I'll explain more about spinning honey in a future post. Anyway, there is no doubt in my mind that this swarm came out of one of our boxes, and it's heartbreaking to lose a large amount of bees ( approx 60%) after spending time working with them.
  Bob arrived home just as it was beginning to get dark. I fed the animals while he assessed the situation, certain that he would give up and come help me, but no, not my man! He had a plan, and up into the tree he went. Branches began falling like rain - which was ok, because the goats LOVE them! But I did bruise Bob's feelings when I said, "Please don't hurt the tree."
 I got a brood box ready with 8 empty frames of foundation for the bees to pull out, and two frames of spun honeycomb where the queen can begin to lay eggs.

This is to entice the swarm to stay. Sometimes, even under the best circumstances, the bees bug out and won't stay in the beautiful home you've prepared for them.
 Anyway, Bob climbed the tree, cut branches to make an exit hole and eventually severed the branch the bees were clinging to. By this time it was too dark to take pictures, but he managed to climb back down the tree holding the branch with the majority of the bees intact. A few were left in the tree on a nearby twig.

 Next, we carefully placed the honeybees on the top of their new home in hopes that they would climb right in.

Of course, they didn't. Our next course of action was to smoke them in.
When bees smell smoke they instantly react by burying their heads into their honey stores and tanking up. They are preparing for a flight to escape the fire and want to gather as much energy and stores to take with them as they can. This is why beekeepers use smoke to work their bees. When the bees are busy  gathering honey from their hive they are less likely to defend and sting - they are actually quite calm and pay very little attention to you. We used smoke to drive the swarm down into the new hive.

Notice the red headlamp? Bees are attracted to white light and in this situation they would have become quite aggressive to a flashlight beam (and the carrier thereof). They don't recognize a red light.
Oh, and My husband did go back up into the tree a second time to retrieve the small amount of remaining bees!
Once the bees were in the hive we removed the tree branch and put a lid on them. The door opening was stuffed with cloth and first thing this morning we drove them to a nearby neighbors'.
Had we placed them in our apiary they would have swarmed again. They must be moved to a location at least two miles away so they are not able to recognize their territory and therefore must refigure flight patterns and learn their new area. We'll move them back again in a few weeks.

What I didn't mention was that about an hour after I noticed this swarm in the tree, ANOTHER swarm took off from our hives! I followed it across the property and down the hill, but they took off over the creek and were flying high so it was obvious they weren't going to settle anywhere nearby. Keep your eyes open. I once found (and captured) a hive in a little bitty tree in the middle of Sam's Club (Costco) parking lot.
                        SWARMS ARE EVERYWHERE!


  1. I will keep my eyes open Marcy! This was so interesting to read about!