Saturday, August 4, 2012

Third Swarm's A Charm!

Yesterday we went to check out our trailer of bees to determine which beehives needed honey boxes or which small Nuks needed to be placed into larger brood boxes. A Nuk is a small, 5 frame hive that we start new colonies in, and a brood box is a 9 or 10 frame hive where the queen bee lives.

From earlier observations, we knew that the first Nuk on the trailer was slammed full of bees and needed a larger dwelling.  When we opened it up we found plenty of bees, spotted a small queen, but found no eggs or larvae. My initial reaction was that she was a lousy queen, not producing eggs, and that we needed to re-queen this hive.  We placed the five frames into the larger brood box anyway, and I made a note to purchase another queen.

Typically with a good laying queen bee all the cells would be full of eggs and larvae, but these were empty. Note the cotton fields in the background. They are just beginning to flower.

 We continued to open up all ten hives, finding boxes full of capped honey and adding new, empty honey boxes where needed.

 Everything was going fine until we opened up the very last box.  As soon as Bob pulled out the first frame the bees began to boil out and sting him. Time to go. My tendency is to freeze, so there I stood, debating whether or not I would go and put the lid back on the hive.

I was moving slowly toward the hive when I started getting pinged.  When bees are agitated they will not necessarily start stinging right away, but they will begin to bombard you - bouncing off and buzzing you - generally around your face and head. That's the cue to get out of there. Once you're stung, you emit a pheremone scent that attracts more bees to sting. Bees can follow for quite a distance and sometimes don't give up and return to the hive easily. I've learned in those instances it's best to find a tree, lean up against it and "Be the tree." I once had a bee keep me pinned to a tree for 30 minutes. Each time I was sure she had given up and I stepped away from the tree, there she was again pinging me and letting me know who was boss!

As I stood against the tree for just a moment (this bee retreated right away) I happened to look up and noticed THIS...

A swarm of bees in the tree I happened to take refuge in!  Was that random or what?!!

So now it all made sense. This swarm had come from the first hive we opened. They had bugged out sometime that morning before we got there. The queen we saw was little becasue she had just hatched and had not begun to lay eggs. And here was the old queen with most of the bees from the hive and all the honey stores!

Now all we had to do was capture it!  Bob clipped away branches..

 But as he made the very last cutting to clear away unnecessary branches, half of the ball of bees fell to the ground!
Now we had time to kill while we waited for the bees on the ground to fly back up into the tree. What a mess!  An hour or so later we returned and finished the job. In the dark. My husband held the branch while I made the cut and he carried the bees out of the cow pasture to place in the Nuk hive in the back of the  truck.

The way that is done is by taking out three frames from the Nuk box and giving the branch a hard quick jerk, sending the ball of bees falling into the bee box. Then the frames are again added. We try not to leave bees behind so Bob brushed as many stray bees into the box as he could before closing the lid and driving home.  We were totally unprepared to do this and had no brush with us, so he used toilet paper to gently move the bees into the box. He was amazed how heavy they were!

This is the hive this morning.

If you'd like to read more about swarms you can find another article I wrote HERE and HERE and HERE


  1. Great blog! Your writing is so entertaining!

  2. Love your pictures! Great blog, thanks!

    -- Sharon in Eugene, Oregon

  3. Marcy, Robin Bills here, I noticed that you and Bob are not using smoke to help calm the bees, why is that? As for your frames, when the worker bees consume the box to full, that is when they wonder to other places, it is usually best to have a couple of empty boxes around for them to wonder into, forming more hives, other wise you will be chasing them all over and end up with a swarm, that could be harmful to your livestock, people and other bees. I grew up on a farm, my grandmother taught me about beekeeping, canning and preserving and other things. I miss farm life. Just thought I would share. Thanks again for your wonderful blog.

  4. I met Bob last week at the FBC fall festival. Please have him contact me about my bee problem