Tuesday, May 19, 2009

capturing another honey bee swarm

Note: If you are in the king or snohomish county area and you run across a bee swarm, call me and I'll come get them for free. 206 940 4980. If you want to try capturing a swarm yourself, I'll describe how to do it with a cardboard box or two at the bottom of this post.
My bees surprised me again with another early swarm. Bees swarm at the warmest part of the day, usually around 2pm. So these guys are right on time. This time they flew about 200' before they landed, and they picked an odd spot to land in -- underneath my chicken brooding trailer.

you can see the mass of bees right above the wheel. This is about 15 or 20 minutes after they've swarmed, so most of the bees are in the lump.

So I go get a box from a hive that starved out last winter and do a quick check of the frames, making sure that everything is ok. Bees wax turns dark with use, or when the bees use that comb for raising larvae, so this is an old brood comb. I'll scrape off the extra wax, shake off the dead bees and look (and smell) for signs of disease. If it looks ok the drawn comb will give the new swarm a headstart on making a go of it.

Here's a sheet of wax that the bees had only partially drawn out. you can see it's flat at either end, but in the center there's a raised area. The new hive will finish out this comb.

Now back to the swarm. Still quite a few bees flying around, but most of them are bunched up.

I'm lucky that they've chosen an area about 2' above the ground. Makes the capture easy, again. Well, not as easy as the last time, but pretty easy.

Same process. Need a space in the box, so I remove two combs and then carefully slide the hive in underneath the swarm. The opening is directly below the biggest mass of bees.

Now carefully and gently, I take my bare hand and brush the bees off the bottom of the trailer onto and into the box. I want complete masses of bees to fall in, so I'm running my hand across the bottom of the trailer and huge clumps of bees are falling about 12-18" into the box. this picture is seconds after the masses of bees fell into the box. Most of them are filling the opening where the two frames were.

Now I set the top of the hive on, but very loosely. The bees can get into the hive from all sizes. Notice the two bees that are sticking their rear ends up in the air. they're "fanning" -- they're broadcasting the smell of the queen by fanning their wings, giving the swarm a better chance of regrouping. If all goes well the queen is already in the box, and this fanning will draw the rest of the swarm into the box.
Ok. Now 20 minutes later i carefully lift the lid and look. The bees are all over the combs, they're liking their new home. I've probably captured the queen. So I carefully lower the lid on properly, limiting the entry/exit from the hive to the front only. When I lower it I lower it .25", and then raise it up, then lower it again, then raise it up. That allows any bees that would be squished a chance to get out of the way. you can feel the top land gently on bees, so after 4 or 5 raises and lowers, I feel it start to hit wood, so i put it on for good.
Tomorrow I'll go back and insert the two frames I removed, and then I leave the new queen and her hive alone for a week or so so they can make themselves at home. After dark I'll put a piece of wood across the entrance and move the hive to where I want it to be. When the bees wake up they'll be in their new location.
capturing a bee swarm with cardboard boxes
I'm describing what I do to capture swarms. If you find yourself covered in bees and running through the neighborhood begging for death, that's not my fault.
First, it's handy to have two medium sized cardboard boxes. One box you'll use to carry the bees from where ever they landed, and the other box you'll use to contain the captured bees. This is the way to deal with a swarm of bees that is formed into a lump like I've shown above.
if the bees are somewhere you can put the box under them, open your capture box and do that. leave it open. Gently dislodge the bees into your capture box, and then close it. you don't have to close it tight -- just enough that the bees see the dark and feel secure. Any openings will allow stragglers to join the hive. Your goal is to get the queen. If the queen is in the box, all of the other bees will follow by dark. If she is not, they'll reform around her and you get to try again.
If you cannot get the box under where the swarm is, close your capture box up but cut a hole about the size of a quarter in it, near the bottom of one side. Weave the top so that if you push on the flaps a hole opens in the center. Put your capture box as close to the swarm as you can.
Now take your other box, which I'll call your collection box, put it under the warm and brush or dislodge bees into it. Quickly carry the lump of bees in, and put them into your capture box. Repeat as many times as necessary to get any grouped bees.
Then stand back and watch. Are most of the bees in the box, and the ones that are flying around slowly going into the box? If so, you're done. Wait until dark, seal the box and carry it to their new home. If not, watch where they go and repeat.
A swarm of bees is worth roughly $100 early on. Later in the season they're not worth as much, until September when they have a negative worth. That's because the later swarms have trouble surviving the winter because they don't have enough time to collect honey to carry them through. So you have to feed them all winter.


Dave said...

Still waiting for my first swarm call. Our club President had a hive swarm the other day, 2.30pm 50 degrees and raining, guess the bees dont always read the book.

Emily said...

I'm enjoying your posts on capturing honey bee swarms. Very informative and helpful, thanks. I was planning on keeping a couple hives this summer as we sure do love our honey...but decided I wasn't quite ready. My dad raised bees all my childhood and I never took interest or notice...wished I had in retrospect. He has agreed to help me out when I am ready. We sure do enjoy our honey, and the prices have skyrocketed that last couple years. Thanks again, Emily