First Swarm Catch
Most guides to swarm catching will say it’s best to catch bee swarms on warm sunny days so don’t do what I just did and end up catching the first swarm of this season in a gray, dreary day in the pouring rain.
Bees swarm in spring for a variety of reasons but basically its nature’s way to ensure the species survives. A swarm is the old queen taking part of the colony to a new home leaving the old home to a new daughter.
Most swarms have little to protect so are not aggressive, Hollywood’s version of swarms notwithstanding. Bee swarms do have a short lifespan to find a new home so sometimes end up in awkward places as they wait for scout bees to find new real estate, such as the side of cars, or buildings, or tree branches.
This bee swarm was about 15 feet high at the end of a tree branch, the ball of bees hanging onto each other as rain started to fall. My two rookie assistants were too excited to notice so I said let’s move the truck bed under the swarm while I go get my equipment and wait until I get back. I thought with a little luck, we would have this swarm in a box before they know it.
Instead of waiting for me to put a sheet down on the truck bed and move the hive to the side right under the swarm, my two eager assistants had cut the branch down and knocked bees – well, everywhere. Cold, wet bees were in globs all over the truck bed, on the sides, on their shoulders, in their hair. I looked from one to the other, then to the mess of bees all over the truck.
By now it’s a steady rain and they look at me helplessly as if this is a lost cause. I hand out turkey feathers and demonstrate how to carefully scoop up globs of soaking wet bees and put them into the hive. We cut the branch down to size and fit it inside the hive, add a second box and top, wrap the sheet around it and head home.
Once at my bee garden, I added sugar cakes to help absorb moisture I changed every couple of hours and kept separating globs of cold, wet bees. By late that afternoon I had more dry bees moving around the hive and both rookies had texted me their apologies with a promise that they would remember to wait for further instructions next time.
One happened to be helping at the bee club meeting the following weekend where we simulated catching a swarm, the white sheet getting whipped out almost immediately after I said now let’s pretend you have a swarm hanging from this corner.
When I turned back, the sheet was squarely on the ground with a hive ready to welcome imaginary bees. Now that made this first swarm catch a good one.
Charlotte Ekker Wiggins is a beekeeper, gardener and sometimes cook. Published by El Dorado Springs Sun once in print and online with author’s permission. Copyright 2017, all rights reserved. This column may not be reprinted, republished or otherwise distributed without author’s permission. Contact Charlotte at gardeningcharlotte at gmail dot com.
DRYING OUT – The next day, bees were dried out and moving around in the hive where I had added sugar cakes normally used for winter back up food to help absorb moisture. (Photos by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins).
THE SWARM – This bee swarm was approximately 15 feet off the ground in a tree in front of a county residence, a typical location for a spring swarm waiting for a new home.