Thursday, July 24, 2008

To Catch a Swarm

Tuesday (7/22), at approximately 1 pm I chanced by the bee yard. Thousands of bees were whipping around the air. Thelma's hive had swarmed! We had had some inkling that this might be in the works, but thought we had headed it off. Not so.

While honey bee swarms look downright biblical, they are really very manageable events if you 1) know what to do, and 2) don't panic. Swarms are the way honey bee colonies reproduce. The queen and most of the bees capable of flight (that's 15-25 thousand) make a mass exodus and search for a new home. They are very gentle while swarming because they have no home to defend. That said, when I gathered myself, I ran inside and told Yvonne what was happening. She alertly brought the camera so you get to see what happened next.

This is me and the swarm in one of our cherry trees. Eventually the swarm lands and waits for the scouts to find a new home. They may stay in the first spot for 20 minutes or 3 days, depending on what the scouts say and the weather conditions. By the way that's steely resolve on my face, not panic.

Here's a close up of the swarm wriggling in the cherry tree. That's the brim of my hat on the right.

Fortunately we had some extra bee equipment on hand for just such an occasion. I didn't figure to use it until next year, but that plan has clearly been overcome by events. I put the hive body underneath the swarm and we cut off the branch of the tree. Then we shook the bees off and into their new quarters, thus:

Once the cover is on, it suddenly looks like a normal bee yard again. Nothing to see here; move along, move along.

Today we took a look at the new hive and added some frames from the established hives. We put in a frame full of honey, and one of larva and capped brood. Folks say the presence of brood is the best way to ensure the swarm adopts the new hive as home. Predictably the bees had gotten a bit confused and were building comb from the top down. That's why they are all piled up on the inner cover. After this shot was taken I shook them down into the hive body, and Yvonne scraped the last of the burr comb off the inner cover. With luck the two drawn frames will convince them to build new comb in the right place (on the foundation, not the roof).

Hopefully the bees that remained in Thelma's old hive will have a new queen hatch out by early next week. (We added a frame of eggs from Louise's hive for insurance, so if there is no queen on the way the bees can make one now.) We'll keep an eye out for an unmarked queen next time we open up that hive. According to schedule the new queen should be making mating flights next week, and should start to lay eggs the week after that. If we're lucky we'll be able to find and mark her. Too much fun!

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