To Hive A Swarm?

Below is a copy of an article describing my amateurish efforts to collect a wild swarm, as published in last years Bee-Craft, which I hope you find of interest.

Being fairly new to beekeeping and never having seen a swarm, let alone captured one, I quickly said yes when asked by an  acquaintance if I’d be interested in removing one from his neighbor’s field. As this was completely new territory to me I suggested, the first step would be to go and take a look. As soon as we arrived at the spot, it was immediately obvious that this wasn’t a swarm but a colony which had taken up residence quite some time earlier. It was in a tree about ten feet above the ground under an overhanging branch. What struck me immediately was the beauty of the thing. It was about the size of a rugby ball and as the bees went about their business, it seemed to change colour, going from a pale shade of yellow,through gold to a sort of auburn red.The nearest thing I could liken it to was some beautiful under water corral. For fully ten minutes I just stood looking up at it.

From where I stood it looked like a solid object, I imagined that somehow I’d be able to prise it from it’s perch and remove it en-masse. Whatever I decided to do, it obviously wasn’t going to be as straightforward as I’d originally imagined. I decided there and then that specialist help was the order of the day. And so to my friend Liz Currel.It was she that had got me interested in bee-keeping in the first place and her  help and encouragement that had sustained that interest ever since.

 Many hands make light work

Liz  enthusiastically agreed to assist as like me, she had never seen a colony in the wild as it were, but fortunately, she did know a man who had. Her friend, and since that day mine, John Smythe.

The next morning saw the three of us at the foot of the tree, marvelling at the sight of all those bees going about their respective tasks, totally oblivious to us.I say again, I can’t recall a more incredible sight before or since.

We had with us a ladder which was set against the tree, a brood box and floor which was laid on a large sheet at the foot of the tree, and several large buckets. It was decided,the person with the most experience should be first up the tree and I have to say, at that point I was really glad that it wasn’t me.

So up went John and began easing the combs individually from the tree and into his bucket returning a few minutes later with the bucket about half full. And now it was my turn, so with my bucket in my hand and my heart in my mouth, up I went. I was surprised at how soft the comb was and how heavy.

Each comb proceeded to disintegrate as I levered it from the tree and into my bucket. There was honey and wax everywhere but incredibly, throughout,the bees were very placid, good job I thought.

On the ground, the combs were laid on the sheet where John did his best to assemble them into plastic frames which he had brought along for the purpose. These were then slotted into the brood chamber with attendant bees. We were fortunate to see the queen staggering across the sheet. She was duly marked and allowed to run into the box with her subjects.

At this point it was decided,there was little else we could do and so, having tidied up as best we could, we left hoping that some at least of the thousands of bees milling around would join their queen in the nice new home we had presented them with. Needless to say, the bees of course had other ideas. I returned the following day to collect the hive to find, most if not all the flying bees had returned to the tree and were clustered below the branch. Now, thought I, this does look like a classic swarm so, box in hand, I climbed the ladder thinking to dislodge the bees into said box, decend, pop the bees into the brood chamber where obviously they would be welcomed with open arms,close up,clean up and clear off. I should have known better. The pitch of the buzzing as I approached should have told me that this wasn’t such a good idea, but, nothing ventured etc. So, what was it?, ah yes, hold the box under the swarm as close as possible with one hand and with the other, disslodge the bees into said box. What could be simpler, nothing to fear, after all, swarms seldom if ever sting, do they. But I had forgotten the first lesson, and this wasn’t a swarm was it. If I tell you these bees were a bit miffed at my clumsy efforts, that would probably rate as the understatement of the year. Within seconds I was covered with bees all intent on instant retribution. It was a hot July day and I was perspiring freely by the time I had reached the bees. My bee suit was sticking to me, a situation the bees took full advantage of. I don’t know what the record is for descending a ladder but I’ll bet that I broke it by miles. When I reached the ground, I quickly wrapped the box in the sheet and legged it closely pursued by thousands of miniature exocet missiles. Later that evening I counted thirty-two stings on my arms alone.

As this little colony was an unknown quantity and not wishing to chance introducing any disease into my apiary, I decided to site the hive in my garden, not without some concerns for the neighbours I might add, but there was nowhere else available to me. My garden is only medium sized and I have neighbours on three sides but glad to say, my worries were unfounded.

Garden hive,cat on guard!

                                             GARDEN HIVE,CAT ON GUARD

These are without doubt the most placid bees I have ever encountered. I seldom if ever have to smoke them.I have bolstered their numbers with brood from my other hives and have fed them well. Happily they have responded well and appear up to full strength now, which considering it is barely two months since I brought them home is quite remarkable. The queen has been laying well since day one and her brood patterns have to be seen to be believed, classic text book, and they’re so industrious, on the go from dawn ’til well past dusk most days. Unfortunately, I have no way of knowing whether this colony is the result of a prime swarm or cast, although, for the reasons mentioned earlier, my gut feeling is that  it must be a cast, consequently, I have no way of knowing how old the queen is. I truly hope this queen and her little colony over winter successfully. It is my intention to use her to head my queen rearing program next year.

In conclusion I would say, it has been a real pleasure having these bees at such close quarters. I have learned a great deal and my life has been enriched by the experience. They did have one more surprise for me and I’m certain it wont be the last. I decided early on that the best way to get the bees off their wild comb would be to use two brood chambers, queen, foundation with additional brood in one and wild comb in the other with a queen excluder in between. I reasoned, the brood on the wild comb would hatch and join their queen. When I opened the hive some three weeks later, I was pleased to see most of the brood had hatched and joined the others, but instead of taking the honey with them which I somehow imagined they would, they had doubled the size of the wild comb and filled it with lovely honey, an unexpected and very welcome bonus for which I was most grateful.

It is now December and the bees have settled into winter mode.I never once imagined how big a part they could play in my life, I have only joyous thoughts when I look back to that day in August and I would recommend the experience to anyone. Oh yes, I have decided to keep the hive in the garden, it would be like losing an old friend to move them now.

Copyright 2011 Mendip Apiary.