You hear a solid humming sound and notice that it is coming from a tree above. You look up and notice a volleyball size bundle of bees all clustered together, wrapped around a tree branch. What the heck are they doing outside their hive? This, my friends, is swarming. In my previous blogs, I discussed how this is normal behavior for strong honey bee colonies. This is their method of turning one colony into two, two into four, four into eight, and so on. I also discussed how to notice the signs that your hive is gearing up to swarm. Finally, I outlined some options to prevent it. But, guess what? They swarmed anyway!
This is a photo of a hive first swarming. They form a cloud and will soon settle onto a temporary location like a tree branch.
These photos show the cluster that a swarm will create. They will stay in this location for a few minutes to maybe 24 hours before they find a permanent location.
As frustrating as it may be, don’t beat yourself up. If it makes you feel better, the Boise State Bee Team students (whom I advise) had about four swarms, despite following some textbook strategies to prevent it. Bees will be bees, and sometimes they’ve made up their mind before you take action. So, what do you do?
1. You can capture the swarm yourself! The process for capturing the swarm depends on where it is located. Hopefully, it is within reach on a tree branch or something similar. Sometimes a small ladder helps, but use discretion if the swarm is in a dangerous-to-get-to location. If the swarm is dangling in their cluster from a tree branch, you can likely jolt the branch downward in a swift motion. This will cause the bees to fall downward in a bundle into a nuc or hive box that you place under the branch. Sometimes the bees are more spread out on a branch. In that case, use a brush to brush all the bees into a nuc or hive box below. It helps to have a frame or more with drawn out wax in the collection box. Swarms are generally very docile and unaggressive, but it always best to protect yourself with a veil or suit.
This picture shows a nuc that I used to capture a swarm in a tree on Boise State’s campus.
Bees will often swarm to a location out of an arm’s reach. We are lucky at Boise State to have a man lift which allows us to safely access swarms 20 feet high in a tree.
2. Call a local beekeeper to capture the swarm. Maybe the swarm is in a relatively difficult-to-access area. Maybe you don’t want to capture it. Maybe you have no space for it. If that is the case, call a local beekeeper! The best way to do this is to go to Treasure Valley Beekeepers Club website at www.idabees.org and click the large red button on the home screen that says “SWARM.” From here, the website gives you some helpful tips before calling a beekeeper. Next, there is a link to a map that shows beekeepers near you that are willing to collect swarms. Sometimes there is one right in your neighborhood! Please be courteous when you contact them. Many work full-time jobs and may not answer right away, but will call back as soon as possible.
Swarms happen. It can be frustrating as a beekeeper to lose half your bees due to swarming, but it sure can be exciting to capture one and take it home to your apiary! Maybe this is where the term freebies (or “free bees”) came from!
Keep your bees buzzin’ y’all!