Sunday, May 14, 2023

May 2023 - Battle for the Swarm

Swarm season is back! Learning from our moderately successful approach of doing preemptive splits last year, we set out to repeat the process for 2023... but weather (and bees!) conspired against it being too easy. Last Friday was an absolute exhausting battle to capture a huge swarm-- read on for the play-by-play:

First of all -- BUSINESS:  We will be selling Autumn (last dozen pints!) and Spring Honey this week, on Wednesday, May 17, at the Ross Twp Farmer's Market.

After a week of rain kept us out of the hives, when the sun finally reemerged I headed to bee yard for a quick check of just a couple of the hives.    

Instead, I found one of the hives had swarmed A HUGE number of bees high into a nearby tree. With no time to waste, I spent the next three hours in a grueling battle to recapture them. 

They were way too high to simply shake into a box, so I fashioned a yard waste bag onto a long extendable pole, tossed in an empty hive frame with attractant on it and carefully tried to align this heavy wobbly contraption with the swarm-- which was a bit bigger than a basketball-- weaving it up through all the other branches in this overgrown "wild" area of the lower yard.

I should mention that the entire area below this branch was a tangled mess of thorns and undergrowth that could all easily snag and also penetrate my bee suit, which I was fully outfitted in due the high likelihood of dropping thousands of bees on my head. It was hot and incredibly frustrating to be alternately stabbed and trapped until eventually trampling enough thorns out if my way to have a outpost in this wilderness. 

After half a dozen failed attempts to knock the queen in (the bag wasn't rigid enough to knock into the branch hard enough), the bag strap broke.  Mind you, each of those attempts meant lowering everything down and knocking the bees into a box only to then watch them fly back up to the branch and then reconfiguring and raising the bag again-- I probably spent an hour on these futile attempts to persuade and dislodge the queen. 

With the bag out of commission I thought I'd try taping the frame of comb with attractant on it and just push it up into the swarm. My thinking was that if I held it steady enough and long enough I should be able to slowly edge it away from the limb and ascertain if the queen was on it -- by the way the bees were flying -- before lowering it all the way to the ground. This was a great plan! 

The queen was not impressed with my ingenuity, especially after long minutes on multiple attempts trying to hold the frame up there until my arms were jelly. It was becoming clear to me that the swarm was essentially unattainable to me from 20-30 feet below and the gear I had available to me.

Well, if they're leaving us anyway, I might as well try to shift the paradigm-- it was time for desperate measures. Using the frame/pole, I started knocking the branch hard by jumping up with the big wobbly and heavy pole. With most of the bees in flight, I then scraped the branch with the frame, swiping and hitting at it until everyone was off. 

After a while the dispersed cloud of bees coalesced in the middle of some completely inaccessible thorn bushes right below the previously inaccessible high tree branch. Progress! After a quick committee meeting with my scattered thoughts, "we" decided it would be smart to make a run back to the house for some construction gear and make room for a more surgical approach that would be less stabby. Still in my full suit and the air thick with confused bees, I hacked, yanked and pulled a clearing and then thinned out the thorns below the swarm. The swarm was still about 7 feet off the ground, so I loaded up our relatively lightweight plastic nuc box, stood on my tiptoes and started shaking the swarm (mostly) into the box. When all the bees were either in the box or flying, I set it down and again-- for maybe the 10th time-- tried to patiently observe what the bees were doing. 

If the queen wasn't in the box, they'd rush the exit like someone yelled "Fire!" in a theater and gather back up around the queen (wherever she actually was) or any of the other earlier gathering points (just to add to a dose of unpredictability for any beekeeper well read on what they're "supposed to do.") Likewise, if the queen was successfully captured, her pheromones would be fanned out by the bees closest to her sticking their rears up in the air and revving up their wings like helicopters on the verge of takeoff, broadcasting to the rest of the swarm where she was. Bees should then notably show order in their seemingly chaotic flight paths as they converge on the entrance and then orderly march in.

 Thankfully, after all my earlier disappointed assessments of bees dispersing, I was finally seeing a concerted effort to enter the box and lots of "She's over here!" fanning around the entrance. Whew. Unfortunately, we still have cold overnights and I didn't want to leave them in this flimsy box, so I needed to move the swarm again. I brought over a heavy wood nuc and carefully began moving the frames from the plastic nuc. 

There were too many bees to try and find the queen so I was just hoping for the best. Then, as I moved the plastic lid over to tap the clots of bees there into nuc, I saw her! She appeared uninjured (a concern after my rough shaking of the high tree limb) but was not in a good place to safely get her into the nuc... But I didn't have an alternative, so BONK there she goes. I left the new nuc alone while I checked the other hives. When I circled back, there were no bees in the air or bushes and everyone was buzzing inside.  Yay! Mission accomplished.

After a couple days to settle down, I moved the queen and her swarm to a 10 frame double-deep box nuc so they would have more room. I've since located and verified the queen is still there (her coloring is so close to the other bees that she's quite hard to pick out), but have not seen any signs of eggs or brood just yet so...  until she reaches a comfort level with her pollen/nectar supplies and starts laying eggs, they are basically free agents who could leave again. 

That leaves us with just one hive on swarm watch. The queen of that hive is a large black one (gorgeous!), but also they have a lower population and a slower ramp so far. There's been no real signs of interest in swarming, so we haven't even been able to consider a preemptive split. 

With three of the four main hives now split/swarmed, we are waiting for signs of a successfully mated and active new queen. Those checks will begin this week. In the meantime, they're happily hatching out and growing their population from the eggs left behind by their original queen. Orientation flights are common and nectar is starting to come in more aggressively as the weather permits.

Consider joining our email list-- we will not spam you, we promise! What we will do is send out information regarding events we are scheduled to sell at, along with reminders when each season's harvest is ready for sale. For anyone looking for the limited availability stuff (like quart jars or comb honey) or who want to be first in  line, this is the list to be on-- email us to get on that list if you aren't already. 

Follow us!  We are @DandelionApiary on Twitter and Instagram

Thank you everyone!

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments will be posted once approved by the page admin. For purchases - PLEASE EMAIL at - Thank you!