Monday, May 17, 2010

What to do with a bee swarm

Posted By on Mon, May 17, 2010 at 1:58 PM

On Saturday, I walked out into my backyard to do some weeding, and encountered the following sight:

Yup — thats about 20 to 30,000 bees bearding on my fence.
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Yup — that's about 20 to 30,000 bees bearding on my fence.

That, friends, is what you call a good old fashioned swarm of bees. Swarming is a natural bee behavior at this time of the year, usually due to population growth and crowded conditions in a hive. Swarming is how bee populations multiply — basically the queen takes off with a significant portion of the worker bees (and a few lazy drones), leaving those behind to raise a new queen.

The idea here is to protect the queen while scouts go out in search of a viable home.
  • Matthew Schniper
  • The idea here is to protect the queen while scouts go out in search of a viable home.

Unless someone else's hive or a nearby feral colony swarmed and they just happened to pick a beekeepers yard to land in (highly unlikely), these are probably bees from my hive. I'll find out when I get time to inspect my hive this week, weather cooperating. Rather than fret about that, I immediately called our swarm list coordinator at the Pikes Peak Beekeepers Association to see if anyone on the list wanted to come capture the bees. (Considering that 10 to 12,000 new bees and queen costs about $80, catching a swarm with a queen and more than double that amount of workers for free is a good deal.)

Our vacuum hose runs into a five-gallon bucket with some straw on the bottom. The suction comes from a shop vac running into the other side of the bucket, with a mesh screen that keeps the bees from being sucked through.
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Our vacuum hose runs into a five-gallon bucket with some straw on the bottom. The suction comes from a shop vac running into the other side of the bucket, with a mesh screen that keeps the bees from being sucked through.

My friend Matt from the club called back before the coordinator, and agreed to help me capture the bees and install them into a new hive box for a neighbor. Once recaptured, you cannot re-install them from the hive from which they swarmed — they'll just take off again (remember, it was already crowded). Generally, you want to move as quick as possible to capture a swarm, because at any moment, a scout could return and announce a new home and they'll all take off. Contrary to what you see in cartoons, bee swarms are actually quite docile, because prior to leaving, they gorge on honey for the trip. Also, aside from being protective of the queen, they aren't really defending a hive comprised of brood (eggs and babies). Prior to gearing up, we actually walked directly up to the bee beard and checked it out with no stings sustained.

Im sure being sucked through a dark hose into a bucket must be confusing as hell to a bee, but its a lot more important to get them inserted into a hive that can be managed for disease rather than allowing them to go feral and possibly move into someones attic or some place where a person might just have them sprayed and killed.
  • Matthew Schniper
  • I'm sure being sucked through a dark hose into a bucket must be confusing as hell to a bee, but it's a lot more important to get them inserted into a hive that can be managed for disease rather than allowing them to go feral and possibly move into someone's attic or some place where a person might just have them sprayed and killed.

So, the lesson here, kids, is to not freak out if on some fine spring day you find a swarm of bees in your yard. Calmly call the club and wait for someone to show up to capture it for you. There are several folks each season awaiting free bees via this process, and to them, what you perceive as a crisis is just business as usual.

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