April 2, 2013
Collecting a Swarm
In case you haven’t noticed, Spring is bee swarm season.
Beekeepers try to keep their bees from swarming (by splitting hives, removing queen cells, requeening, adding supers, etc.), but it happens anyway. It’s the bees’ way of propagating. Each Spring, the queen accelerates egg laying in preparation for the coming honey flow. When the hive gets crowded, the old queen leaves, taking about half the hive’s members with her. A new queen takes her place. It’s nature’s way. In effect, beekeepers are trying to contain or control nature by retaining their bees, but that’s more of a goal than a certainty.
On Monday, I went outside to do some chores and I heard a loud buzzing in the backyard, and I thought: Uh, oh! I went out the side field toward the bee yard and the sky was filled with buzzing bees: a swarm! From past experience, I knew there was nothing to be done until they coalesced into a tree. So, I went back inside the house.
About an hour later, I came out and listened. Following the sound of the low buzz, I found the swarm in a (thankfully!) low bush. I went up and looked at the bees. I could tell from their size and color that they were from my Cordovan hive. (I have two hives: one Italian and one Cordovan, or I should say, had two hives!)
I went and got an empty brood and super boxes and wheeled them out to the swarm.
Capturing this swarm was made easy by the fact that it was low to the ground. A few years ago, I gave up on a swarm that was high in an oak tree. But this swarm posed a problem in that its size was larger than average and it adhered to several branches, rather than one main branch.
The key to capturing a swarm is to stay calm and go through every move in your mind beforehand, so that you are practicing effortless effort. Picture it in your mind as a fluid, gentle movement. Sounds rather Zen-like, doesn’t it? That’s true. The bees will respond to your energy, so you want to be calm, cool, deliberate, unhurried.
With this swarm, I wheeled my empty hives beneath the swarm, then took my shears and slowly pruned all the branches from around the swam, above, below and to the sides. The bees were very quiet; you could hardly hear them, even as hundreds still zoomed in and out. They were very gentle, as they had no honey to protect; they were balled tightly around their queen, protecting her, awaiting signals from their scouts that a suitable new home had been found.
Finally, the moment of truth had arrived. Since the swarm had settled on several branches, I had to cut each one and shake it into the bee box. And, as I cut the limbs, hundreds of bees were dislodged. Needless to say, the bees didn’t like this. Now, thousands of bees were zooming around — some quite angry! So, I gently closed the box and walked away.
About an hour later, I came out to check on the bees.
They were settled in their new hive. So, I wheeled it to the bee yard and put it on blocks: their new (old) home!
We’ll see if they stay. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t.
You can’t fool Mother Nature!
Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook: http://bit.ly/cuxUdc or follow him @edibleprayers or @organicwriter or visit blueskywaters.com.