Archives for August 1, 2013

Swarm Saga

This post could have so many different titles:  Beekeeping for Dummies (we’re the dummies.)  Late Summer Swarm.  Not Your Typical Swarm Shake.  She was a good queen, and we lost her.

But I guess I better start at the beginning….

Tuesday morning Keats looked out the window and announced that there was a “bug tornado” outside.  Jonny took one look and yelled something along the lines of, “Oh Crap! Those are our bees!”

We stepped outside and sure enough we were met with the sound of thousands of buzzing bees, as one of our hives had just sent out a swarm. “Whyyyyyyyyyyyy?”

Well, I’ll tell you why we think it happened.  We gave both of our hives a good look through, checking out every single frame in every single super a few weeks ago.  One of our hives, Candleford, had lots of capped honey.  Our other hive, Lark Rise, had nearly nothing, although there was an abundance of capped brood, meaning that lots and lots of new bees would be emerging soon.  There was no nectar flow going on, and we determined that we better feed them.  So we did.  So they swarmed. That’s the short version I guess.  Now I’ll give you the long version of what ensued over the two days following the exit of the swarm.  There will be photos and video.  These videos will not be flattering, but we are willing to humble ourselves in order to give you a laugh, because that’s the fun thing to do.

The swarm settled as high as they could in a black walnut tree.  They were probably about forty feet up.

After a few minutes of looking up at them and shaking our heads, we decided to go through the hive that we suspected had sent out the swarm, and confirm our suspicions.


Our suspicions were confirmed.  The swarm originated from Lark Rise.  There were swarm cells throughout the hive.  (Here’s a nice little video explaining what swarm cells are.)

The bee above the text is feeding a larva that will eventually become a queen.

Only one queen will end up ruling this hive.  She will kill the others that emerge.  We saw about a dozen swarm cells, with queens being raised in many of them.

Later, at the park, Jonny listened to Larkspur excitedly explaining all about swarming and swarm cells to another little girl.  So cute.  She’s our little beekeeper.

At this point, we had to say goodbye to the bees for the day.  There was a violin lesson followed by baseball practice.  By the time everyone was home again, it was too dark to fool with the swarm.


The next day, Jonny used duck tape to attach a baseball to some rope in order to catch the branches surrounding the swarm and attempt to shake them down.

He prepared a super to “catch” the bees.

We positioned this sheet and the super underneath the swarm.  The bees are supposed to land on and around the super when they are shaken down.  The hope is that the queen will be shaken down and end up in the super (maybe with our help,) luring the other bees in the swarm to join her there.  If everything goes well, the bees will make themselves at home.

Everything is in place.  It’s time to shake.  Keep in mind that swarms are gentle.  They have nothing to defend, and therefore rarely have reason to sting.

(Do I really laugh like that? I guess so.)
I’m not sure why we thought that Jonny would be able to properly shake a swarm on a giant branch forty feet up in a tree.  I’m not sure why we thought it would work the same way that it does when swarms get shaken from only a few feet up. I’m not sure what we were thinking at all.  Well, I guess we were just doing all we knew to do.  Those bees were on a branch so thick that Jonny couldn’t really even give it a good shake, especially given that he could only hook the surrounding smaller branches with his rope.  The shaking he did just created a big cloud of bees.

The kids got out of the way for the next shake attempt, not wanting the bees to land all over them.

So, the whole swarm shake thing didn’t really work out for us.  The branch was just too high and too thick.

At the end of yesterday afternoon, we had only managed to pull a bunch of branches from the tree.  Jonny wanted to climb the forty foot ladder with a chainsaw to cut the branch, but I absolutely forbid  him.  I hate to sound bossy, but I value his life and sometimes I have to be the voice of reason.  Jonny ordered  a high limb chain saw and paid for overnight shipping, planning to give it another shot today.  However, late in the afternoon yesterday, rain moved in and the bees moved out when we were looking the other way.  I will confess that I cried, but only a little.  We’ll look for them today, but chances are we won’t find them.  I’ll keep you posted.