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.


  1. I’m so sorry about your bees! I love hearing your bee stories-it should be in a documentary like that one with the prairie dogs. Did you ever watch it? It was so fun and fascinating! I really hope you get your bees back soon!

    I love the pictures of the kids with their feather headbands on!

  2. I shouldn’t perhaps tell you it made me smile watching these! What a complex issue these bee’s are! Quite amazing! xx My husband is on his way to Texas as I type, all the way from Australia… I cannot help but wonder how nice it would be if I was with him and we could pop in to see these bee’s ourselves over a cup of tea and a spot of knitting! xxx

  3. I don’t know if you already know this or not, it’s hard for me to tell for sure by your post, but each of those swarm cells will cause another swarm. Swarm cell queens do not turn into “stick around the hive” queens. (aka Supercedure Queens). You need a supercedure cell to develop to retain a queen in the hive. All of those swarm cells must be cut off – unless you want your hive to swarm again.
    I just couldn’t leave without making sure to say something, just in case.

    • From our understanding a supersedure cell isn’t created in a swarming situation, but in a situation in which the colony wants/needs to replace their queen. Because we were dealing with what was most likely an overcrowding swarm, if we were to destroy the swarm cells, we’d end up without a queen at all. We consulted with a few experts, and decided to make a split (dividing up the queen cells,) hoping to prevent the colony from casting off any more swarms, and giving us a better chance of ending up with at least one laying queen. We’ll see!

  4. I am definitely fascinated! My CSA farmer has been trying to start a hive but they have had trouble getting a queen bee too. I’ve never actually seen what it is all about so this was a great bee education! Good luck!

  5. Fascinating to read and watch. I shared this with my girls. Jaquelyn, my oldest, thought maybe protective gear should have been worn before shaking the tree branch. 🙂

    Hope you get your bees set up again soon.

  6. Cool to hear your voice after all this time reading your blog!
    Reading your stories about bees has changed my whole perspective towards them. Seeing your fearlessness, your excitement… When you first installed the hives last year I could not understand why anyone would want to do that. It was way beyond my experience that any regular family would ever want bees on their property. I was raised in the city, where if a bee was anywhere near us, we would just run away in fear! Looking at your kids walk around all these bees fascinates me!
    And the irony to it all is this morning i received an email from my girlfriend who also lives in NYC, telling me how her 10 year old daughter yesterday was stung by a bee, went hysterical, got red welts, they called an ambulance (!), found out she has a small bee allergy and now has to always have an epi pen with her… and the plans we had today for brunch are cancelled because her daughter has to recuperate from the trauma… and they are afraid of letting her go to the park again. ;)))))
    Kind of embarrassing when I see your girls holding up bee hives with smiles on their faces!
    Thanks for the education!

  7. Michael Morgan says:

    I’m impressed you were able to locate the swarm, and I think you made a great effort. I’ve never seen swarm/queen cells before so this was very instructive.

    Miss you guys. Back on Monday.

  8. So loved hearing your precious laugh, Ginny! have you read Keeper of the Bees by Gene Stratton Porter? It’s a gracious, heartwarming tale full of bee lore and fact. Queenie always made it look so easy in L to C — I loved her hives!

    • Yes, I read it about a month ago actually! I love Gene Stratton Porter! And yes, Queenie did make it look so easy 🙂

  9. I so look forward to your bee posts. Maybe I can convince Kevin to get them when we move to Idaho. He is the one that is afraid of bees, not me :p On a side note – I love Jonny’s shirt!

  10. I’m just wondering how you fiddle with the camera settings with the bee suit gloves on? impressive.

    • I don’t usually wear my bee suit or gloves so that I can take pictures! If we are doing something serious or time consuming in the hives, I do wear my veil though, and leave my camera in the house!

  11. You have a lovely voice!

  12. Chiming in with the others about hearing your voice and laugh. Like with any kind of reading (fiction for me mostly), I’ve developed a voice for you in my mind that didn’t match your true voice at all. So funny! Naturally, all I could think during the videos was, “That’s not what her voice is really like!” Well, obviously it is but my imagination wanted its say, of course. Good luck with the bees!!

    • What’s funny is I guess I’ve developed a voice for myself too, and it does not sound like that girl in the videos!!! Who is that lady?

  13. Just wanted to add that if you can find some plantain growing around your yard, when someone gets stung, take a leaf and chew it a little bit then put it on the sting. It is a miracle weed! I have been making a salve from plantain infused olive oil and bees wax. Wonderful stuff for all kinds of bites and stings and itches.

  14. OW! I jumped during that last video when your poor hubs got stung on the leg! O.O
    Best of luck to you recovering your bee swarm!

  15. Emily T. says:

    Johnny is such a great, and determined(!), sport through all of this. Do you use apis for bee stings at all?

    Did you bait the trap box for them? And what about contacting the bee sellers where you got your new bees and see if they would be interested in your queen cells? It would be a shame for so many to have to fight it out.

    • No, we don’t use apis(?) Jonny doesn’t really react to stings, although Gabe got stung on the eyelid and he’s a bit swollen! We did use lemongrass oil in the super, and also in a nuc box we had set up on a ladder. Our bees shipped to us from TN. We are planning to move some of the cells into a nuc to give us a better chance of ending up with at least one queen, but hopefully two. Even with all those queen cells we could end up without one.

      • Emily T. says:

        Apis might be something you want to have on hand. It’s a homeopathic that I have in my rescue kit for stings (or bug bites!). You can take a couple of the pellets or you can crush them and make a paste to help with any itching or swelling.

        Good luck with your queen rearing! You’re moving into a new level of beekeeping now! 🙂

        • I bought Jonny several books on queen rearing for Father’s Day–he’s been waiting for this opportunity!!!

  16. It was great being a part of this adventure with your family. I can’t wait to have my own bees. And you sound so different from what I thought you would sound like!

  17. Now I understand why when one of our neighbors wanted to keep bee hives on his property, his next door neighbor (a lawyer) threatened to sue. He ended up putting his hives in remote, unpopulated areas and became the local Bee Man.

  18. This was so interesting! Thank you for posting the videos and I am sorry about your husband’s bee stings!

  19. Sorry to hear about your bees swarming and Jonny’s stings but it was entertaining to watch. I hope you manage to get hold of the swarm

  20. Nahuatl Vargas says:

    I hope you’ll find them.

  21. Love the play-by-play! (And the new header–it’s gorgeous!)

  22. We had a massive swarm visit our suburban property in June. Although they moved on who-knows-where, it got me interested in bee behavior. It’s fascinating to read your account and see such mysterious creatures close-up. I have nothing but respect for anyone who has such a fascinating hobby and I hope you manage to catch your swarm back.

  23. Wow! This is so fascinating to me, but I am terrified of bees! I love reading about your bee adventures, because I’m too chicken to keep them myself. And you have such a happy laugh! 🙂

  24. That was so scary! Just the thought of all those bees everywhere! Yikes. It was very interesting and I wish you the best. Maybe they will come home after a little vacation.

  25. Loved hearing your voice and laugh. & kids yelling “shake it”! At least you guys can laugh about it. ; )

  26. Oh man! How frustrating! I do hope they come back. And while I’m hoping, I hope they take up residence right back into their box!
    On another note- I’m loving Jonny’s Rock for Life tee! I haven’t thought about that for ages! I worked at HM magazine and we were proud promoters of the show. That shirt took me back!

  27. so , will what is left of the hive (that is still in the boxes) survive? if they are still making queens? or is that hive shot for now?

  28. Well, that was very interesting. Thanks so much for sharing this. I am so new at bee keeping. Just got a hive in early April and discovered it had been taken over by wax moths a few days ago. So all my wonderful sweet bees are gone now. I WILL have more bees next spring. But I really loved these bees. It’s so sad when things like this happen. But I have learned so much in just the few short months I had them.

  29. loved hearing you laugh!

  30. Sounds like a good example of how humans, though we certainly may want to, can not control nature. 😉

  31. Sorry about your bees, but this is a very informative post for me. I had no idea bees did these things! I’m hoping you find them!

  32. In May, we had four swarms from our three over wintered hives. Luckily we caught all of them. One of them (a particularly huge one) swarmed into a neighbors meadow. We wanted to get permission from our neighbor before going onto their property with our equipment but they weren’t home. We watched our swarm there for about 24 hours (the neighbors were out of town and I didn’t have cell phone numbers for them) and then while my husband and I both stood watching them, they left in a big, noisy cloud that flew over our property….the whole time I was saying to them “land bees, land bees”…but they didn’t, they flew over our house and then seemed to disappear. It was one of the most fascinating things I ever witnessed. I was frustrated and heartbroken. My husband and I spent several hours going over every possible scenario of where they could have landed but we could not find them. We thought they were gone for good. The very next evening, my husband was watering and feeding the hens and he could hear the swarm again. They were back! In the same tree in the meadow where they had spent the few days before. This time my neighbor was home and we were able to catch the swarm. They may come back, ours did.

  33. I’m sorry for poor Jonny’s stings and and all the trouble, but this is some highly entertaining stuff! Too, too funny. I really hope you find the swarm, if even for my own selfish desire to read about how to try to catch them. I’ll pray that St. Anthony help you find your bees.

  34. I’m watching with great interest! I want to get some bees so badly, but our oldest seems to have moderately bad reactions to stings, so we’ve held off. Hubby suggested we keep bees on some land we own about 1/2 mile from our house, which we’re thinking on.

    If it makes you feel better, you know WAY more about bees than us. We try so many things on our little homestead, and after our last disaster hubs asked me “why do we have so much trouble?” I think it’s all part of it. Sometimes it’s just the way it goes.

  35. Oh how frustrating! At least you were all able to laugh about it 🙂

  36. I am sorry about your bees, but at least it made for a fun post. I loved the videos. What happened to the podcast? It was fun to hear your voices. I hope for the best for your bees. It would be great if you can get them back home!

  37. Sounds like an exciting day. I’m a new follower, I look forward to your posts. Heather

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