By Gerald Przybylski
Jerry has been an East-Oakland beekeeper since 2011; local bees preferred.
Spring is here. Have you noticed all the blooming trees, and the wonderful smells in the air?
Have you noticed all the traffic at the entrance to your hives?
How many bees bring pollen into your hive every minute? How many brood frames?
Notes!!! Enter into your log book the dates when you see forage trees and plants come into bloom…
When you write down the count of bees bringing pollen, also include an estimate of the hive population.
A deep with bees completely filling all the gaps between frames holds about 20,000 bees.
Booming hives have one or two or three boxes with brood by now. Without attention, they’ll swarm!! What to do??
You can be pro-active, and try to suppress the urge to swarm by doing manipulations you can read about in your bee books. If you see instructions to destroy queen cells… forget it!! The bees will just hide a queen cell somewhere you won’t notice, and swarm anyway.
Suppose your bees swarm out to the apple tree on the other side of your back yard, or worse, in your neighbor’s back yard… What to do?? Well… go after it!!
The point is, be prepared to chase the bees that swarm out of your hives. If you don’t, besides annoying the neighbors, you just loose half of your hive population, possibly more if the colony decides to produce after-swarms with virgin queens. Remember… the first queen out was your mated queen from last year… Consider another risk… the virgin queen that hatches after the mother queen leaves will need to go out to mate. There is a possibility she’ll get picked off by a bird while she’s away… or she may not find her way back home because you were fiddling with your hives when she was returning… (i.e. she didn’t recognize home because you changed a key landmark).
Once the bees swarm out, they’ll settle on a tree limb, or bush, or fence, or mail-box, or pickup-truck wheel well… They’ll stay there for anywhere from a couple of hours to a couple of days while scouts seek a permanent location to move into. Early in the season the bees will find a near-by vacancy, and be gone before the day is out. Later in the season, after all the dead-outs have been refilled and the best new locations occupied, the bees may stay around for a day or two. If the scouts don’t agree on a suitable new location, they will just build comb where they are… out in the open.
A good swarm collecting container is either a 5-gallon bucket, or a cardboard box of about the same volume.
If the swarm is above seven feet, duct-tape your bucket to a stout pole. A mop handle may do. For higher swarms, a closet pole from your builder-supply store, or a stout telescoping window-washing pole. (Avoid a ladder for safety reasons, if you possibly can)
Simply position your container under the swarm, and “bump” the box into the tree limb from below to cause the bees to loose their grip on the branch and fall into your box. This works from the ground, or with a bucket on a pole, as long as the tree-limb isn’t so large in diameter that it doesn’t budge. If you have a bee panic and need expert help collecting your swarm, call a friend for help, or post to the swarm email-list, or if you’re not a swarm-list member, phone 510-898-6696, the swarm-hotline.
Once you’ve collected the bees in your container, walk it over to the hive you’ve set up in your yard beforehand. Gently shake the bees into the equipment like you would install a bee package. Be cautious/gentle so you don’t damage the queen. If you see fanning within five or ten minutes, you probably have the queen. You can give the bees a leg-up by offering them a feeder full of sugar syrup… especially if you put them into open frames or undrawn frames. If you catch a swarm at the end of the nectar flow, definitely offer them syrup.
Suppose your bees swarm, and you’re out of town, or nobody notices them on that branch until they’re gone!!! Instead of loosing them, plan ahead. Set up a “swarm-trap/bait-hive” in your yard with some of your extra equipment. The swarm may move into it instead of disappearing to parts unknown.