Friday, May 04, 2012

Catching a Swarm of Bees

In Monday's post about getting our bees, I mentioned that I also got a video of our bee guy, David, catching a swarm that had abandoned their hive. What happened is this: when David met us in the parking lot, he asked if we were in a rush. "Not really," we said. 

"I gotta catch a swarm," he said. "It's right on my property. We'll drive past it on our way to the bees. Shouldn't take too long." 

"Can we watch?" we asked. 

"Sure," he said. "Follow me." 

So we followed, parked our cars on his land, stepped out into the dirt, and looked up. High in a tree above us was the swarm. A hive will occasionally leave it's home, usually if something is wrong with their current abode (too crowded, no place to lay eggs or store honey, etc). Most of them will gather together somewhere (in this case, on a tree branch) while scouts take off looking for a new home. Once they find one, they will lead the rest of the swarm there and then, together, they'll begin reestablishing their hive. 

This is undesirable for two reasons. The first is that the beekeeper loses a hive which, once you understand the time, energy, and money that initially goes into beekeeping, really, really sucks. The second is that the bees, out of their hive, are vulnerable. They have to starve the Queen for a few days so she is light enough to fly, and the journey and temporary homelessness disrupts her egg laying cycle, which means the hive will be short on workers until she can catch up again. When the bees swarm, the best thing to do - for the beekeeper and for the bees - is to get them back in a hive body ASAP.

To do this, David first laced an empty hive body with a sugar syrup and the gel pictured above, both of which would lure the bees into the box with their sweet and delicious scent. Then, he put on his bee jacket and veil, grabbed a long stick with a bucket attached to the top, stood beneath the bees, and - well, you should really just see this part for yourself.

I don't know what Nathan and I expected him to do, but it definitely wasn't that. After David had essentially dumped the bulk of the bees into the box, he placed the lid on top and waited. If he had gotten the Queen in there, then the bees would most likely stay put. If not - if the Queen was still lingering in the tree - then the bees would slowly migrate back to the branch, swarming around her once more. Which, after about five minutes, is exactly what happened. David repeated this trick a few more times, eventually giving up (for the time being) because we were still waiting for our bees (which were not swarming) and it was getting late. He said he would keep trying after we left, and that he was pretty sure he'd get the Queen eventually. I don't doubt that he did.

Bees, y'all. Amazing.