Saturday, May 25, 2013

Swarm Chasers

This May, we've had very good luck catching swarms. So far, we've caught and hived four, and we're always looking for more. Whitney joked today maybe we could get a show on cable TV: "Swarm Chasers"!

A beautiful May honey bee swarm in an apple tree
With all this talk about swarms lately, people have been asking us a couple of questions again and again:
1) Why are your bees swarming?
2) How do you catch a swarm anyway?
Nice honey bee swarm on pine branch.
1) Swarms are simply honey bee reproduction. Healthy vigorous honey bee colonies with plenty to eat swarm, just like birds hatch eggs, horses foal and elk calve. The difference is of course you don't consider each bee's reproduction, but the reproduction of the colony. In the wild, healthy honey bees would swarm every spring in order to spread their kind. This is why many of the older generations remember finding "honey trees" in the woods. These were swarms from some beekeeper that had gone wild (feral). Today, unfortunately with colony collapse disorder and all the other threats to honey bees, wild honey bees are pretty uncommon.
Swarming is a sign you have robust colonies that wintered with good numbers and plenty of honey to eat.
Catching a swarm
2) catching a swarm is not actually as hard as it may seem - usually. Assuming the swarm is in a nice location (like the picture above) it's pretty simple to hold a hive box under the clump of bees and give the branch a firm knock. The bees will fall into the box and if you got the queen, you can then just leave the box near by and all the bees will file in.  You can then go back in the evening and take the box where ever you want the hive.
God Save the Queen!
Unless you saw the queen, you may not know if you got her. If you did get the queen, all the workers will point towards her and fan. This is how they spread the message of where the queen is, and is a very good sign.
I like to picture them all saying "God save the Queen"!
A more difficult swarm on a W. larch tree
Some swarms are more difficult to catch, like the swarm above. In this case the swarm was on the stem of a larch tree, with lots of branches to contend with. Whitney caught this one while I was out of town. With more than a little patience she was able to hive it by gently lifting the swarm in her hands and setting it in the box.
In the most difficult settings, a customized vacuum can be used to suck the bees out of a tight space and get them into a box. We did this a few years ago  when we found a swarm in our ceiling. Check out: Blog Post: A bee adventure
That's all for now, thanks for stopping by.