Tuesday, May 31, 2011

A Tale of Four Swarms

A special guest post by Robert O'Neal, my dad and fellow beekeeper in Ohio.


I received a call from mom that there was a swarm in a tree above Baba and Dido’s [my grandparents] house. I asked how high up and she said maybe 15 feet. I couldn’t get home for a couple of hours so we really didn’t get there until after 6:00. We drove over to the house and the swarm was indeed in a tree but 30 feet high.

Big swarm, tall tree.

Luckily it was in a scrub cedar a couple of feet from other scrub cedars on each side. We got Mr. Ritchie [our neighbor] to come over and formulated a plan to cut the tree and lower it by utilizing a pulley and rope attached to the pickup.

Mr. Ritchie and my Dad scheme to get the bees out of the trees.

This worked out great at first. Mr. Ritchie cut a wedge in the trunk and as we lowered it down, it moved steadily in an arc until ….the remaining trunk broke and the bottom slid 10 feet along the ground sweeping the top of the tree in a down and inward arc that stopped when it landed on a juniper, throwing most of the bees all over the bush. Undaunted, we went inside and had Martinis.

By the time the Martinis were done, the bees had gathered again, for the most part, and with Ritchie’s help we cut enough juniper branches to reach them, gathered as many as we could into the nuc box and left it on the ground next to the bush. It was getting dark at that point and I determined I had better leave it open for the next day not knowing how many bees we gathered and how many remained.

I went back the next morning and it looked like normal hive activity with bees flying in and out. That evening we transferred the nuc box to our house where I set up a hive transferred the frames, dumped as many bees as I could into the hive body, closed it up, and then left the nuc box open to clean out on its own. I checked the hive on May 21st and found that it had a comb, honey and eggs. After a quick inspection, I closed it up and left it alone to do what bees do best.

Dumping bees out of the nuc and into their new hive.

Home Sweet Home.


A call from home: another swarm. This one was in the front pasture next to the barn.

Bees errywhere.

What to do? I told mom to get the nuc box and put frames stored in the barn into it and get it ready. Then the bees got into the barn and started investigating the hive bodies that were in there.

Trying to get in the barn where we store our extra hive bodies and frames.

She took frames and set them next to the foundation of the barn and the bees started to collect on those. By the time I got home she had lifted the frames up and put them in a hive body.

Rockin' out.

It looked like they were all going in and out of the hive and I just let it go until dark, when I closed it up and we brought it over to Baba and Dido’s house. My policy is that if we find a swarm at their house, I bring it to our house, and vice versa.

This one worked well and now mom considers it her hive. That hive has comb, honey and eggs in it and seems to be doing well on inspection on the 21st.


I was done inspecting for the day so I went back to the garden and was walking toward the barn when I caught sight of a swarm on the “magic” post. This is a wooden fence post with a small grape vine growing near it that has now attracted four swarms over the past three years- two last year that I caught and one the year before that didn’t work out.

Bees love the magic stick.

I’m basically out of hive bodies so I talked to a friend bee keeper who was down to one hive and told him if I found another one I would give him a call. I had some frames left, so I put them in the nuc box and collected the swarm. I left it on the ground so the bees would hopefully collect in it. Oddly, there were several bees at least that were pretty aggressive and kept bouncing off my veil. I was pretty careful not to stir them up too much and I thought this was a little odd. Then they began collecting on the front of the nuc box.

Bearding the nuc.

The bee keeper friend couldn’t get over until the evening and when he got there, there were many on the front and sides of the box. I suggested we wait until morning to see if they went back in and if they did I would close it up. They didn’t. They were still on the front and sides. I thought they might be too hot so I moved them into the shade and again there were some aggressive bees that kept bouncing off the veil. I looked inside and they didn’t seem to be making any comb. This was Sunday and they appeared agitated.

The bees abandoned the nuc for a while and regathered on a nearby fence post.

Time for your close up!

I set them up on a box with the front of the nuc hanging over so they couldn’t collect on the ground. They did beard some but seemed to be less than when they were out in the sun. They stayed agitated for hours. In fact, I got stung a couple of hours later in the garden 40-50 feet away. It was a bee that kept buzzing around and looking for me and wasn’t going to give up. The bee keeper friend came over that evening, put on his suit and mom put on a suit to help him. He picked it up and put it in a big brown cardboard box and taped it closed. I heard he installed it with good success and we will see what happens.


Argh! The next day, Baba called in the afternoon to tell us there was a swarm on the apple tree in front of their bedroom window.

Bees and apples, friends forever.

I didn’t have any more frames. I called the ex-bee inspector and he gave me the name of somebody in the bee club who lives near us. I finally got in contact with him and asked if he wanted the swarm. He came over with his grandson and a cardboard box with a green plastic garbage bag. Sure enough they were on the granny smith tree all bunched and happy. First, he sprayed the swarm with sugar water using a hand held sprayer, then he scooped what he could into the bag, and then holding the bag he shook the tree and the bees went wild.

I don’t think the stings bothered him too much but he definitely got a few. He then sprayed the inside of the cardboard box with sugar water and let it sit for a while to gather the remaining bees. He tied off the bag and put it in his truck. The bees left gathered in the box and after a while he took what he could and left.


In checking all the hives on the 21st, I found that two hives [the original hives] had no eggs but good population and queen cells and my feeling is at least two of the swarms came from them.

The Carniolan mix that I got as a swarm last year was chock full of bees a few weeks ago, but now has a lesser population. If I can get to them later in the week and they still don’t have eggs I am going to have to order a queen to try to save them.

No comments:

Post a Comment