The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Barn swarm capture

Bee swarm

Swarm by barnThe basswood started blooming Monday, and Tuesday afternoon I walked over to see how much bee activity there was around that prime nectar source.  "Wow, that's a lot more bees than I recall from previous years!" I thought to myself as the roar of bees washed over me.  But then the bees literally passed over me and headed en masse toward the barn!  Yes, we were finally being the recipient (rather than the donor) of a swarm!

If I'd known, I should have seen the signs that something was brewing Monday.  I noticed a worker bee poking around in the extra Warre quilt (small bee box) sitting on the porch beneath a slightly offset lid.  More telling was the group of a hundred or so bees that were buzzing around the peak of the barn Monday afternoon.  But I'd seen that kind of bee activity around the barn last year, with no result, so figured maybe I was seeing some kind of native bee that was just now coming out of hibernation.  Wrong!  What I observed on Monday was, first, a scout bee checking for possible hive cavities and, second, scout bees gaining critical mass as they chose a new hive location.  (I'm assuming that last year, our barn was a runnerup location, thus the lack of further activity.  This year, we won!)

Rain on swarm

Bee equipment storageAnyway, back to Tuesday afternoon when the cloud of bees came from the southwest, flew low over the trailer, then ended up at their destination in front of the aeration holes just under the peak of the barn roof.  Soon, I could tell that the bees were working their way through the labyrinth of rafters and over to the six-foot-high stack of Langstroth equipment that has been sitting vacant in the barn ever since our last hives died two years ago and we moved over to Warre equipment.  A gap between two carelessly-stacked boxes was large enough for the bees to move in, and within a couple of hours (spurred on by a short storm), the colony was entrenched in its new home.

(As a side note, the bees completely ignored the top bar swarm trap just behind the barn, but I don't have any data about whether they would have liked a real swarm attractant better than the used Langstroth equipment.  After installing our package, I got sidetracked and never put the roof on our Warre-hive attractant, so it's not yet in play.)

Bees moving into box

A breathless call to my beekeeping mentor later, I realized that I needed to see what the insides of those Langstroth boxes looked like if I was going to let the bees stay in them and just move the relevant boxes out into the yard as a new hive.  My neglect had resulted in most of the wax in my old Langstroth boxes getting eaten up by wax moths, but I was able to cobble together a brood box full of partially- or fully-drawn comb with little moth damage.  I started to assemble some good supers too, but it turned out the reason the bees had selected the boxes they had was because the two supers they were moving into had the best comb in the barn.  There were three frames missing from one of the supers, though, so I'm glad I went through and filled that gap in before the bees could built wonky comb in the empty space.

I was a little afraid to mess around with the bees while they were settling in because I was afraid they might decide to hit the road, but they put up with my intrusion gamely and just kept streaming into the hive to join their queen.  The swarm had showed up in the garden around 3:30 pm, I did my hive manipulation around 4 to 4:30, and by 6:00, nearly ever bee was inside the hive.  Swarm capture success!  (Granted, I didn't have to move the swarm to a new box, so there wasn't much that could have gone wrong.  Still, I'll take my successes where I find them.)

More on how we moved the hive to its permanent location in a later post.  But, for now, I just want to end by mentioning that I'm 99% sure these bees didn't come from my hives, and instead sprang from the same location where the swarm I lost earlier ended up.  I wonder if there's a beekeeper somewhere to the southwest who gained a swarm a few weeks ago and lost one yesterday?

Our chicken waterer makes care of your backyard flock nearly as easy as managing a colony of bees.

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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Mom is dying to know if you wore your suit. What I want to know is was this possibly the same hive that left you a couple weeks ago??? This is a great post! Grand to be a part of your excitement.


Comment by Maggie Wed Jun 26 08:03:54 2013

Maggie --- I definitely wore my suit and even my bee gloves. Bees are very gentle in a swarm, but my hair seems to be a bee trap when they're in the air, and I can't help getting freaked out when a bee is stuck somewhere I can't see it, millimeters from my skull. To prevent the freakout, I suited up.

This is almost definitely not the same swarm from a few weeks ago. Unless they really hated the location they moved into, a swarm doesn't pick up and leave again. They might swarm again after building up and filling the space, but that's unlikely to happen the same year.

Comment by anna Wed Jun 26 08:20:13 2013
What a gift- how wonderful! Enjoy your new colony:-)
Comment by Jane Wed Jun 26 09:04:42 2013
Soooo awesome!!! Congrats on the new addition. :-D
Comment by Michelle Wed Jun 26 12:01:31 2013
I have been enjoying your blog for a couple of years now and always wanted to comment but never felt I could add to what had already been said, but this time I couldn't help myself! What an adventure you are having! To be able to witness (and understand what's happening) nature at it's best is awe-inspiring to me. Can't wait to hear more about your new colony.
Comment by Samantha Wed Jun 26 12:11:31 2013

Anna I caught a swarm back around May 16th and had no problem moving it from a low hanging fruit tree to a NUC box. Enjoy your swarm!

The old saying goes for beeks: A swarm in May - is worth a load of hay. A swarm in June - is worth a silver spoon. A swarm in July - isn't worth a fly.

The old English saying goes: “A swarm of bees in May is worth a load of hay A swarm of bees in June is worth a silver spoon A swarm of bees in July is not worth a fly!”

Comment by BSmith Wed Jun 26 13:14:33 2013
Free bees! ALWAYS a good thing. Can you make your own attractant?
Comment by Elaine S Wed Jun 26 14:43:46 2013

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