What To Do With A Bee Swarm!

Have you ever come across a bee swarm? It can be scary, exciting, and overwhelming. What do you do?

All of us at The Grow Network do various kinds of homesteading. Nikki, our Director of Customer Success, is … among other things … a beekeeper. A few weeks ago, she shared with us that the bees from one of her hives had swarmed.

Nikki’s Story

bee-swarm

Those little brown specs are bees flying all over the place.

Nikki said, “We have 2 hives in the yard, and one decided it was going to swarm to the top of our sycamore tree in the backyard today.”

With the height of her tree and the size of the ladder, it was going to be quite an ordeal reaching them.

She decided to sacrifice her 13 year old, and sent him up the tree. She jokingly said, “I am officially okay with being shorter than my kids now!”

Her son had to rig the ladder with a tie down strap in the truck.

He used his body weight to hold the ladder straight. There wasn’t a branch to rest it on. Her other son took the cutters and took down the branches. They worked together on two separate branches.

There were so many bees that their weight broke one branch just before her son had a chance to fully cut through. This sent thousands of bees raining down on top of her.

“This hive has the potential to give us more than 100 pounds of honey this year, so we definitely didn’t want to see the bees relocate. Now, they are safe and sound in a new hive. We are re-queening the other two hives we have, and hoping to have 3 healthy and hard-working hives,” Nikki said.

It sounds like everyone is trying to settle down from the experience.

bee swarm

Nikki said she wishes she had seen Jacqueline Freeman’s presentation at the Home Grown Food Summit before she had a swarm of bees on her hands, but all worked out well.

What? You haven’t seen Jacqueline’s Home Grown Food Summit Presentation, “Gentle Ways to Collect Bee Swarms.”  She is so gentle with these little buzzing sweeties. You can still get in on this goodness, click here.

Why bees swarm

According to Jacqueline, it’s very natural for bees to swarm. Bees swarm because there is no more room for them. Their home is full of honey, pollen, and brood (baby bees).

The good thing is that healthy and successful colonies create more healthy Queens and new colonies, so it’s a good thing for a hive to swarm.

Before they swarm, the Queen is slimmed down. All of the bees have a feast and fill their bellies with honey. Two-thirds of the colony will suddenly fly into the air. One-third stays in the original hive and re-queen. Bees will only leave the hive if there are new queen cells in the hive.

The other reason that bees swarm is so the queen can increase her fertility, and sunlight does that for her.

When do bees swarm

Jacqueline says that a swarm is a big, bunch of chaos that typically takes flight in mid-spring, around mid-day. There needs to be a lot of pollen available. It also needs to be warm and windless. When they first leave the hive, they fly into the sky in a big, buzzing, whirling cloud of bees. Jacqueline’s amazed that they don’t bump into each other. The queen is hidden in the swarm, so she is well-protected.

Eventually, the bees land on some object, a branch, fence post, vine, or anything that looks like a good spot. The Queen directs the bees to gather and form a tight cluster on the object.  Jacqueline says it’s about the size of a football that is clasped to the branch. This is their resting spot for a few hours to a few days. Then, the scout bees roam around trying to find a suitable place to live.

Typically, bees that swarm are very gentle, according to Jacqueline. She said, in the hundreds of bee swarms that she has captured, she’s only been stung four times, and they were all her fault. A bee swarm is not likely to sting you.

How to catch a bee swarm

There is only one way to catch a bee swarm, according to Jacqueline…gently!

Here’s how she does it:

  1. First, take a deep breath and calm yourself. Be respectful. Let the bee swarm know what you are going to do, and how you’ll do it.
  2. Hold a catching box underneath the swarm.
  3. Give the branch a good shake. The swarm will regather in the box. Put the lid on and leave an opening, so bees can get in.
  4. Let the swarm rest for 10 to 30 minutes so as many bees as possible get in the box.

How to transfer a bee swarm to a new home

When you’re ready to transfer the bees, have your hive ready. Remove a couple of the frames to give you room. Hold the box over the new hive. Give the box a good shake so the swarm goes into their new home. Jacqueline shows you exactly how to do it in her video. Get access to it here.

 

More from Jacqueline Freeman:

Bees Need Water, Too!

 

 

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Heather Dakota


Contributor

Heather Dakota is the Managing Editor at "The Grow Network." She was in the wilds of publishing as an editor and creative manager for more than 20 years, while secretly harboring a desire to be closer to the land and living in a more sustainable way. Heather is an award-winning author, Master Gardener, herbalist, avid birdwatcher, hiker, and soon-to-be homesteader. Watch “The Grow Network” Blog for more on Heather’s adventures.


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6 Comments
  • Maria Rose

    Amazing work, I just don’t have the calm enough nerve to deal with bees but I support those who do

  • Sandy

    We have our hands full with the homestead and first time flock of chicks this year. Had wanted to start a hive this year also, but early spring was occupied with scrounging materials for our mobile chicken yard and we couldn’t squeeze a top bar hive out of the time. We, too have seen a lot of rain this year, but so far it is pacing itself to result in a blooming cycle that is a little late, but still resulting in far more abundance of flowers, berries, hazelnuts, songbird nests and amphibians that we have seen in our seven years in this area. While feeding the chickens a few days ago I heard continuous, intense buzzing in some bushes at the edge of our woods and wondered if it could be a swarm. For the next few days I noticed an unusual number of wild bees zooming around me. We have a few old trees that have hollows in them. I hope the swarm found a nice, cozy, secure spot and will be ready for the hive we build for next spring. And regarding the activity of the swarm, I DARE to disagree with Jacqueline that they swarm in chaos. When I watched the video of bees swarming in a helical pattern around their Queen and Jacqueline described how the swarm seethes all around her in a protective shield as she searches for a new hive site, I imagined a complex ballet being composed in flight with 10,000 bees surging in arabesque for hours continuously around their precious Queen. She and her precisely schooled retinue forge fearlessly forth, searching for the optimum symphony of blossom, sun, forest and water with which to entrust her family. In that video Jacqueline was a spontaneous guest soloist, and we were very fortunate to catch the performance.

  • Eberhard

    A: Your article on swarms comes too late. Swarming time is OVER!
    B: Bees swarm as you mentioned between mid May and June.
    C: You cannot, and will not harvest 100 pounds / approx. 50 kg of honey from a swarm. You may expect that in the following year, but not in the one the swarm, swarmed. The bees have basically “lost everything”, and have to start anew. If you are lucky, you may harvest up to 6 maximum 8 pounds / 3-4 kg. depending on the region and “beedfoodsupply.” where you live.
    D: Before you box them in, you spray the swarm with water, to make them “heavier” meaning, that the bees collect themselves-“huddle together”, and are therefore “loaded/heavy”-collected themselves around the queen, and then, and only then you give it a good or two shakes into the catching box.
    E: Once you have the “majority of the bees” in the catching box, you place the box on the floor of the tree, shrub etc. where you found them.
    F: The catching box should have an adjustable slot, which should only be opened to a minimal amount, such as to permit bees to enter, but the queen not to leave the box.
    G: Once you catch a swarm, you will have to wait a few hours, if necessary until dusk, so that as many as possible bees floating around get a chance to go back to their queen.
    Swarming normally takes place between 10:00 am and 3:00 pm, depending on temperature and other conditions.
    H: Close the slot; take the catching box to a cool place for at least 24 hours. The bees are “quarantined”. Before they swarm, they suck themselves full of honey, -their food for the next few days!
    I: The swarm needs a new home! Have a new hive. Give them, as I do –I have hives with 10 frames, 10 new frames: 1 empty frame for drones-at the end of the box, one frame with a “foodframe”-a frame with pollen and honey and no brood. The other 8 frames are either new frames with new mid walls, or centrifuged and cleaned frames. My method, 4 new frames on the outside- 2 left and 2 right of the box, the centrifuged and cleaned frames in the center.
    K: With this method, I was able to harvest 250 kg / approx. 500 pounds of honey with 5 hives and 3 swarms in 2017.
    J: Swarming occurs when the beekeeper is not aware of what his bees are doing.
    Regards from Germany.

  • Adrienne

    Always wanted hives. My father was allergic and so is my daughter and it was safer (in dad’s mind) not to have them. I was 6 when we went out to the farm to spend the summer. My dad opened the door and slammed it shut and said, “I am not going in there!” My mother asked why and he replied that there were bees in there. Mom looked at me and said to get 2 plates and two knives. I did and then we went in the house. Mom said to very carefully scrape the bees on to the plate. Do not hurt them she said. She told me to look for the queen….the biggest one. If we could get her, all the rest would follow. She opened a window with no screen and we began our hunt. When we found the queen, I went outside to take the plate with her on it. I placed her on a tree branch and all the others followed. My mom talked to them, “This is not a good place to make a home. We will help you find a way out. Thank you for visiting our home and apple trees. We love you.”

  • I have been with honeybees since 1978 in California, Colorado, and now Maryland. I find it really dishonest for anyone to claim a honey bee colony has the “potential to produce more than 100 pounds of honey”. The majority of honeybee colonies in the USA produce on average 30 pounds of honey that they HEAVILY rely on for their dearth periods. When beekeepers selfishly steal away the bees natural food and replace it with artificial syrups, they are doing their bees a HUGE disservice. Artificial diets are one prime driver in why honeybee colonies die out very year. The USA loses 50% of managed honeybee colonies every year. The honeybee colony immune system is heavily reliant on a proper natural diet of plant nectar and pollen. These substances provide the bees with the proper balance of vitamins, nutrients, antioxidants, carbohydrates, minerals, and protein. Artificial diets have an imbalanced nutrition profile that does not provide honeybee colonies with the proper nutrition for a robust immune system which leads to many disorders that collapses the colony.

    I would suggest to everyone considering keeping bees, do it for the right reasons. Keeping bees for honey is not a noble reason to be caring for an organism that is relying on the human to do the right thing. There are so many issues that honeybees and all pollinators face and one that every homeowner can do something about. The lack of forage is the #1 problem for all pollinators. Planting more pollen and nectar producing trees and large shrubs should be priority 1 for all of our yard planning. If space is of issue, plant as many nectar and pollen producing plants such as flowering herbs. Never spray anything in your yard. Broad spectrum insecticides, like mosquito spraying, are sprayed to coat plant surfaces making them a landing strip coated with highly toxic materials that will kill the individual, and bees take back to the hive to share with every other member of that colony. Studies have shown that even Deet is found across the USA in honeybee colony wax samples.

    I love honeybees and all pollinators and hope if you do to that we can create yards that become a refuge for wildlife like birds and bees of all shapes and sizes.

    • Sandy

      Clearly and eloquently stated. And it’s not too late to plant herbs and flowers that will bloom into late fall or be up and blooming early next spring!

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