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We Three Beeks now all have a brand new beekeeping merit badge! Jill, Stephanie, and I have all now captured (successfully??!?) a swarm. Or, more accurately, 8 9 swarms collectively, out of 3 original hives, over 6 7ish days.
(Note that this draft originally started April 6th after our first swarm and is still sort of incomplete, but I’m sick of it being in the queue, so I’m posting it)
Above is Stephanie and Jill on swarm-day 2, with the 5 hives that existed that day, but we’ll get to that.
First…Since all this started happening, we’ve been asked quite a bit about what exactly a swarm is. Merriam Webster says this:
a great number of honeybees emigrating together from a hive in company with a queen to start a new colony elsewhere
So, an established colony will produce a lot of babies and a new queen, and when the conditions are right, the old queen will leave with a significant portion of the bees from the colony. This is how they reproduce. The swarms of bees came from our hives, trying to reproduce, and we did our best to capture them, in part so they won’t be a nuisance to the neighbors, and in part so that we keep our bees—and have more hives!
That out of the way…here we go
Steph and I were out running errands last Saturday evening and decided to drop in on the bees since it was a super nice day. Everything looked fine to me, but Steph spotted a dark blob in a tree nearby the hives then yelled, “A SWARM!”
We were both in shorts and flip flops and had no bee gear with us, much less a place to put new bees, so in an adrenaline fueled flurry, we drove back to the house and got stuff together as quickly as we could.
There’s the swarm up in the tree. That tree is on a pretty steep hill. We put a ladder on that hill and that left us still probably 6 or 7 feet away from the swarm.
I got up on the ladder and held a super up, and Steph grabbed a limb trimmer pole thingy and pulled the branch down and then shook like crazy. We only had a shallow…this is how underprepared we were at a moments notice.
We took the super down to the hive stand and got it set up, then went back to grab as many more of the bees as we could. This was our first swarm ever so we were sort of just winging it.
Once in their new home, the bees will fan their pheromone to help the straggling bees (either our foraging or still hanging around wherever the swarm was previous to capture) find where they have gone. In the photo below, check on the lady with her butt in the air…she’s fanning.
The Lower’s friend Adam came up to check it out. He’s a beekeeper too.
Here are some bees collecting on the back of the hive. The top part is a pail feeder to hopefully encourage them to stay put.
Photo of Stephanie…just..because I like it.
So, since we didn’t have the proper equipment ready to go, we called our mentor from our bee class ages ago, Dr Cobbs, to see if he could help. He left us a deep super full of frames with foundation, which we took back later to add to the new hive.
The hives, all together!
Me looking ridiculous
Stephanie waiting for a bee to land on her so she could take a photo of it.
Here are a couple of ladies on me
So that was Saturday. Sorted out, finally. We had planned on going to the bee yard on Sunday anyway, so the three of us headed over after a fortuitously hearty brunch, only the find that the swarm we’d caught the day before had bailed again into the same tree.
We immediately went into re-recovery mode, which was made a little easier by the swarm clumping slightly lower on the tree.
WHILE WE WERE SORTING THAT OUT….Another swarm kicked into gear. (We have video of this, actually, but will post that later)
Instead of going up into a tree, they headed to a bush about 50 feet in front of the hive, almost entirely surrounded by brambles. (Below is Jill making her way back up to the hives after investigating)
Here’s Steph and Jill with the hives after we got them sorted. Ahhhh back when we had 5.
And a wider view of the area
And we ended Day 2 with putting up a swarm box in the tree that’d had a swarm in it already.
I dropped by Monday around lunch to see if there was a swarm about and I didn’t see one. When we three returned together that evening, next door neighbor, Walter, informed us that there had been a swarm in the pear tree (a different tree, up the hill a bit) since like 9 that morning (which means I’d just totally missed it on my check).
This time we used the same limb trimmer to pull/shake (Steph), and SUPER long pole with a bucket on the end of it (me), which was handed down to a super with frames (Jill). And then there were 6. We immediately screened off the newest swarm for transport the next day (more on that in a bit).
Tuesday….we’re exhausted. Steph took off work early…we took one of our dogs to the vet. I stayed with Fin, Steph went on to the bee yard. She talked to Walter who reported that all had been well and that there were no swarms. She left to come back to the vet because I had to go tend to a house emergency at the we’re working on. As I’m leaving the house, Walter calls me to tell me we have ANOTHER SWARM. At least this time it’s low down in the tree. Waist/chest level—super convenient, expect for not having space or boxes, etc. (On, I think, Sunday started building more frames, etc, mostly to replace the ones we’d borrowed from Dr Cobbs, but also as a contengency for possible future swarms….long term. Ha. Tuesday we made a bunch more)
Swarm from below
(Me actin’ a fool, under the swarm)
While digging around, Jill noticed that one of the previously-captured swarms was developing a queen cell (the little peanut thing toward the top of the cells). We ended up combining that hive with the swarm captured this day and eventually the queen cell was gone (presumably because they now had a queen from the other swarm (?)).
With all this activity, the bees had become a bit of bother to Walter and his wife (100 yards or so from the hives), so we decided to try to move a couple of hives away from the primary bee yard (still generously hosted by the Lowers).
We coordinated with my good friend David who has some land in the heart of downtown, and he cleared some space for us to transport some hives there. After we combined this low hive with the one that’d started developing the queen cell, we loaded up the car with the screened hive from the day before, and drove it downtown. In the Prius.
On the way there, Jill found a bee crawling around on her veil, so she stuck her head out the window. (On the way back, she found a bee IN her veil)
Hive one, in place.
Release the hounds!
Hive in place with super dark cityscape.
On the return trip to the bee yard, we decided to get some food (at this point it was like 8:30), so Jill did some bee-biz in the back seat to activate our official W3B debik kard.
Jill lookin proper in Chick-fil-a. Reppin’ the Alabama Beekeepers Association t shirt too.
After munching, we grabbed the second-newest swarm hive and headed to the railroad yard again. Stephanie drove in her veil.
Here’s a shot from the following morning of both hives in place near the railroad tracks.
Wednesday was going great! No word about any swarms at all! Then we got a text from Lindsey (bee yard host) a little after 5, saying she thought she saw something in the pear tree again. I had a shoot all that afternoon so I couldn’t go help, but Jill & Steph did amazing work. There was a swarm in the pear tree.
In fact, there were two.
I hope to have updated info on what they did—for now, we have these photos.
Jill with their bee-spoils.
After this nonsense we were left with 7 hives.
Thursday it rained, and nothing of note seemed to happen. Stephanie and I went out of town on Friday morning, only to get a text from Jill about 4:30 with more news of a swarm. She had this to say about it (paraphrased in parts):
I tried to help out fake Almon (the name we’d given to the first swarm hive, as it resides where the former hive named Almon used to be) by taking two frames from Francine (hive) and I somehow indeuced a swarm in a hive. Likely in Francine. I went through each box all the way to the deep super to pull frames. Chock full. I stopped counting queen cells after 11. Five on one frame. Found opened queen cell. Caught swarm. In nuc (a small box for raising a new hive) on top of Fern (hive). Ridiculous. No other good place to put it. Cinder block half thing on top, boardman feeder on top. Hopefully I didn’t crush too many bees in doing it—tossed bees in then put all 5 frames in. Thank gods Winslow was with me most of the time.
She added later:
Crazy bee-chains where we were missing frames!
So, with that swarm being put in the nuc, that makes 8 freaking hives. In less than a week we went from 3 hives to 8. What. In. The. Hell.
Here’s a shot Jill took of Winslow (taking a photo of her, bonus!) of the Lower’s bee yard, featuring a swarm (far left), two wintered hives (Francine and Fern), the nuc with the newest swarm on top of Fern, fake-Almon (swarm hive), Dane on the far right, and Winslow sporting the sugar water bottle.
Much later…I think the following weekend?…we came back and did a general inspection to make sure everyone was doing well. We did a bunch of stuff (switched some hardware, added some missing frames, etc) and were basically done. We actually had a pretty good day…saw some queens, saw some bees producing wax. Anyway…we were basically done. Jill grabbed a couple of shims to help level one of the hives and when she turned around she saw a swarm flying around all over the area in front of the hives. We tried to track but eventually they elluded us entirely. The 9th swarm was the first to get away. Sigh.
We looked for ages and went down the hill (which, let me tell you, is steep and quite a decent distance) and even drove around the neighborhood trying to find a ball of bees, to no avail.
Here’s a photo Steph Instagrammed.
She added this caption:
Dag nabit! After a full day at the hives, we walk out ready to leave only to find a swarm in process. This swarm happened so quickly and we have NO idea where it ended up. We walked up and down this hill searching without any luck! The tiniest white dot at the middle of the frame is Cary. He walked ALL the way down the hill.
Here’s a photo of Jill and Steph after we threw in the towel. I can only imagine they were as physically and emotionally exhausted as I was.
And, to go out on a more positive note, here’s a photo of one of our queens! Big Butt Beauty!