Catching a Swarm

April 2019 Introduction: There’s more than a 2-week gap between this post and the last post because I was busy from being forced to move my bees out of my backyard in the city. The colony in one of my hives swarmed because, like all of my colonies, I overfed it. This is what an overfed honey bee colony on the verge of swarming looks like:

The bees, once they decided it was time to go, poured out of their hive and transformed into a huge cloud of bees above my tiny backyard, a cloud that gradually hopped the fence and hovered over my neighbour’s yard before landing on a pile of scrap lumber in another neighbour’s yard about 30 metres (a 100 feet) down the street. Here’s a video of another swarm that might better paint that picture of a cloud of bees:

I would have been sort of okay with this if it hadn’t been for freaked-out reactions from other people. The honey moon period of my beekeeping ended right then and nothing has felt the same since. It was a whole other ballgame once other people’s stress became my stress. To this day, I always feel uneasy at the prospect of my bees potentially swarming or doing anything that might bother my neighbours or other people. I’ve met beekeepers over the years who have never had to deal with this kind of situation, and I can tell because they’ve never grown out of the honey moon stage. Beekeeping for them is still full of wonder and relaxation like they’re living in a dream — exactly like I felt for the first two years of my beekeeping. They’re lucky that they don’t know how bad it can get.

I recaptured the swarm, a swarm that landed on the ground, not conveniently on a tree branch like everyone expects from swarms. The next day I decided to dig deeply into my remaining hives to look for more signs of swarming — and I found swarm cells all over the place. This was my crash course in swarm prevention, and I really didn’t know what the hell I was doing.

Digging into hives that were overflowing with bees, more bees than I ever had to deal with before, was a process of trial and error, with the emphasis on error. The bees became defensive and then my next door neighbour decided to walk out her back door and have a smoke. The bees began to buzz around her head in a manner that I wouldn’t call friendly. She freaked out and called the fire department. The fire chief along with a fire truck came to my house and said they got a complaint about wasps coming from my backyard. I explained the situation and they left. I didn’t have much choice after that but to get rid of my bees.

Aubrey Goulding, the only experienced beekeeper around at the time, helped me move my hives to a farm in the country. (Aubrey helped me out quite a bit during my first few years of beekeeping, as did Dan & Jeff, a couple of other new beekeepers I got to know through my blog.) The farm location was great for the bees and was a huge relief for me because it didn’t matter what the bees did out there, they could never bother anyone.

I did a lot of intense beekeeping over the next few years, but it was never as much fun as it was when I had the bees in my backyard in the city. It was difficult, costly, time-consuming work. Taking care of bees from a distance, instead of in my backyard, was a very different style of beekeeping, one that I never want to do again unless I get paid for it. I eventually moved out of the city where I could keep my bees in my relatively secluded backyard, but from May 2012 to May 2015, beekeeping for me was a slog, a tiring, dirty, frustrating slog, and I’m surprised I didn’t quit. Now that I look back on it, since 2010 when I started beekeeping, I’ve only had about two, maybe three years, of thoroughly enjoyable beekeeping. It’s been rewarding at times, even when it was difficult, but it hasn’t been a smooth ride since those first two or three years when I kept the bees in my backyard. Why haven’t a quit beekeeping? That’s a good question. However you look at it, the moral of the story is: Don’t overfeed your bees.

Anyhow, this is the first post I wrote after all the drama of my bees swarming and my neighbour’s freaking out so bad that I had to move my bees to the country.

Checking my hives in their new home, on a farm in Portugal Cove, NL (June 17, 2012).

I checked on my hives at their new home in the country today and I love it. I even captured a swarm and had a great time.

I normally avoid posting photos of myself, but my face is obscured in this one and I sort of look like a biker with a handlebar moustache, a fat head and no neck. That doesn’t look anything like me, so it’s perfect.

That’s about half the swarm I’m holding. It was big. It was thick. And the bees were so calm, I was able to cut the branch off the tree, not exactly in a delicate manner, and they didn’t budge from their cluster. It was a text book swarm cluster.

A swarm of bees hanging off a tree branch. (June 17, 2012.)

It was difficult to get a good shot of the bees because I only had my small snapshot camera and couldn’t see what I was doing, but here’s a close up of the cluster, slightly out of focus:

There’s a queen deep in the centre of the ball somewhere. I cut off the branches the bees were clinging to (I had to use a pocket knife to whittle off the branches), and placed them inside a hive box with three frames of empty drawn comb and some honey. I put the top on and left them alone for about 20 minutes. Then I moved them to a new hive that included a feeder and reduced the entrance. The last I saw of them (the swarmed bees), the bees were covering four or five frames in the new hive and they were scenting as if to say, “The queen is inside and the place looks great. Let’s set up camp and stay for a while.” I’ll check on them tomorrow to make sure that’s what they were thinking.

October 25th, 2012: This was my best day of beekeeping and pretty much the only good day I had. The rest of the season was quick and dirty beekeeping, more like bee-visiting than beekeeping, and it wasn’t nearly as much fun as able to see the bees every day.

8 thoughts on “Catching a Swarm

  1. I caught a swarm last week and wow its pretty cool. They will amaze you at how fast they will build comb. put lots of empty frames with foundation in as they will build like mad.

    • Yeah, they have three fully drawn frames with some honey on the edges that we had planned to use for a swarm trap (not anymore). We gave them about 5 litres of syrup in a frame feeder, too, and added a second brood box with some partially drawn comb in the middle. Hopefully all the empty space in the second brood box won’t discourage them. I’ve heard that it can, but also I’ve heard from many beekeepers that a swarmed hived will build up so fast that they can fill in a deep within days. And we won’t be able to check on them for another week, so we figured we’ll add the extra box just in case they really go town on it.

  2. I say it was our best beekeeping day so far because we didn’t have to concern ourselves with nosey, suspicious neighbours. Whenever we inspected our hives or did any kind of beekeeping, we always made sure that our immediate next door neighbours weren’t in their back yard, and if they did come out, we’d quickly finish up whatever we were doing. We enjoyed the bees, but it was never a fully relaxed environment.

    To have bees in a residential urban environment, it’s probably best to be on friendly terms with everyone in the neighbourhood. That’s just not possible or desirable where I live.

    I’d also like to say that our neighbourhood isn’t full of bee-hating jerks. The neighbours on the left side of our house are great, a totally laid back older couple. The neighbours on our right are a mixed bag. A nice old lady lives in the house, and she was always agreeable to having the honey bees close by. But some other people who live in the house are the type who will call the fire department complaining about killer bees before they’ll bother trying to talk to us about their concerns in a rational manner. Constantly feeling that kind of vibe took some of the fun out of beekeeping.

    We love the new location.

  3. There is just something magical about swarms. That’s a corny way of putting it, but it’s the most fun I’ve had with bees so far. I’m glad you’re enjoying the bees in the country. Glad you had a nice place to bring them.

  4. Phil, you’ll have honey out of that colony this year. Feed them for another week or two then cut them off. You’ll be amazed how fast a swarm recovers and builds up that comb.

  5. Looks like an awesome capture! I’ve gotten a few calls recently about swarms in South-Western Ontario, but I haven’t been able to go get one yet as I don’t have any extra hive equipment at the moment.

    All the best for this swarm and hopefully it turns into a nice healthy colony.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.