I was walking with Eric and looking around the garden and orchard, when he pointed up into a pear tree. He’d spotted a swarm of bees.
As a beekeeper, I got excited. Free bees! Capturing a swarm had been on my bucket list, and here was an opportunity in my own back yard.
So I ran off to watch a few videos on YouTube, purchase some lemongrass essential oil from my local co-op food market, and then grabbed a cardboard box, a bed sheet, my bee suit, and a 30-foot ladder.
Capturing a swarm was essentially climbing up a ladder with a cardboard box, grabbing the branch with your arm, and vigorously shaking it until the bees fall into the box. There was a point where I was at the top of ladder, bees exploding into the air around me, that I paused with my hand on the branch and watched the chaos I’d unleashed and thought, “Hmm, I guess I’m not afraid of bees.”
There is no video of me doing this. Beforehand I asked Eric if he wanted to watch and take pictures…he looked at me for a moment and then said, “No.” I told him, “I’ve got a spare bee suit for you.” Again from Eric, firmly, “No.” We agreed that he’d wait up by the house and listen for the screams. This is how our marriage works now. For the first 15-ish years, he’d actually try to talk me out of things.
When you shake the bees, you can tell easily whether you’ve caught the queen or not. If you shake the bees into the box and they immediately explode back out of the back and go back into the tree, you do not have the queen.
So I waited for the bees to re-congregate and then gave it another go. The nice thing about free bees is it really opens you up to experimentation.
The second time the bees stayed in the box, so I guessed that I had the queen.
Not having planned for a fourth hive this year, I had to quickly cobble together a hive from spare parts. The gear below is two honey supers, a feeder board that I stapled screen over for a bottom board, and the black thing on top is the metal cover off an old microwave that I was taking apart in my garage for (a) spare parts and (b) to see what a microwave is made of.
It’s the jankiest hive in janky town, but it works. The lemongrass oil mimics the “hey I found a great new spot to live” pheromone scout bees use to tell the swarm where to go. So I added a few drops to make it smell like home. Aside from some congestion at the entrance, the bees are doing OK.
I ordered some new hive parts and will add them in as soon as I can.
There is a saying, “A swarm in June is worth a silver spoon; a swarm in July isn’t worth a fly.” I captured this swarm on July 1st, and we have a late season, being at altitude. So my guess is that I’ll have to baby them over the winter and there’ll be no honey harvest. On the other hand, it’s a chance to explore and one more shot at successfully wintering over a hive (something I’ve yet to accomplish.)
So I’m proud of capturing the swarm, and a little embarrassed because I’m pretty sure the swarm I captured was my own. Swarm management is something I’m in the process of improving.
But hey, free (or recaptured) bees!
Update: a week later the hive had built up the foundation quite a bit, I found the queen and she looked healthy and was laying lots of eggs!