Housing Swarms

It’s been a busy Spring of beekeeping for us. Not only have we been busy making increase and setting up new out apiaries but we’ve been getting lots of call outs to swarms as well.

The Perfect Swarm

The first was a lovely swarm in Penparcau. We packed the car with the tools we thought we might need and arrived to find a huge swarm in an apple tree about 10 feet off the ground.

Swarm

Swarm

Thankfully, as well as the usual beekeeping tools we had packed a ladder, some secateurs, some branch loppers and a big white sheet. Being careful not to flatten the house-owners vegetable patch we laid the sheet on the ground and then carefully pruned the tree to give us easier access to the swarm. I then lopped off the branches the swarm was on, shook them into a nuc box which we’d placed on the sheet and then waited while the bees made their way into the box.

The house owner made us a cup of tea whilst we waited for the bees to do their thing. Sure enough they slowly but surely made their way into the nuc box and after about an hour most were inside.

We packed up and headed home having successfully caught the swarm and provided the local residents with some peace of mind in the process. All was looking good as it seemed like a perfect swarm. It was huge and would certainly be a useful addition to our collection of colonies. Unfortunately though by the time we managed to transfer them into a full size hive later that day we were greeted with a sorry sight. The bees had overheated and most of them had died or were dying. It was quite sad really and not a particularly nice job transferring what was left of them into the hive and discarding so many dead bees. Dealing with death is never nice, dead bees are no exception and it is even worse when you feel responsible for it too. It was also sad from the perspective of losing what would have been a beautiful colony. All we could do to console ourselves was to say that we hadn’t really lost anything, and although we hadn’t gained any bees we had at least gained some experience, knowledge and had learned a useful lesson. Next time more ventilation in transit and a quicker transfer to a hive will be paramount. That’s if we ever catch such a good swarm again.

We did manage to salvage some bees from the swarm and that included the queen so we left them in the hive and hoped for the best. They did start sorting themselves out. The queen looked OK and they were drawing out comb and storing honey and pollen, but then they swarmed again and we were left with very few bees and no queen.

Bumble Bees

Since then we’ve had numerous call outs to other ‘swarms’ as well. We could tell on the phone that most of these were probably Bumble Bee nests rather than Honey Bee swarms, but the callers needed their minds put to rest so we attended them anyway. There were Bumble Bees in a bird box in Clarach, Bumble Bees under a caravan in Borth and Bumble Bees in the soffits in Llandre.

Cider Swarm

We then had another call about a swarm in Ynyslas later that night which sounded more promising. Apparently they were near to some old cider barrels so we went off in search of them. It took a while to find them as they were hidden away inside an upturned half barrel that was stacked on top of a number of other half barrels. They were all quiet and settled for the evening. When we found them it was only a small swarm about the size of a grapefruit. Probably only about a 10th of the size of the larger swarm that had overheated, but worth catching anyway.

As we turned the half-barrel over the bees dispersed fairly quickly and spread out over the inside of the barrel. I managed to spot the queen so picked her up and placed her into a nuc box. I then proceeded to scoop cupfuls of bees into the nuc box where they all disappeared into its dark recesses in search of their queen. Once I had the majority of them in we set the nuc box down and let the others find their own way into it. Once again the bees co-operated and before long I had a nuc box full of bees. I taped it up, drove the sort distance home and immediately put them into a hive. We decided it would be good to unite them with the few stragglers from the swarm that had overheated and was now queenless and therefore destined to die out. Hopefully they would accept this new colony and queen as their own and seeing as the swarm itself was quite small, the few extra bees from the previous swarm would bolster it’s numbers.

We had run out of brood frames so had used super frames in the nuc box, so rather than disturb them too much by shaking them off these frames and into the hive we though it would be better to add a super to the hive and simply place the frames from the nuc box into the super. This would also give the two sets of bees a chance to ‘get to know each other’ before they were fully united. That’s what we did so this hive is now configured as a brood and half and has a new swarmed colony in it along with the stragglers from the previous swarm. We can only hope they all get along together and stay in the hive. Who knows what they’ll do, but once again if they leave us we haven’t actually lost anything and if they stay we may have a new colony to take through the winter.

A quick swarm

Then about an hour before I was due to leave for Kitzbühel for the European Triathlon championship the hive that houses Morgan’s colony at the bottom of the garden sent out a swarm. This was the hive where we took the unorthodox approach of culling a queen a few weeks ago and we were waiting for it to requeen. Well, as far as I can tell, there must be several queens that have hatched and now the hive is sending out cast swarms. No doubt the ‘cider swarm’ last night came from here as well.

The beekeeping kit was in the car, my gloves were in the car too and Anna had the car in Aberystwyth. The bees however settled on a fairly easy to get to branch just over the fence at the bottom of the garden.

I quickly got the ladder, the nuc box and some loppers and set off to capture it. We still didn’t have any brood frames so I made some bodged wooden spacers for super frames and put them in the nuc box. I set up the ladder, climbed up to the bees and loped off the branch they were on then shook them into the nuc box. Luckily most went in and soon the bees were almost all in the box. I carefully climbed back over the fence, set the nuc box down on some blocks in the garden and hoped that the remaining bees would find their way to it. I popped in some sugar syrup with them as well to hopefully encourage them to stay there. FEAR NOT – for the mighty beekeeper has, with hands bared, tamed the swarm!

We now have four colonies at the bottom of the garden.

  • Morgan’s Colony – hopefully re-queened, but probably quite depleted in numbers by now thanks to all of the swarming.
  • A colony from a nuc that we bought earlier in the year – Hopefully building up and behaving themselves – but somehow I doubt it!
  • The cider swarm we caught in conjunction with the remnants of the Penparcau swarm – Lets hope they get on together.
  • The cast swarm from Morgan’s colony – If it stays there!

We quite enjoy catching swarms. It’s kind of exciting, it means free bees and best of all each one presents a bit of a challenge and is a test of ingenuity. Finding a way of getting the bees from their resting place into a box always involves a challenge or two, but there is always satisfaction when the bees start entering the box just the way you want them to. And what beekeeper can resist the lure of free bees and a challenge?

1 Response

  1. Andrew says:

    I really enjoyed those stories and would like the confidence to catch swarms myself. I am a new beekeeper living in Swansea and have recently bought my first hive and colony. Any tips on here would be appreciated

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Alan Cole

Alan is a Freelance Website Designer, Sports & Exercise Science Lab Technician and full time Dad & husband with far too many hobbies: Triathlete, Swimming, Cycling, Running, MTBing, Surfing, Windsurfing, SUPing, Gardening, Photography.... The list goes on.

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