Days of our Hives: Swarm, Swarm, Swarm!

Well after this weekend it’s time for another episode of “Days of our hives”. When we last left the bees, there had been two swarms. The first landed in a lilac bush and was captured both in a new hive and in a play-by-play video. The second one landed high in a maple tree, well beyond our reach (or so we thought at the time). Well I’m here to share the news, we had not one, not two, but THREE more swarms since then. 

Swarm 2 hangs out in the top of a maple tree in the backyard. 

Swarm 3 was the only one we did not see leave the hive. In this way this season has been unique – we’ve been able to watch the bees form a swarm, fly out and decide where to land. This, aside from being both facinating and frustrating at the same time, gives you a huge leg up in the swarm catching game because you a) know the bees swarmed and b) know where they went.  Swarm 3 was an exception as I did not see it leave the hive. I was relaxing in the sunroom with the windows open when I started to hear a buzzing. “oh no, where’s that coming from?!?” I thought. At first I thought the hive was just starting to swarm. Swarms usually leave mid day but at 6:30pm there was plenty of day light left. As I went outside I watched the air fill with bees over the house. “Oh good, the roof, they could land there, I could get them”. But it was not to bee. The bees kept flying across the neighbors yard while I ran after them in bare feet desperately hoping our new next door neighbor liked bees (she does) the bees flew over the far tree line and out of sight. I suspect they swarmed to the oak tree near the sunroom earlier in the day and I heard them as they went to move into their new home.  I never saw them in the tree, demonstrating the importance of seeing the swarm for the catch.

Swarm 4 was a high angle learning adventure. The first hive we split about May 15 and they swarmed May 30. The next hives we split May 25 and they swarmed June 14. Notice a pattern? Swarm 4 went for a different spot on the same maple as Swarm 2. This time though, despite the height we were ready to put on our A game and catch it (or would that be “B game”?)   Rob got out his tree climbing gear and got ready.

High-angle swarm rescue gear: A 5 gallon bucket, pole saw with extension, 2 60m climbing ropes, harness, helmet, and Bee jacket!

Rob went up the tree. The plan was to have him climb up the trunk to level with the bees, and then put the bucket on the end of the pole saw and use it to shake the bees into the bucket. Then lower the bucket down to me on a second rope. Easy, right?

(Ex-) Professional tree climber on a closed course – kids don’t try this at home!

We have quite a bit of video of the whole process, although much of it looks like a bunch of leaves. Expect another late-breaking swarm video later. Bottom line was we got the swarm down and got it into a box.

Swarm 4, awaiting capture in the maple tree. 

I know what you’re thinking now. Ho-hum, 4 swarms of bees, a high angle bee rescue, bor-ing. Fear not my friends, just to add a bit of interest to they day while Rob was ascending the tree to rescue swarm number 4, swarm number 5 left the hive (recall these hives were split at the same time)

Swarm number 5 hanging out on the trunk of a spruce tree. 

After getting my hopes up by spending a lot of time around a nice low bush, it chose the spruce tree trunk to land on. The trunk turned out to be a bigger problem than the height (about 15ft). We could reach the swarm more easily than Swarm 4 in terms of height, but there was no quick and easy dropping it into the bucket. Both Margaret and Rob climbed the tree and tried to shake bees into the bucket with cardboard and other things. By this point what started as a mid-day glance out the kitchen window had turned into a 4 hour ordeal. We decided to call for back up.

A great thing about beekeeping is despite being a individual activity, there is quite a large community. We put in a call to our friends down at The Honey Exchange and determined they had a bee vac for loan and knew someone in need of some bees. “Great, I said, the bees are theirs if they can get them out of the %$#@%^ tree!”

Bill, our backup team beekeeper, came over and initially tried to lure the bees out of the tree with some brood on a pole. The bees were not fooled and stayed firmly in the tree. At this point Bill went home to get a longer ladder and extension cord. It was a clear case of ‘the right equipment for the right job’.  When he came back collection the swarm was much easier with a bee vac (modified shop vac to suck and collect bees)

Just grab a 20 ft ladder and a bee vac and you can suck the swarm right out of the tree!
 Rob holds the bottom of the ladder for stability. 

Usually I make Rob empty the vacuum filter – in this case rather than dust it was all full of bees!

Bill was able to suck up the bees no problem and we were pleased to be able to provide him with a new colony.

This is “Days of our hives” and we can’t end a soap opera on a positive note, so alas I’m afraid I must confess the bees had one final move for us. Remember that box of bees? The large swarm Rob caught after two hours work with the ropes? The one that got us so tired that we just called in backup to give away our other swarm? Yea, they flew away. 🙁 They didn’t like our box (it was a nuc box and way to small for them we later learned). So in the end we got our weekend climbing trip in our own backyard, provided some good karma and bees to a fellow beekeeper, and ended the day with the same size apiary that we started with.

Tune in next time for another episode of “Days of our Hives”…