Just after midday on Monday, a swarm lifted from the hive that sits in the shade of our pump house. I often wonder what the bees think of water pumps cycling at all hours, but they don’t seem to care. The colony that lives there usually winters well, builds up fast, and produces lots of honey.
I knew the colony was about to swarm. The bees had been noisy and crawling up the outside walls during the day. It was only a matter of time, so I wasn’t surprised when liftoff occurred.
Priming the bait hives
The swarm settled about fifty feet up a Douglas-fir where I could barely see them through binoculars. It was 1:30 pm. I retrieved my bottle of Swarm Commander and sprayed each of the three bait hives. Within an hour there were about 30 scouts at the hive behind my house and about 5 at one of the hives in the drain field.
The bait hive behind the house was on a stand. The lower part comprised a deep and a medium above a bottom board, and the entrance was reduced to about three inches. Above that, I placed a plywood divider, cut to fit. And then, on top of that, another single deep. The opening for the second deep was above it: three holes cut into a three-inch shim. Above that was a telescoping cover.
I offered the scouts a choice
The purpose of all this was to give the bees a higher entrance. I thought a swarm might prefer the higher of the two hives, but in any case, they had a choice and could move into either. I sprayed both entrances with the pheromone lure, and told my husband the swarm would move in by 3 pm the next day, Tuesday.
For a while, I thought they would prove me wrong because by five o’clock Monday evening, 80 or 90 scouts were milling around the bait hive. But all my swarms spend at least one night in the trees, and sometimes as much as a week. As I watched them, I realized they were examining both the upper and lower hives, with a majority—maybe 70%—at the upper one. In spite of all the activity, I figured they would need to sleep on their decision, and they did.
The swarm arrived on moving day
The next morning, Tuesday, I was away from the house until lunch time. When I got home, about 30 scouts were examining the hive, and later about ten. I knew that was a good sign. It seems like the scouts disappear right before the swarm. I figure they go back to the cluster for the board meeting and final vote. At 2:30 pm, no bees at all were present at the bait hive.
At 2:57 I realized my camera battery was dead. I quickly changed it and hurried outside, but there was nothing. Three o’clock came and went, but still no bees. I waited until about 3:10 and then, frustrated, went inside to answer email. How dare they be late?
Nearly a half hour passed before I heard it. I reached for my camera and ran outside, checking the time on the way. It was 3:38 pm. Whatever took so long?
The swarm split in two
A great cloud of bees spilled out of the fir tree and migrated toward me. Milling and darting, they looked like birds against the blue sky. But as I watched them enter the hive, I realized what the confusion in the boardroom might have been: they hadn’t decided which hive they were moving into. Thousands of bees were flowing into both entrances at once. That wasn’t going to work, not with just one queen.
My multi-unit experiment had been a failure. So although I seldom interfere with a swarm, I decided to yank the divider from between the two hives. It took just a second to turn the two small ones into one big one. Meanwhile the bees kept pouring in. By the time 4:30 rolled around, you could look at that hive and never know it was anything but business as usual.
Predicting the time of arrival
You may wonder how I could predict the time of arrival as well as I did, but it’s no secret. I always look at the time when I see a swarm. Here in my area, swarms seem to issue from a hive between 12:30 and 2 pm. Swarms that are treed tend to move in to their new home at about 3 pm after having spent at least one night in the branches. Why? I have no idea. It’s just something they do.
I have to say, I love catching my own swarms. It is so much less work than splitting because they do all the figuring for you. You don’t have to decide how much brood to move, which queen cells to use, or where to put the old queen. All you do is set up a few sites for them to examine and let them take care of the logistics. Plus, it’s fun to watch. In comparison, a split is terribly boring and predictable.
To give credit where it’s due, a fresh bottle of Swarm Commander is the secret ingredient. Sprayed on recently used combs, it tripled the catch rate I got with plain lemongrass oil. Worth every penny.
Honey Bee Suite
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