Swarm sequel

After the swarm settled in the trap, we decided to leave it until morning. We had other things to do before dark, and I needed to prepare a hive for the new colony. Still, we decided to walk up the hill and look at the other traps. I was certain they were empty; they were always empty.

We saw no sign of life at the second trap, but the third one had a few bees at the entrance. Not a lot, just one now and then. At first I assumed they were scouts, but scouts go in and out, hover around, inspect the outside. These bees behaved more like bees returning at the end of the day—they went in but not out. They did not hover around the entrance.

Once again, we decided it was too late in the day to do anything. We would haul the ladder to this trap in the morning after we hived the swarm from the other trap. It seemed like a lot of work for nothing, but that was the plan. In the morning I would prepare two new hives, just in case.

Hiving of yesterday’s swarm was easy. My husband carried the trap down the ladder, passed it to me, and I banged the bees into their new hive. A little bit of snow white comb—already filled with nectar—clung to the inside of the pot. I saw no queen, although I didn’t expect to. Everything seemed normal, although quite a few foragers returned to the alder tree.

With that out of the way, we proceeded to the most distant trap. Up on the ladder, I saw no sign of life, nor did I hear any. But I was amazed at the weight of the trap—I decided it must be waterlogged.

We carried it down to the new hive, just in case. With the trap braced over the open hive, I opened it. I suppose my silence was telling because my husband kept saying, “What is it? What’s in there?”

“A fully functioning colony,” I answered at length. I couldn’t look away; it was gorgeous.

Five sparkling white and perfectly parallel combs nearly filled the trap, and a sixth comb was in progress. But what puzzled me most was that no bees flew up or out; no bees came or went. They just kept working on their combs. I was mesmerized.

My husband needs to avoid bee stings, but even he stood within inches of these bees with no protective clothing. I’ve never seen bees so remarkably gentle and unconcerned with human intervention—they just kept working their combs as if we weren’t standing there, as if we hadn’t just ripped open their home.

I almost hate to tell you this because it is so counter to good beekeeping practices, but I couldn’t cut them out. Maybe if they were mean I would have, but these bees were so peaceful and their combs so delicate. The new white wax would collapse if I cut it, and the artistic symmetry would be destroyed.

So in a very unbeekeeperlike manner, I placed the trap on top of the hive, added some empty supers to enclose it, and placed a lid on top of that. What I’m going to do next, I have no clue. Eventually I will have to do something, but not yet.

It occurs to me that I have let peace and beauty overwhelm any good sense I might have. But can that be all bad? I will probably end up with a horrendous mess on my hands, but for the moment, those bees make me over-the-top happy.



Colony in a swarm trap. The envelope pinned to the inside contains the swarm lure. © Rusty Burlew.


  • What a glourius new sequel for Swarm. I keep telling beekeepers sometimes you have to do what feels right not what the book says because those ladies never read no book and they don’t follow our rules. (Thank goodness.)

    Thank you for all your wonderful stories. I share many on fb Union County Beekeepers Association page and get a good response. pat

  • Maybe make an observation hive. You could cut the sides off of the trap carefully and hang it inside without disturbing the comb? With a little luck? That sure would be a nice one to watch.

  • You did the right thing, I would have done the same. If the bees have set up home in a space you provided and in such an awe-inspiring way then it would be unforgivable to interfere, sure it might not be the most efficient route to getting a crop of honey from the colony but that’s not the only reason for being a beekeeper.

  • Rusty,

    Don’t wait too long! Would be interesting if you get gentle queens out this colony down the road.


    • Right. I have visions of comb built like a jungle gym, all angles and connections wherever you look. And I agree about the queen potential, too.

  • Last year I had a similar situation with the same amount of combs attached to the underside of a rock overhang. The rock was sitting on the ground and the combs almost touched the ground. I just took a long bladed knife and carefully cut the combs while carefully holding them. I had a person helping me so the extra hands were helpful to get the combs off and moved to wooden frames where we used rubber bands around the frames to hold the combs in place. The combs are very fragile but this can be done if you are careful. You do not have many other options. Good luck.

    • Steve,

      I’ve cut out combs many times and tied them into frames, so I know I can do it. But there was something about this colony that just got to me.

  • Gasp! was my exact reaction.
    And agree with the comments to trust that the bees know what they’re doing.
    How long do you think it took them to get in and make this perfect colony?

  • Oh this is exciting, Rusty. I follow your blog faithfully and as a novice beekeeper trying to get it right — with the help of very generous mentors — I learn as much from you about what NOT to be too concerned about as I do from quizzes about “what” and “why”. Thank you for showing me that I can make mistakes, figure things out in my own time (and the bees’), and not be intimidated that I don’t have all the answers to deliver in chapter and verse. I was dejected after a simple hive check today and now I am re-inspired. Thank you!

    • Annette,

      They are not really paper mache; they just sort of look like it. They are available at any of the beekeeping supply places and they hold up for years in the rain. I live in one of the rainiest climates in the U.S.

  • A lovely post, Rusty! I am sure your new, beautiful girls will expand into the frames and boxes provided, giving you the option of removing their trap combs later in the summer. It will be interesting to see what they do with those combs…raise brood and then fill with honey???…as the summer progresses. Hope we get an update later in the season. Meanwhile thanks for capturing the magic of the bees.

  • Just curious, how much success do you have in catching swarms and what type of trap & attractant do you use to get them to locate your traps?

    • John,

      Look at the photos in this post. I have three traps and usually catch 2 or 3 swarms per year. The traps are available from just about any beekeeping supplier and so are the pheromone lures. The lures need to be fresh to work.

  • Rusty,

    How do you secure the lid on the swarm trap? Once you have it in place, what is the entry orientation —- hung vertically with entry pointing down?


    • Terry,

      Look at the photos in this post. The lid is held on with a nail, and the whole thing is mounted on a board and hung from another nail.

  • Not sure if this is the just-right place to see if I can get an answer to a swarm question but here goes. I put a swarm in a hive with drawn deep frames this morning after they had spent the night hanging under the eaves of my shop. They were orienting and foraging after a couple hours and even continued to come and go for a couple hours in a light rain. Tonight I made a feeder and put a quart of syrup in. Never fed bees before but I am thinking of keeping them closed up for a day or two because I moved them and don’t want them to starve. I also don’t want them going back to where I hived them. I got 99% of them in the hive. Used a bottom board, slatted rack, and a full screen on top under the cover. The entrance is screened over next to the feeder so they are locked in good. My question is, is this the right thing to do with a swarm that I have moved about 150 yards from where I got them? They have syrup and lots of ventilation and are 25-30 feet from one of my other 3-deep hives. What would be the best amount of time to keep them closed in?

    • Jeff,

      I’m not sure. If an established colony had been moved 150 yards, I would say two to three days. But since these bees were not well established yet, I think one night is plenty. If you want to be on the conservative side, go two nights. Also put branches or some obstruction at the hive opening so they will reorient.

      • Well, after getting done with the other hives I checked on them. To my surprise there were 6-10 bees flying about the hive and a couple were on the screen trying to get in to the mass of bees trying to get out. They were the same age/color as the ones on the inside. So I puffed a tiny bit of smoke on the screen, removed it, stuffed some weeds in the entrance, and turned them loose. They were locked up for 18 hours. Seemed like all the bees that began to fly were doing the orientation thing- ever widening circles so I thought that was good. Back where they were caught are about 40 bees flying about so I will have to keep an eye on that. We have one more day of good foraging and then another week of rain. At the large hive I saw LOTS of traffic but all the bees that were coming and going were all older bees- no young bees there at all. So now I am thinking that the swarm came from that hive. If it did, do you think I could check it in a week? Got my fingers crossed. Thanks so much for getting back to me. Your site is a wealth of good information!……Jeff

  • Rusty,
    Some stragglers from the swarm still on my shop got scooped up this morning and when I dumped them on the landing board, they began fanning in less than a second. Their sisters completely ignored them as they were rushing in and out of the hive. They seemed to be saying to the late comers “Yeah, sure, act like everything is normal and you have been doing your job all along. You-all have probably been to vegas or some place engaged in riotous behavior. Just get to work. We forgive you”. So they are doing great!

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