Honeybee Swarm Rescue Times Three

This was written the first week of May, when swarms start flying things get crazy.

Monday Night…

Today Natalie and I rescued two swarms from the fence of my friend Paige here in Denver. I learned about the swarms from a post Paige put up on Facebook with a video of one of the swarms. Some emails and phone calls followed, we packed the car with some equipment including a nuc and raced over. (A nuc is a small hive used for capturing swarms and creating splits of existing hives.)

The larger swarm had been on the fence since Saturday, May 1. It was now Monday evening, May 3. This swarm was likely the old queen of the wild hive in the huge box elder in her back yard. The capture was super easy. I simply swept them off the fence with a bee brush into a small cardboard box. I then shook the box over the open nuc with two frames in it. They moved right in. A couple more trips with the box to clean up stragglers and I was able to slide the inner cover on the nuc. Workers started fanning instantly to draw any lost bees into the hive. The fanning is to spread the scent of the queen and let everyone know where she is. It also lets you know you do have a queen in the nuc. This was great news.

Natalie took some photographs of the process. Paige and her partner Conroy observed and provided an occasional helping hand. I never even lit my smoker although I did bring it along. I did wear my veil but mostly to keep any strays from getting tangled in my hair. I wore gloves during a few crucial minutes of the transfer but probably did not need to as the bees were as calm as Hindu cows.

I then took the empty box over to the second swarm which had been on the fence since earlier in the afternoon. This swarm is probably what is called an afterswarm. An afterswam is typically a spare freshly hatched queen and some of the remaining workers. An afterswarm usually means the parent hive is really strong. I then swept the second smaller swam into the box and closed and taped three of the four flaps shut with duct tape, careful not to leave any exposed sticky areas that might trap bees. Workers started fanning here too as soon as the box was partially closed. When workers fan they face toward an opening of the hive and fan with their wings. Rows of bees facing an opening and fanning is a good sign that everything is fine anytime you open a hive, but especially with a swarm.  A second queen verified! Working against the fading light I was able to clean up a few stray clumps and even a few returning scouts and get them in the box. I picked up a sting when I trapped a worker between my upper arm and side. Not bad for two swarms captured in increasingly chilly and windy conditions.  I then taped up the box and took it home with me. I left the nuc there to get acclimated for a day or two. Paige and Conroy seem to be very excited and may adopt them.

Once I was home, I set the box up inside two medium supers with alternating frames of foundation and empty frames with starter strips filling half of each super and the box in the remaining gap.  It was after dark so I just carefully removed the tape, opened the flaps, and positioned the box on its side inside the hive and closed it up. I will check up tomorrow and shake them out of the box if necessary. I hope they will move out on their own and I can just pull it out of the hive and stick in more frames to fill up the gap with minimal disruption.

Tuesday night…

The small swarm was still mostly in the box inside the medium supers. I shook them out into the frames of the medium super, removed the top super and repositioned all the frames in the bottom super. Some notes on the theory here. Why alternating foundation with foundationless? Because the bees will start drawing faster on the empty frames, but the foundation will encourage them to draw in the right direction. The main goal is for the broodnest to be foundationless (and therefore small cell), frames with foundation can be moved slowly outward or up into honey storage areas where cell size is not critical to survival. I am only doing this because I have some foundation on hand. If I did not have foundation I certainly would not buy any. I would just carefully level the hive and cut out any strangely drawn comb.

My existing hive has lots of queen cells and drone cells and tons of brood. The fill the majority of frames in two deep boxes. Looks like they are ramping up to swarm in spite of my efforts to checkerboard for swarm prevention. See Bush Bees and Bee Natural for an explanation of checkerboarding. I may shortly have four hives, or more. I have a couple of nucs on the way as I am fresh out of space for swarms. I am still hoping for a swarm from the wild hive in my oak tree. I may be knee-deep in swarms shortly, I want to be prepared.

Bees from the new hive spent most of the day orienting as if they were a new hatch. This is a response to the move. They are memorizing the area around the hive so they can find their way back in the future. This is a good sign that they are settling in and accepting the new hive as their home. When this behavior is exhibited by a new hatch of workers we call it “pilot training” or “a new hire class”.

Paige posted this photograph of the bees orienting outside the nuc. From this photograph, I can tell things are going well with the swarm in the nuc. I will be checking on them sometime this weekend.

Wednesday Night

Lots of activity from both the existing hive and the newly reestablished second hive. Bees are clearly gathering nectar and pollen. Heavily laden bees are performing crash landings on the front lip of the hive.

Wild hive in the tree also working overtime, no sign of a swarm yet. This is a good thing as we have nowhere to put a swarm right now.

Friday Evening

The conventional beekeeper who sold me my original swarm loaned me two nucs and gave me some old frames without foundation. Which is a good thing because…

Saturday Morning

The original hive threw off a nice sized swarm this morning. Natalie was sitting in the backyard this morning anxiously awaiting them with the camera set up and focused. An increasingly loud hum from the hive announced their imminent arrival. We sat and watched the cloud of bees start to condense on one of the lilacs. By the time the swarm had condensed I had trimmed a path to the swarm. The swarm conveniently settled just above the compost bin I use for finishing compost. I got out the step stool, stepped up on the compost bin, and then positioned the nuc underneath the swarm with the lid off. I then cut through the branch the swarm was on and as it cut free the entire swarm dropped from the branch and fell toward the ground. About a third of the swarm fell directly into the nuc, the other third onto a pile of branches awaiting chipping, and the final third took to the air. The queen landed in the nuc when the swarm dropped or was still on the branch which I shook off just above the nuc right away.

Three or four separate balls of bees condensed on nearby branches and I systematically dropped them into the same box I used to transport the small swarm on Monday, and then shook them into the nuc. Once the majority of the swarm was on or in the nuc I started sliding the lid on from one corner until it was about half enclosed. Free flying bees started condensing into the nuc. Bees started fanning to spread the scent of the queen and draw stragglers in. After about thirty minutes I slid the lid the rest of the way on and inserted a 1/4 thick twig into the front end to create a top entrance.

Saturday Evening

The new swarm seems to have settled in nicely. I will open them up tomorrow to add two more frames to the nuc.

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