Monday, May 19, 2014

Catching a Swarm

It is always exciting to find a swarm (except if it is from your hive) because, as a beekeeper, you know those are free bees. Swarming is a natural means for a colony to reproduce. Bee colonies are considered superorganisms and may swarm/reproduce several times throughout the season. Swarming season will typically happen after the queen has made it through winter, leading into the spring or early summer months. A newly established colony does not have the tendency to swarm but may, if they become overcrowded. When working the frames in a beehive, you can find swarm cells clustered together along the bottom edge of a frame.

When a hive decides to swarm, they will send out scout bees in search of a new home. This process can happen very fast (within a few hours) or they may search for a couple of days before finding a suitable home. While scout bees are searching for the next home, the swarm will find temporary resting points relatively close to their original hive (roughly 50 to 100 feet). Generally, swarms will find shelter on tree branches but can find rest on any style structure.This is your time slot to go out and capture them! Grab your NUC (cardboard or wooden) to put them in and head their way.

So, you have located a swarm, what do you need to do when you find this swarm?
A swarm may seem overwhelming and frightening but during this stage, they are not aggressive. Locate the swarm, they may have landed 1 foot off the ground or they could be 80 feet up in a tree. Access the situation and determine if the bees can be acquired safely. 
    Here are some things to consider:
  • Use Protection: You never know when a mistake will be made, therefore, wear your protective equipment. You are handling thousands of stinging insects that may become aggressive. Wear your veil and gloves (depending on comfort level with bees)and remind any spectators that bees can sting.
  • Remember, Safety First: Bees will not always land in an ideal location. Be aware of your surroundings and locate any safety hazards (electrical lines, sharp objects, ect.). If a ladder is required, use your best judgment to determine how best to retrieve the swarm(a branch may need to be cut off). Other options may be available if a ladder seems too risky (like the Hipps Swarm Retriever). Here is a great video on how to capture a swarm with the Hipps Swarm Retiever:




 

You have spotted the swarm and are ready to transfer them into your NUC.

    Here are some tips how to catch a swarm in a NUC Box:
  • Swarms on Branch Accessible from Ground: Lay a white sheet out below the swarm. Take your NUC box and determine if the swarm is small enough to bump into the NUC. If it will fit perfectly, go ahead and give it a couple bumps to dislodge the swarm from the branch. If it exceeds the NUC box, try to get the center cluster inside the box, leaving the outskirts to fall onto the sheet.
  • Swarms on Branch Accessible by Ladder: Place a white sheet below the swarm. Stand ladder on top of the white sheet so that you can easily reach the swarm.Determine if the bees can be acquired safely. Safely carry the NUC box up the ladder to dislodge the swarm into the NUC (best done with two or more people for support).
  • Swarms on Something Other than a Tree Branch: They may have come to land on a fence post, roof overhang, or even on the ground. The main objective is to transfer the large cluster without disrupting them continuously. The best procedure is to spray them down with a sugar water, making it difficult for them to fly. Lay out your sheet below the swarm (as best you can) and brush them into the NUC. Try to acquire the main cluster in the beginning and then retrieve the bees on the fringes.
swarming
The sheet is placed underneath the NUC in order to catch any bees that didn’t make it into the NUC. The sheet will also help any stragglers find their way to the main cluster. Take your NUC and the sheet to where you intend to place the colony. At this point if you are using a wooden NUC, you can leave them be until they are fully established. Add the frames that are needed and place the top on.

If you are using a cardboard NUC, you will need to transfer them into a permanent 8 frame or 10 frame hive. Place the sheet so that it leads to the entrance of their new hive and set the NUC so that the opening faces the hive. The bees will walk right up the sheet and into the hive. 

Capturing the Queen is Key! To successfully acquire the swarm, you must retrieve the queen. She is likely to be in the center of the swarm, surrounded by the cluster of bees. She will be extremely hard to determine or locate, as she will have lost weight in order to fly. After capturing the swarm, check back in a couple weeks to ensure she is laying. Treat this as a new colony and FEED, FEED, FEED!

This is the time of year when colonies tend to swarm and they can swarm more than once throughout the season. Check out our other blogs about swarm prevention:
Dealing with a Swarm
Seizing the Swarm

If your colony does swarm, have your NUC box handy to go out and retrieve it. Check the hive that swarmed and ensure that they are left with a laying queen. Now one hive just became two!